You're the Candidate!
Lesson Plan for Grades 6-8
Overview: In this interactive game, student "candidates" race against time and political opponents as they create a platform, identify key states, and launch their presidential campaigns.
Duration: about 50 minutes (1 class period)
Objectives: Students will be able to:
- Understand the Electoral College system as it is outlined in the U.S. Constitution
- Identify issues of personal importance and develop a presidential platform around those issues
- Develop a campaign strategy to maximize electoral votes
Set Up and Prepare: Preview the game prior to the lesson.
Directions:1. Engage students' interest with a riddle: What is a presidential candidate's lucky number?
After some discussion, explain that the answer is 270, because that is the number of electoral votes a candidate must receive to win the presidency. Review what students already know about the Electoral College system.
Remind them that when voters go to the polls on Election Day, they are not actually casting votes for a candidate. Instead, they are selecting electors, people from that state who have pledged to vote for that particular candidate. These electors have a vote of their own after the general election. It is this electoral vote that determines the next President.
What makes the system complicated is that each state gets a different number of electoral votes, depending on the number of Representatives and Senators it sends to Congress (which in turn is based on population). For example, California has 55 electoral votes, while Montana has only 3. Explain that in almost all states, the vote is winner-takes-all. That means the candidate who wins in that state on Election Day gets all of that state's electoral votes. Guide students to understand that a smart candidate campaigns hardest in states that can give him or her the most electoral votes. Explain that students will need to keep this in mind as they play You're the Candidate!
2. Once students have reviewed the Electoral College system, have them play the You're the Candidate game. Students should begin by choosing a character and a political party, then selecting the election issues that they care about most. Explain that a candidate's stand on the issues is known as his or her platform. Platforms help voters decide which candidate to support.
3. Next, have students develop a campaign strategy, or plan, that will help them win as many electoral votes as possible. To do this, they need to study the map on the game screen and decide which states and regions to focus on. Remind students of the electoral vote system, and use prompts to help them think this decision through. For example, tell them:
- States colored red are states that are considered safe for Republican candidates. That means the Republican candidate is most likely to win. If you are a Republican candidate, does it make sense for you to spend most of your time and money in those states?
- If you are a Democratic candidate, does it make sense for you to campaign hard in red states, where you are most likely to lose?
- What states are still up for grabs? Which of those states would you need to win to get the most electoral votes? Why? Students may ask how we know which states are "red" and which states are "blue." Explain that we know whether states lean Republican or Democratic based on past elections and opinion polls. We can also count the number of voters who are registered as Democrats or Republicans.
4. Once students have decided on a plan, have them type in a sentence or two explaining why they are focusing on those states or regions. Then, have them click the "Choose Your Campaign Strategy" button.
5. The next step in the game invites students to allocate campaign resources. Have students think about on which states and regions they should spend the most time and money, emphasizing that this should reflect the decision they made earlier about important states. Explain that with just a few weeks until Election Day, every day and dollar counts. To help students understand the concept of a campaign budget, talk about some of the ways candidates spend their money (travel arrangements, TV ads, staff, brochures, etc.).
You might also discuss how candidates get money to spend. Explain that candidates may spend their own money and can also accept donations from supporters. Once students have decided where to spend their time and money, have them click the "And the Winner Is" button.
6. Now it's time to discover whether each candidate's campaign strategy was effective. In the last step, the game will generate a newspaper article about the outcome of the general election. Have students read the article to see if they won the election. The article will incorporate the comments the students typed in earlier.
7. To demonstrate the different ways a candidate can accumulate electoral votes and win the presidency, distribute the "Electoral Votes" PDF, grades 3-5 or "Electoral Votes" PDF, grades 6-8. Have students do the math to come up with scenarios that would give each candidate the necessary 270 electoral votes.
Supporting All Learners
Support struggling- and English-language learners by previewing some of the election-related vocabulary introduced in this game and lesson. Write the words platform, campaign, budget, electoral vote, swing state, and inauguration on the board, and have students work in small groups to define these terms and use them in sentences.
Encourage students to search for signs that candidates are campaigning in their state. Students may bring in or describe examples of ads, lawn signs, bumper stickers, flyers, or news articles they have seen. Challenge students to use those campaign artifacts to identify issues that are part of each candidate's platform.
Assess Students: Have each student hand in his or her election-outcome article and completed PDF to assess whether students understand the role of electoral votes in determining a candidate's success in campaigning for President.
Home Connection: If students do not complete the "Electoral Votes" PDF in class, have them finish the page for homework.
EXPLORE THE ELECTION ON SCHOLASTIC NEWS ONLINE
Find more resources for teaching election skills on here!special report.