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Lesson Plans for the Presidential Election 2012

young boy behind desk with a sign saying "Vote"Primaries, caucuses, polls, election day, ideology, deficit, debt: it is impossible to escape the rhetoric circulating around November 6, 2012 voting expectations. Helping students understand the semantics and processes of voting in the United States is a subject that many teachers find challenging.

Even though pre-election polls seem to reveal conflicting results, it is surprising how accurate most of them are. Differences are often attributed to the wording of questions rather than faulty interpretation. Dr. Costas Panagopoulos, director of Fordham University’s Center for Electoral Politics, ranked 23 polls in terms of their accuracy in the 2008 election. The two top-ranking polling institutions — Rasmussen and the Pew Research Center — correctly predicted the percentage points by which President Obama won.  Educators can use these polls to open classroom conversations about our democratic process.

Educational bloggers for the New York Times Learning Network suggest that election cycles provide dozens of opportunities for teachers to engage students with data that is relevant, exciting and vital to understanding our nation’s democratic processes. Lessons can be blended with language arts, history, math, civics, government, social studies and technology at levels from kindergarten through high school.

Five Lesson Plans For Your Classroom Election Cycle Studies

Lesson One: Mock Voting This lesson plan gives eighth graders a chance to gather information and consider candidates based on the facts available. Students compare ideology and party platforms. Covers Social Studies and Language Arts in a cumulative format.

Lesson Two: The Value of Debates Students watch video of current or past debates and then set up a class debate before holding a mock election. Modify for grades 4 through 8. Classroom discussion could involve discussing debate answers and whether students agree or disagree with candidates’ viewpoints.

Lesson Three:The Electoral College: Students learn about the voting process over at least two class periods ( four hours) and an assigned research paper. Designed for Junior High classrooms. Covers curriculum in Language Arts, Social Studies, and Mathematics.

Lesson Four: Voting is a Right This lesson plan focuses on the historical significance of past elections to explain how elections can impact our society as a whole. Mock classroom elections demonstrate the voting process and how a winner is determined based on several voting opportunities. Civics, History, Social Studies and Citizen Rights and Privileges.

Lesson Five: Polling for Elections This lesson plan involves classroom activities, home assignments and self-study. Students will learn how polls are conducted and evaluated during presidential campaigns and elections. Tracking and analyzing results, gathering data and identifying groups are explored.

Michael Nelson, a blogger for The Miller Center, offers five tips for getting the most out of the upcoming presidential debates. One suggestion that he makes is to evaluate facial expressions and body language of the candidates. Learning to lean on natural abilities like reading non-verbal clues could help students make more informed and wiser choices.

Educators have a unique opportunity to dispel the myths that often rise out of the negative advertising and half-truth commercials during an election cycle. As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”

In a recent article for Psychology Today, Dr. Mark Goulston suggestions that voters “Verify, then elect.” The lessons teachers bring to the classroom will reinforce the necessity for verifying everything heard and seen during election campaigns. Lives are at stake, futures are at stake, our nation’s foundational core is shivering on its axis. Educators are the front line defense when it comes to educating our next generation of American voters.

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