Lesson 5: Census and Redistricting

Grades 9–12

Strand: About the Census

Skills and Objectives

  • bullet Learn about the methods and politics of redistricting
  • bullet Explore their local congressional districts
  • bullet Debate the merits of different redistricting methods

Materials: Census and Redistricting Student Worksheet 5

Time Required: Two 40-minute class periods

    Getting Started

  1. Remind students that in a previous lesson they learned about apportionment. If needed, review the definition of the word in the glossary on the last page of this document. Explain that they will now learn about redistricting, which is the process by which state legislators or officials draw the lines for congressional districts within a state.
  2. Explain that redistricting became especially important after 1910, when Congress capped the size of the House of Representatives at 435. This meant that it couldn’t simply give a state with increased population a new House seat. After 1910, if a state gained a seat, another state had to lose a seat to make up for it.
  3. Tell students that, in the late 1920s, Congress repealed a rule that required districts to be compact and roughly equally sized within states. With this new flexibility in how to draw districts, the art of redistricting became a major concern in state legislatures. The shift of population to big cities, western states, and immigrant communities led many to demand that congressional districts be redrawn to account for the new population trends. Ask students what they think might have occurred as a result of the redrawing.
  4. Point out to students that a common outcome of redistricting is that some districts are oddly shaped. This occurs when state officials redraw districts in order to include particular populations in those districts.
  5. To demonstrate redistricting for your students, ask them to divide into four even groups. Assign two groups to be rural voters and two to be urban voters. Ask students to sit down near their group members. Create three "districts" from the groups in the classroom. The first district should be all of one rural group and one-third of one urban group. The second district should be another third of the urban group and all of the other rural group. The last district should be all of the second urban group and the remaining third of the first urban group. Ask students to analyze how these three districts might vote in a congressional election. Explain that the first two districts would elect someone who supports rural politics since they have the majority. The third district would elect an urban politician. Next ask students how they could redraw the districts to make them more in favor of the urban voters. (Possible answer: Divide one of the rural groups into thirds and distribute them evenly among the other groups.) Explain to students that this is a simplified way to show how redistricting can change the political landscape.

    Using Student Worksheet 5
  6. Distribute copies of Census and Redistricting Student Worksheet 5. Explain to students that, in this activity, they will be exploring redistricting at their own local level.

  7. Instruct students to conduct research to find information about their own congressional district. Guide them in writing a short essay or news article about their district and how it might be redrawn.
  8. Wrap-up

  9. In preparation for the next class, divide students into four even groups. Inform students that they will hold a debate about how congressional districts should be drawn. Refer each group to the Debate Statement and Debate Tips that appear in Part II of Census and Redistricting Student Worksheet 5.
  10. Assign groups to the "Yes" or "No" position. Explain that during the debate each side will be allowed to speak twice for up to three minutes each time: once to present its argument and once for rebuttal of the other side’s argument. The side in favor of the debate statement will present first and will receive an extra one-minute counter-rebuttal at the end. Note: There will be two sets of debates.
  11. In class, or for homework, have members of each group conduct research, take notes, and collect their thoughts about their side of the debate. Once they have completed their research, hold the two debates in class.

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