May the Best Character Win
Students learn about presidential campaigns through budgeting, speech writing, and other activities in this lesson plan.
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
- Understand the financial aspect of running a campaign
- Realize the difference between popular vote and electoral votes
- Become aware of the process involved in electing the President of the United States
- Effectively budget money in order to purchase sufficient advertising
- Design advertising aimed at procuring classmates’ votes
- Write a persuasive speech in the voice of their character after completing an online tutorial
- Successfully perform a 1-2 minute oral presentation using the strategies they've been taught
- Analyze qualities of each character before voting
- Anti-Stage Fright Checklist (PDF) from Lesson One: Let the Campaign Begin
- Fundraiser Card Printable (PDF)
- Play money
- Chart paper
- Regional Electoral Vote Badges (PDF) from Lesson One
- 9- by 12-inch construction paper
- Poster board
- Markers/colored pencils
- Self Reflective Speech Review (PDF) from Scholastic’s Oral Presentations Made Easy
- Election ballot slips
- Ballot box
- Bell or buzzer for debate
Set Up and Prepare
- Add the following to your word wall or word bank: ballot, endorse, fundraiser, inauguration, polling place, swing vote.
- Find or record a video of at least one political candidate giving a speech. Sound bites can often be found on cable news networks several times a day.
- Create a chart of campaign expenses. Use the guide in Step 3 below to help you.
- Print, copy, and cut apart Fundraiser Cards(PDF). Make enough copies so every student can choose one card.
- Gather and count out your play money to ensure you have enough available to pay all your candidates their allotted fundraising amounts.
- Print election ballot slips. You will want two for each student, one for the primary and one for the general election.
- Print and copy the Self Reflective Speech Review (PDF) for each student.
- Find or create a ballot box that can be used on Election Day.
- Optional: Write a note home asking parents to send in donations for your inauguration day celebration.
Part One: Show Me the Money
Duration: 2 days
Step 1: Remind students that running an election campaign takes money. Have students brainstorm all the different ways candidates spend money. (Commercials, print ads, bumper stickers, posters and banners, etc.) Inform students that their character’s campaigns will cost money also.
Step 2: Have each student randomly choose a Fundraiser Card (PDF). Pay each student the amount they have selected. You may use ready-made play money or create your own. For this activity, I use play money in large denominations that I have purchased at a dollar store.
Step 3: Show students the chart of expenses you have created. Explain they will campaign for their character and try to win votes by appealing to the citizens through various ads. Candidates will want to spend their money wisely. Inform students that if their character runs out of money and cannot advertise, it will be more difficult to maintain voter interest. However, you should also remind them that it is useless to have money left over come election time because their funds can only be used for campaigning.
Use the following guidelines when you create your Finance Expense chart:
|Full Page Newspaper Ad||$3000|
|9- by 12-inch Posters||$1000|
|“Vote” badges, bumper stickers, and other handouts||each $100|
Step 4: Before students begin to create their ad campaigns, discuss the electoral votes that are available around the classroom. (Have students wear their region badges.) Discuss how candidates tend to focus more on areas where may be more electoral votes, and they feel they can sway swing voters to their side. Remind students to think about their audience as they create advertisements. For example, tell them they may not need to spend as much time trying to convince their best friend to vote for them as they would a voter who is undecided.
Step 5: Provide students with class time to create their advertising materials. Students will need to pay you with their play money for materials in accordance with the amounts listed on the finance poster. They can begin creating campaign posters and badges today that can be completed during the second class period or as needed.
Step 6: Students can display their posters, present their media ads, or distribute handouts when they are complete.
Part Two: Stand and Deliver — Creating a Persuasive Speech
Duration: 5 Days
Step 1: Discuss with students the importance of speeches during a political campaign and how many voters make up their minds based on the various speeches a candidate makes.
Step 2: Show students a speech being delivered by one or both of the candidates. Discuss varying aspects of the speech, such as sincerity, preparedness, opening, word choice, eye contact, length of speech, and hand gestures.
Step 3: On chart paper, create a list entitled “Speech Giving Do’s and Don’ts.” Keep this chart posted.
Step 1: Tell students it is now their turn to write a political speech on behalf of their character. While writing they should keep in mind the qualities of their character, their geographical location, and what issues would be most important to them. Speeches should be written in the voice of their chosen character. For example, Sponge Bob may want to work to pass a Clean Water Act while promising “Krabby patties” for everyone. Junie B. Jones’ speech may be mainly focused on how she will improve the quality of food in your school’s “yucky blucky” cafeteria or make conditions better on the “stupid smelly bus.”
Step 2: Use your school’s computer lab or classroom computers to have students complete the online activity, Writing with Writers: Speechwriting. Students can follow the advice of experts to write speeches in the voice of their character that will wow the voters. Part 1 of the activity has students drafting speeches that grab attention and get their character’s message across.
Step 1: Students take part in Part 2 of the Online Activity. Here they will revise their speech and begin to practice it. Remind students to visit the “Tips” section of the activity for helpful hints. Advise students to practice their speeches at home. Also encourage students to review the Anti-Stage Fright Checklist (PDF) they used in Lesson One. To make this activity even more memorable, invite students to dress up as their character when they orally present their speeches.
Days Four and Five
Step 1: All of the candidates will orally present their speeches over the two-day period. While speeches are being given, the classroom audience should take notes about which speeches made an impact on them.
Step 2: After each student’s speech is given, have each individual complete the Self-Reflective Speech Review (PDF).
Part Three: The Primary — Narrowing the Field
Duration: 2 Days
Step 1: Explain to students that states hold primaries to narrow the field of candidates and nominate only one candidate from each party. After all of the student speeches have been heard, it's time to narrow all of the candidates down to two. You may want to allow for a few minutes for students to try to sway voters with some last minute campaigning. Variation: In the past, I have let four candidates go forward, then held one more primary election to narrow the field to two. Consider what would work best for your class.
Step 2: Hand each student an election ballot. Tell students their vote will be secret, and they should not put their names on the ballot. Instead they should write the name of the region they represent and the number of electoral votes their region contributes.
Step 3: Remind students that they can't vote for themselves and should cast their vote for the most qualified candidate. Tell your students that the top two winners will run against each other in the general election. Note: Decide if you want this first election to be won with electoral or popular votes and tell your students now which it will be. Always use the electoral votes for the final presidential election.
Step 4: Tally the votes and announce the winners. Compare the popular votes cast versus the electoral votes won by each candidate.
Part Four: The Great Debate
Duration: 4 Days
Now that the candidates have been narrowed to two, we want to make sure every student still feels they are an important part of the process. The following steps keep everyone involved.
Step 1: Tell the class that each winning character needs to assemble a campaign team. The first step is to choose a running mate. Discuss the qualities that a running mate should have and list them on the board or chart paper. You may help students consider qualities such as diversity, experience, geographic ties to a swing state or a state with a lot of electoral votes, a similar or balancing philosophy, and more.
Step 2: Each team should consist of a campaign manager, fundraiser, press secretary, pollsters, and volunteers. Depending upon the size of your class, decide how many people each candidate should have on their team. Students who are not a part of the team will write questions and plan the debate.
Step 3: Discuss what is expected of campaign managers, fundraisers, press secretaries, pollsters, and volunteers. Tell students there are only two days to the election and there is a lot to do.
Team members should expect to do the following over the next two class sessions:
- Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates: Talk to the voters (the whole class) and try to persuade them why they are the best candidate.
- Fundraisers: Try to persuade all the students who are no longer candidates to donate any of their remaining money to their candidate. Write a fundraising plan with three ideas to earn money. When the plan is turned in, if it is viable, I give the fundraising manager(s) $5000 more in play money to spend.
- Press Secretary: Write a short newspaper article about their candidate that can be posted free of charge.
- Pollsters: Write questions asking voters what their concerns are and then ask the candidates questions, taking the information back to their team.
- Volunteers: Do any campaign related work asked of them such as creating new posters, ads, helping pollsters, etc.
- Debate Planners: Write questions they would like the candidates to answer. Work with this group and discuss the types of questions that would help inform voters and allow them to choose the best candidate on Election Day. These children should also decide classroom arrangement for the debate: how long each person has to answer, who goes first, and which questions each debate planner will ask.
Days Two and Three
Step 1: During the next two class sessions, allow students time to work in their specialized area. Remind them this is a team effort and every decision they make should be guided by what is best for the team. With only two candidates facing off, the competition can become great at times. This is a perfect time to discuss honesty and credibility while campaigning.
Step 2: Once all of the campaign work has been completed, give each campaign team approximately 10-15 minutes to stand in front of the class to present their posters, poll results, newspaper article, etc.
Step 1: Discuss with students why candidates take part in debates and how debates can help voters make decisions.
Step 2: Arrange the classroom furniture for the debate, creating an area for the candidates, one for the debate panel, and one for the audience.
Step 3: The debate panel asks each candidate their questions. The candidates need to remember to answer as their character would answer. The debate panel may ring a bell or buzzer if the candidates go over the allotted time. You may wish to have your debate panel follow the format below:
- One person from the debate panel asks one question of the first candidate. The candidate responds to the question.
- The second candidate has an opportunity to make a comment.
- The next person on the debate panel asks a question of the second candidate, who responds to it.
- The first candidate may then comment on his opponent’s answer.
- Continue until each candidate has had the opportunity to answer at least three questions.
Step 4: Following the debate, hold a discussion with the students about how they think it went. What did they think of the answers? Ask the candidates if they would have answered anything differently than they did if given another chance.
Part Five: Election Day
Duration: 1 Day
Step 1: Follow the same voting procedures you did for Steps 2 and 3 in Part Three. The only difference in this election is that the two candidates may vote for themselves this time.
Step 2: Tally the electoral votes won by each candidate and announce the winner. The winner is the character who had the most electoral votes.
Culminating Event: Inauguration Day!
No election would be complete without a party to celebrate the new leader.
Step 1: Tell the students that each president recites the following oath, in accordance with Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution.
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Step 2: Have the character (or his or her spokesperson) take the oath, repeating it after you. In my own classroom, I change the oath to “…President of all the fictional characters.” Instead of a bible, I have my students put one hand on a large hardcover volume of fairy tales.
Step 3: Of course, no party is complete without treats. I normally supply punch along with red, white, and blue sugar cookies, but if you like, you may involve parents in the celebration, asking them to donate an assortment of patriotic treats. I decorate with simple balloons and banners and give each student a small, cellophane treat bag filled with patriotic-themed items such as pencils, flag stickers, bookmarks, etc.
If you would like, you may add another element to your classroom election by introducing factors which may affect the outcome. Help children understand that not every person who lives in the United States votes. Right before it is time for students to fill out their ballots, have them randomly choose a card out of a hat. The hat contains index cards marked with five different phrases: “Not a US citizen; In jail, convicted of a felony; Under the age of 18; Didn’t feel like voting; and Proceed to the ballot box." Note: This works best if you have created a campaign with two primary votes. Students have campaigned hard and have a vested interest in the election. Therefore, they would hate to be unable to cast their vote at least once.
Supporting All Learners
This unit provides the opportunity to teach your students that in an election, diversity can be a wonderful campaign tool. Evaluate the demographics of your class with your students. Discuss how some characters might be able to sway the female vote or that of an ethnic group. Much of this lesson is done in small groups to provide support for all students. Instead of allowing students to pick their own campaign teams, however, you may want to purposefully create heterogeneous groups so those students who need extra help can find the support within their assigned team.
- Create and display advertising material paid for with their allotted fundraising dollars.
- Write a persuasive political speech one to two minutes in length.
- Complete a self-reflective speech review.
What part of the unit was most enjoyable for you students? Did they prefer working in teams or as individuals? Did you foster a sense of community? If any students became overly competitive, what could you have done to help them become a better team member? Were students able to carry out several different jobs in Part Four simultaneously? Was the campaigning more focused after the field was narrowed or before? Were students able to separate the fictional characters from their classmates who were speaking for them? Were they able to hold discussions about the fictional characters without becoming either too personal or defensive? Are your students more in tune with the real election process than they were before you began this unit?
- Were the students able to use their budgeted money wisely to create advertisements?
- Did their persuasive speeches focus on positive attributes of their candidate?
- Were students able to work in teams to elect a candidate they had previously opposed?
- Were the questions asked during discussions and debates relevant to the characters and the issues at hand?
- Did students choose the most qualified candidate based on the information presented?