- Evaluate candidates' performance in the presidential debates
- Develop thoughtful follow-up questions for the candidates
Set Up and Prepare
- For older students: Before the debates begin, send home a note to families, explaining that students will be asked to watch and take notes on one debate. Include the scheduled debate dates. If possible, allow families to select the debate date that best fits their schedule.
- For younger students: Note that debates will be held in the evening hours and may run late. If you prefer, you may record one or more of the debates and do the response activity together in class the next day.
Step 1: Prepare students to watch the debates by exploring debate history. Although the first official televised presidential debates were not held until 1960, other, earlier debates laid important groundwork. For example, in 1858, a famous series of debates was held between Abraham Lincoln and his opponent, Stephen Douglas. The two were competing for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Two years later, they would face one another in the race for the presidency. Challenge older students to use their knowledge of history to guess the main topic of the debates that year (slavery). In 1960, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first televised debate. Debates were held again in 1976 and became a traditional part of each presidential election season.
Step 2: Explore with students the structure and purpose of the debates. During a debate, a moderator (or, in some cases, a member of the audience) asks a question on important issues. Each candidate is given a limited amount of time to respond. The candidates take turns being first to respond. The debates give the candidates a chance to air their ideas and to show how well they can think on their feet. Studies show that a poor performance in the debates can affect a candidate's performance in the polls.
Step 3: Predict the focus of the presidential debates. Prior to the debates, have students read some of the news stories written by Scholastic Kid Reporters. Have students predict some of the issues the candidates will discuss during the televised debates. Discuss what students already know about these issues. If you'd like, assign teams to research each issue and report back to class.
Step 4: Preview the debates. Explain the focus and format of each of the debates, so students know what to expect.
Step 5: On the day of the first debate, explain that students will be expected to watch at least one televised debates independently and take notes. Address any questions students have.
Step 6: Some debates may have an interactive component that allows audience members or viewers to send in questions. Prepare students to pose effective questions. Talk with them about what makes a good question. Point out that open-ended questions elicit more information than closed-ended questions (questions that require a yes/no or one-word answer). Show students what you mean by offering, some examples. For example, which question would be more effective?
- Do you care about pollution?
- If you were elected, what would you do to help cut pollution?
Step 7: Remind students to bring in their notes after they have watched a debate. After each debate, hold a class discussion. Ask students to name some issues that were discussed and comment on how the candidates performed.
Collect and assess students' notes. Look for thorough note-taking and thoughtful questions.