Let the Campaign Begin
Students discuss presidential elections, identify desirable leadership qualities, and create a campaign for a fictional character.
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
The students will:
- Understand that the electoral process includes many steps and presidential campaigns often take place over two full years
- Identify with the character they have selected, lending him or her an appropriate voice throughout the campaign
- Learn the qualifications necessary to vote in the United States
The students will:
- Differentiate between positive and negative personal attributes
- Select a fictional character for nomination who personifies the qualities of a good leader
- Use the Internet to learn about the election process
- Write an announcement speech that identifies their character’s platform
- Correctly complete a form that registers them to vote in the classroom election
- So You Want to Be President by Judith St. George; illustrated by David Small. You may substitute one of your own books that describes the steps to becoming President of the United States.
- Chart paper
- So You Want to Be President? Graphic Organizer (PDF)
- Regional Electoral College Tags (PDF)
- Anti-Stage Fright Checklist (PDF) from Scholastic’s Oral Presentations Made Easy
- Voter Registration Form (PDF) from Candidates, Campaigns and Elections
- KWL Chart (PDF)
- Laminating machine
- Hole punch
- Thin ribbon or yarn
- United States map
Set Up and Prepare
- Set up your time frame for this unit based on when you would like it to end. I prefer to finish shortly before the actual Presidential Election in November, so I begin teaching this unit in the middle of October.
- Add these words to your word wall or word bank: campaign, democracy, electoral votes, nominate, platform, political party.
- Visit your school or local library, or use your personal classroom collection and gather a group of presidential or election-related books for students to read independently throughout the unit. Check out my election booklist to find several titles my class enjoys reading each year.
- Gather several copies of newspapers and other periodicals with election coverage, or print copies of online coverage.
- Review the book So You Want to Be President by Judith St. George if you have not read it.
- Print the So You Want to Be President? Graphic Organizer (PDF), Anti-Stage Fright Checklist (PDF), and the Voter Registration Form (PDF). Make enough copies for your students.
- Print and copy the Regional Electoral College Tags (PDF). You will make these into individual “necklaces” for the students to wear during the campaign period. I highly suggest laminating them so they last throughout the length of the unit. After they're laminated, I have students punch two holes in the top and string ribbon or yarn through the holes in order to create an Electoral Vote identification badge.
- For Day Six, set up a podium or other place of honor from which students can make their official announcement. I drape a wooden podium with red, white, and blue bunting and provide a microphone to add some drama.
Step 1: Introduction: Ask students what they know about elections and if they have had any personal experiences making decisions with a popular vote.
Step 2: Prepare a KWL Chart (PDF) on a bulletin board or chart paper, or have students create individual ones. Record what students Know and what they Want to learn about the presidential election. Remember to update the chart throughout the unit with information students have Learned. Save the chart so you may review it at the end of the unit with your students.
Step 3: Introduce the book, So You Want to Be President by Judith St. George. Distribute the So You Want to Be President? Graphic Organizer (PDF) to students. Tell your class that while you read they will take notes on the advantages and disadvantages of being President, and listing the good qualities our best U.S. Presidents possessed. In the third grade, I always establish a minimum for note-taking to help keep the students focused on the task at hand. For this particular activity, I would expect my students to come up with a minimum of three advantages, three disadvantages, and five good qualities.
Step 4: Read students the book. Afterwards, discuss the notes students have taken. Allow students to add onto their own notes during the discussion. Students should keep the notes for a writing activity on Day Two. Variation: Draw the graphic organizer on the board or on chart paper and fill it in together as a whole group after reading the book. Keep the graphic organizer posted.
Step 1: Morning Journal or Writing Warm-up Activity: Have students review the notes concerning qualities of a good leader that they took on Day One. Then ask them to write a list of fictional characters they think would make a good president. These characters can be from favorite books, television, comics, video games, etc. Next to each name, have students list one or more personal attributes of that character that would make him or her a good leader. Ask students to put a star next to the character who would be their first choice for president.
Step 2: Discuss the many different characters children chose along with their reasons. Allow students to bring up any positive or negative points a character may encounter as president. For example, The Invisible Man might not make a great president because no one would be able to find him during a national emergency.
Step 3: Have students choose one character they would like to help run for president. Variation: I prefer each student to choose a different character. However, you may vary this by having students work in pairs to promote the same character, or you may allow more than one person to campaign for the same person.
Step 1: Once students have decided on their character, ask them to write a short introductory paragraph about them. The paragraph should include biographical information, such as age, occupation, residence, along with a brief explanation of why their candidate would make an excellent president. Again, it is best to model a paragraph before giving the assignment and leave it up for reference as with the students create their own.
Step 1: Introducing a candidate to the American public is a critical first step in the political process. Have students write their fictional character’s official brief announcement (less than one minute) to enter the race for President of the United States. Their announcement should tell who they are and tell what their platform will be if they are elected. Students may need to complete this activity at home for time's sake. Tell students that when they make their official announcement in front of an audience, they may dress up like their character, actually becoming that person if they like.
Step 2: Distribute the Anti-Stage Fright Checklist (PDF). Go over the listed points with students. Ask students to add any other tips they may have for public speaking.
Step 1: All students should make their character’s official announcement of candidacy from the “special” podium. You can choose the order of presenters randomly or ask for volunteers.
Step 2: Now that everyone is beginning to get excited about the upcoming “Fictional Character” election, explain to students the wonderful thing about our democracy is that every U.S. citizen over 18 has the right to vote. For your classroom, you'll be lowering the legal age to 8. Ask students if they know what someone has to do before they are allowed to vote (register). Explain that the process is simple and tell them they'll have the chance to register for your classroom election.
Step 3: Distribute copies of the Voter Registration Form (PDF) to each student. Collect the completed forms and tell students they're now officially registered to vote. You may even want to present them with a voting card.
Step 4: At this point, I inform students that there will be a voting restriction that does not exist in a real election. Every person who has registered is allowed to cast one vote. No one, however, may vote for their own character. Discuss why there might be problems with voting for oneself in a small group. (There's a good chance you would have a very large one-vote tie.)
Step 5: After they've completed registering, ask each student to randomly select a Regional Electoral College Tag (PDF) from a box or bag. If you have not made these into necklaces yet, students can do so at this point. Tell students the tags identify which region their vote represents and how many electoral votes their one vote will be worth. Use your U.S. map to discuss how the Electoral College votes are determined.
Supporting All Learners
Much of this unit uses small groups which benefit many learners. In order to provide more support to some students, you may want to pair them with students interested in nominating a “duo” such as “Hansel and Gretel.” Students can then work cooperatively to create their announcements and speeches.
Both Lessons One and Two lend themselves very nicely to current event activities. Below are some ideas for current event activities you may want to add to your unit.
During the lesson, ask students to bring in at least three headlines from articles written about candidates. Discuss the headlines in class. Do they favor a candidate or attempt to show that person in a negative light? Students then post their headlines in the positive, neutral, or negative section of the bulletin board. At the end of the week, discuss the number of positive vs. negative headlines and what impact they may have on the candidates.
Follow that Candidate
Divide students into six groups. Assign one person in each group to follow a real presidential candidate on their campaign stops over the next two weeks. Students may use newspapers, television and radio news, or the Internet to track the campaign stops made by the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees, their spouses, and the two vice-presidential running mates. Have students mark each person’s public appearances with a color-coded pushpin (red for one party, blue for the other) into a map of the United States. Next to each pin, add a sticky note that tells who visited, the date, and their purpose or message at that stop.
News in a Nutshell
Step 1: Bring out a collection of relatively current newspapers, periodicals, and Internet news articles. Allow a few minutes for students to look through the pile for election-related articles. Point out how many articles there are related to the election and the candidates.
Step 2: Assign students to find and read an appropriate news article related to the election, then write a short summary of what they learned about the candidate or election.
Their written summary should include:
- Name of the article
- Its origin
- Its main purpose
Other information to look for includes:
- Words or phrases that the author uses to let the reader know his or her opinion
- Questions they have after reading the article
- Whether or not the article helped you make a decision about how you would vote
Step 3: Never expect students to successfully summarize and share their articles the following day unless you have modeled how it is done. Choose one article from the pile and demonstrate what the children should do at home that evening. Read the article aloud to the class, and then highlight important information. Write your short summary with the class and keep it posted.
Note: Many students may not receive a newspaper at home or have access to an Internet-enabled computer outside of school. Allow students to take home articles out of the collection you brought to class or provide time for students to find an article on the computer before they leave for the day. You can find election information readily available in an easy-to-read format on Scholastic News.
- Complete the graphic organizer for So You Want to Be President?
- Brainstorm a list of fictional characters and positive attributes they possess.
- Write an introductory paragraph for the Presidential biography.
Did your students have enough information about the electoral process? Was enough time spent asking students to share what they were learning and what they still had questions about? What questions could you have asked to check for complete understanding? Did the graphic organizer help students take notes? Are you addressing the “Want to Know” section of the KWL chart? Are you adding to the “What We Learned” section of the KWL chart? Did you generate enough excitement for students? Are you modeling enough?
- Did journal entries show students were able to differentiate between characters who would make good leaders and those who would not?
- During group discussions, did students demonstrate knowledge of the electoral process?
- Did students select an appropriate candidate and provide an appropriate voice and platform?