- Develop media-literacy skills as they evaluate various campaign materials
- Create their own campaign posters
- Scholastic News Online "Create a Campaign Poster" game
- Examples of campaign materials (lawn signs, posters, buttons, etc.) for various candidates
- Recording of at least one TV campaign ad or online campaign video
Set Up and Prepare
- Collect examples of campaign materials (see above) or invite students to bring them in from home.
- Record one or more TV campaign ads or find them online.
- Preview the on-site "Create a Campaign Poster" game.
Step 1: Discuss with your class the purpose of political campaigning — winning attention and, ultimately, votes. Share some examples of campaign materials, making sure to include some from each candidate. Briefly discuss what students like and do not like about some of the examples.
Step 2: Describe types of campaigning. Explain that a successful campaign involves making TV or newspaper ads and creating items like posters, buttons, and flyers. These items are paid for by a candidate and his or her supporters. Another aspect of campaigning is making speeches and public appearances in an effort to reach voters and receive favorable coverage in the news media. Does all this sound complicated and exhausting to your class? It should!
Step 3: Explore campaign imagery. Have students look for colors, symbols, and images common to many of the campaign materials you've collected. Guide students to notice that many basic campaign materials use a palette of red, white, and blue. They abound with stars, American flags, eagles, and other patriotic symbols. Have students discuss the message the candidates are trying to send when they choose such colors and images. Ask: Why do they choose these symbols? If possible, point out campaign materials that include the traditional political party symbols, a donkey for the Democratic Party and an elephant for the Republican Party. Explain that these symbols were first used in a political cartoon back in 1874! Today they are used to quickly identify a candidate's party affiliation. Discuss any other images or symbols that students notice in the campaign materials. Ask: Why might the candidate have chosen that symbol?
Step 4: Explore slogans. Have students identify any slogans they spot in the campaign materials. Explain that a slogan is a catchy phrase to persuade people to vote for a particular candidate. Ask students to describe what they think is strong about particular slogans.
Step 5: Explore campaign ads. If possible, play one or more recorded TV campaign ads for the class (you can often find recent ads online to play for your class). Point out that while campaign posters and buttons usually have simple messages, campaign ads on TV can be fairly complicated. Explain that some ads are positive (attempting to make the featured candidate look good), while other ads are negative (attempting to make the opposing candidate appear bad). Campaign ads also use a variety of persuasive tricks to win voters over, such as:
- Bandwagon: telling people to choose a candidate because he or she is the most popular
- Testimonial: having a well-known person voice support for a candidate
- Empty phrases: using statements that sound good but have little meaning, such as, "I believe in America"
- Plain Folks: showing that the candidate is just an ordinary person
Step 6: Discuss these techniques, asking students if they have ever noticed them at work in ads for candidates or products. Invite students to evaluate a television campaign ad by asking: What does the ad say about the candidate's stance on issues? What does the ad tell you about the candidate's background and experience? What symbols or pictures appear in the ad? Does the ad use music or sounds? Does the ad include a slogan? Does the ad try to make the other candidate look bad? How does the ad make you feel about the candidate?
Step 7: For an exciting culminating activity, have students apply what they have learned to create their own campaign poster in the Scholastic News Online "Create a Campaign Poster" game. Have students follow the directions to draft a persuasive, attractive poster. Students can share their posters with the class by printing them out.
Have each student hand in his or her completed campaign poster.