Make an Election Connection With Your Students
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
With the primaries in full swing and making headlines every day at the same time that President’s Day approaches, it is an optimal time to use the two events to teach about politics and presidents. By using good literature and technology, you can create lessons that will not only teach civics, history, and language arts, but also will create good citizens!
One of the great things about a democracy is that each one of us has the ability to impact how our government is run. Our students will be old enough to vote before you know it and so it is important for them to understand the way government works and how officials are elected. One way to get students started in understanding the process is through research, a skill that is crucial to their scholastic careers.
Researching on the Web
There is an “Our Government” worksheet with pre-printed terms that you can download for free from Scholastic. It is both whiteboard friendly and includes a link to aid your lesson. There is also a great related handout about Independence Day and Elections I found while I was searching through the Printables. If students have computers available for their research, it is a good idea to spend time to teach them how to find credible websites. I like English-Online and the White House as starting points. Scholastic also has a GREAT resource called Election 2012 that explains wonderful questions ranging from “What is a primary?” to providing maps and games for them to learn with and videos that can be downloaded. I also really like ThinkQuest because it has good graphics and is very kid friendly.
Once they have that basis of understanding, I like to have them research a specific president, sometimes giving them a list from which to choose, or sometimes letting them pick from any of the presidents. For younger students, have them create a timeline with information about their chosen president. Just be sure to create specific parameters such as must include pictures, important dates, at least ten facts, etc. so that they know specifically what they need to do. For older kids, have them create a timeline and a report. Again, be specific on what your expectations are (how many paragraphs or pages, information that needs to be included, etc.), and in both cases, be sure to help them manage their time by creating benchmarks that need to be met by certain dates before completion as well as a specific due date so that they aren’t doing it all the night before.
Reading to Reinforce
When they have finished that, add a little fun to the unit with two great books that teach how elections work. My students and I LOVE reading The Kid Who Ran for President and The Kid Who Became President by Dan Gutman
The first book explains how a person becomes president through humor and excitement by introducing Judson Moon, a 13-year-old who is convinced to run for president of the United State as a goof and actually goes on to win the election! In the sequel, it details the White House, roles of the president, and the way the government process works as it follows Judson through the trials and tribulations of being a kid running the greatest country in the world! I read both books aloud to my class so that we can discuss the issues he faces, review facts, and even laugh at the predicaments that he gets into! They beg to read the books and look forward to our “talks” about the characters! Author Dan Gutman has a lot of great books out, and my boys especially latch onto him because of his sports books. I read the books back to back because the class immediately wants to jump into the sequel, and it is a terrific way to reinforce everything we just learned!
Scholastic has a great book collection, American Presidents, Documents, & Symbols: 12 books for students in grades 3-5 and The Presidency, A True Book by Christine Taylor-Butler that would be great resources to keep in your classroom for students to use. Also, don’t forget the awesome Schoolhouse Rock series. Those catchy songs and videos are great ways to help students remember their facts!
Finally, I like to end the unit by having students write a letter to the president. I tell them that whether or not they agree with everything that he does, they can write a letter to ask questions, bring up issues, or even just make a statement about something that they feel strongly about. I have them follow correct letter writing format and make sure they mention that they are students (for example: I am a third grader at Discovery Elementary School). They also need to be legible and address their envelope including a return address. For many, this is the first letter that they have ever written! I then mail the letters to:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
The president has a staff that answers letters, and it is always so exciting to get a response from the office of the president (even though they are usually a form letter). I have the students use our school address as the return address so that I can be sure that every child receives a reply.
I hope that you and your students have as much fun with this unit as we do! This is both a great learning experience about our government and should help create responsible citizens!