Teaching the Election and Current Events with iCivics

October 22, 2020

When I was younger, even into my college years, I always said that I didn’t care about politics. In reality, it’s not that I didn’t care – I just didn’t understand how the U.S. political system worked. 

This is the third election cycle that I have taught through, and what I’ve discovered is that students want to understand what’s going on. Students know that the things going on in our world are important. Many want to be informed, but many don’t know where to start. 

Enter iCivics lesson plans! They break down all my students need to know about how the government works. It gives me some focus as I break down and explain each part of the government to my students. The Electoral Process Lesson Plan has been a huge help in explaining how the election works. It covers everything from when a person declares he or she is running for president, to planning the inauguration speech. It involves details on the popular vote and electoral college, which I have then expanded on to have students plan a debate. I have my students choose between two viewpoints: (1) Our nation should keep the Electoral College and (2) We should base election results only on the Popular Vote. Students pair up and debate another group on their viewpoint. 

The game Win the White House has also been an awesome resource! When so many of today’s education games are simple memorization of vocab, iCivics provides thoughtful games that make students think critically. Students take on the role of a presidential candidate hitting the campaign trail. They discover the stances on issues of each political party, learn how fundraising helps a campaign, and get an in depth look at how the Electoral College works! There is so much to be learned in one half hour game! It is definitely a game that students will want to play multiple times!

After the election, I plan on introducing my students to the game Executive Command, where they find out about some of the different duties a president has. This game has been a favorite in past years.

Not only has iCivics been helpful during election season, but I have used their resources to take a deep dive into the Supreme Court with my students as well! With the nomination and confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice, the iCivics lessons have really helped to spark discussions about what is happening in D.C. We covered what goes into nominations of justices and what has happened in the past. 

Even better than that, my students are really digging into the Constitution to see what it says. We’ve played Supreme Decision, which took a Supreme Court case that my students could relate to, and gave them both sides of the argument. They then had to decide on their stance based on the evidence presented. Argument Wars was another fun one where students took on the role of a lawyer arguing for an actual Supreme Court case. I had one student who continued to play each different case in his free time, and expressed that he would possibly like to be a lawyer one day! 

Here are some things I’ve found beneficial when teaching the election to students:

  1. Find out what students know. From there, you can decide how in-depth you can go on the topic. Are students going to need to be taught the basics or are they ready to dive a little deeper into the content?
  2. Reinforce the basics. These are things like the three branches of government and their roles; names of key people in government and their positions; the Electoral College process and results from past elections. Once students get these down, they’ll be able to build off of that knowledge and better understand it.
  3. Keep students informed. Cover current events as they’re happening. Share social media accounts that they can follow to stay informed. Talk about the headlines with students. Show debate clips and other videos of current events. These are the best discussion moments I’ve had with my students. You definitely have to be flexible with your classroom time to accommodate these discussions, but trust me, it’s worth it.
  4. Show them why it matters. Explain to students how the government affects their daily lives. What policies have a direct impact on them and their families? What can they do to get involved and make a difference? 

What are you doing to encourage active learning about elections in the next few weeks and beyond? Share with iCivics on Twitter or join the Teaching the 2020 Election Facebook Group to find support and ideas from other educators!

Written by Elizabeth Lucas

Elizabeth has been teaching 7th and 8th grade at Inwood Christian School in Iowa for almost 12 years. At this small school, she teaches everything from History to Art to Math, but has really found a love for teaching Current Events since the 2016 election.