Teaching the Election Blog Post No. 1: The Good

September 01, 2016

Teaching the Election: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

A Fall Blog Series Featuring BrainPOP and iCivics


This Election season, BrainPOP! and iCivics have teamed up to bring you exciting and relevant ideas and resources for teaching about this nation-wide teachable moment in both deep and interactive ways. Expect new blog posts on the first and fifteenth of each of the next three months, and don’t forget to register for our Webinar on Wednesday, September 28 at 5:30 EST: https://educators.brainpop.com/webinarregistration/


By: Emma Humphries, Chief Engagement Officer at iCivics


Elections are good. They are also bad and they are also ugly, but for this post, I would like to focus on the good. They are good because they represent the ultimate symbol and contest of our democratic system, and I think we can all agree that living in a democratic system is a good thing. Elections, or at least participation in them, also represent the ultimate symbol of civic engagement – of citizen participation in our democratic republic. 

Enter schools: Over a quarter of respondents to a recent Phi Delta Kappa poll say preparing students for citizenship is the main goal of public education. While I certainly wish for a higher percentage, I view the result as a validation of the historical civic mission of our schools.

I also view them as validation – obligation even – of schools to teach elections. Elections are good for our democratic republic, citizen participation in elections is a requisite for a healthy democratic republic, and it is the proper role of schools to prepare students for citizenship. Schools are therefore more than justified in teaching elections, no matter how controversial they seem, and that is a good thing.

For social studies teachers, elections are great! When else can we expect the entire country, if not the world, to be paying attention to and talking about something we must teach our students? Can you imagine if every four years we could count on the nation’s collective attention to focus on enlightened self-interest or eminent domain or, I don’t know, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates? We certainly have a definitive edge over the subject matters here. When was the last time every major news outlet was talking about linear equations, photosynthesis, or The Scarlet Letter for months on end? I will stop with the rhetorical questions. You get the point.

Elections are good indeed, and for us social studies teachers, they are great. So let us shift our attention to what I believe to be the best thing of all: the rich selection of instructional resources we now have at our disposal to teach about elections. Here’s a short, annotated list of some of my favorites, which will hardly scratch the surface of what’s actually out there but will hopefully inspire you to get excited about teaching the Election this fall:


  • iCivics’ Win the White House game and Extension Pack

    • What: A video game and an accompanying set of pre- and post-game play activities

    • Where: www.icivics.org

    • Navigation: From the iCivics homepage, click on the green Teach button. Then, under iCivics Products, click the Games icon. Scroll down to the Politics and Public Policy unit, click on it, and then select Win the White House. From this page, you will have the option to Play the game, Assign the game, and download the game guide and Extension Pack.

      Emma’s take: In full disclosure, I work for iCivics. That said, I.LOVE.THIS.GAME. And not because I’m good at it. In fact, I joke that I never actually win the White House. Perhaps that’s why I love it so much – everytime I play, I am challenged and I learn something new. If there’s a better way to teach students about the crazy process by which we elect the President in the United States, I haven’t found it yet. This game is challenging, it’s comprehensive, it’s tied to standards, and, mostly importantly, it’s fun! Furthermore, when matched with the pre- and post-game play learning activities that are found in the Extension Pack, it’s a one-stop-shop for teaching the Presidential Election, complete with core content, vocabulary, critical thinking exercises, and reflection activities. Teaching the Election has never been better!



  • BrainPOP’s Election Collection

    • What: A curated collection of BrainPOP’s elections-related resources, including iCivics games.

    • Where: https://www.brainpop.com/

    • Navigation: From the BrainPOP homepage, search for Elections in the search bar located the upper left-hand corner. There will be one result under Themes. It’s a picture of the BrainPOP man, Moby, holding a newspaper that says, “Moby for President” (if only Moby were on the ballot…). Click on that and you have arrived at this fantastical Elections hub.

      Emma’s take: Convenience is something I have come to expect from online service providers, and BrainPOP does not disappoint. It allows you to filter by Topics, Games, or For Educators, and regardless of your selection, you are greeted by a solid cache of high-quality instructional resources to teach students about elections, including two of BrainPOP’s signature “The Meaning of Beep” games: one focusing on Primaries and Caucuses and one focusing on the Presidential Election.  




  • Newsela’s Election 2016 Text Sets

    • What: Leveled articles that are curated around timely topics, designed to build reading comprehension while students consume important news content

    • Where: https://newsela.com/

    • Navigation: From the Newsela homepage, scroll over the Text Sets tab in the upper-middle-right portion of the page. The last option in the dropdown menu is Election Issues Text Sets. From here on out, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure dream. You can narrow your choices by grade level, reading standard, or language, or you can simply browse the topical sets. Regardless, you’re sure to land on an outstanding “reading in the content area” resource.

    • Emma’s take: For social studies teachers who take seriously their role in supporting students’ literacy, Newsela is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I narrowed my choices by 7th grade, by reading standard “R8. Arguments and Claims”, and by English language. I then chose an article about John King, the former social studies teacher who was appointed by President Obama to be the Secretary of Education. I then played around with the lexile levels and watched the article adapt to students’ reading levels right before my eyes. At first I thought, “Was is this sorcery?!” It is really that neat. Newsela is hard to explain. It really just has to be experienced. So what are you waiting for?



  • Second Avenue’s Voters Ed platform

    • What: An interactive platform that presents current and historical election information in a non-partisan and fact-based way

    • Where: http://www.secondavenuelearning.com

    • Navigation: From the Second Avenue homepage, scroll over the Products tab in the upper navigation bar and then select Voters Ed. On this page, you can learn more about it or simply click the BUY NOW button. You can purchase a one-year subscription for $9.99 (enter promo code iCivics16 for a 20% discount) and/or purchase lesson plans for $1.99 a pop.

    • Emma’s take: When teaching an election that is as spectacularly controversial as this one, it’s important to have access to current and historical election information that is presented in a non-partisan and fact-based way. Enter the Voters Ed platform. It delivers information on primaries and polls, prediction maps based on delegate counts, and historical data and lesson plans. Added bonus: the web application supports whiteboards, computers, and tablets. Need more convincing to justify the small expense? It’s standards-correlated, it’s been authored and vetted by master teachers and faculty, and it’s free of any advertising.


  • iCivics’ 2016 Elections Bundle

    • What: A bundle of (Election) joy! Each one contains one Elections in America Teacher Guide, a set of Elections in America Student Workbooks, and an iCivics pencil to go with each workbook. Also included is a free, limited edition I Won the White House t-shirt! You can choose different size packs to meet your class size: small (10 workbooks & pencils), medium (20 workbooks & pencils), or large (30 workbooks & pencils).  

    • Where: https://icivics.myshopify.com

    • Navigation: If starting from iCivics.org, click the purple Shop button in the upper navigation bar. This will take you to the iCivics Shopify homage. Simply click on iCivics 2016 Election Bundle and check it out!

      Emma’s take: Listen, I know that we teachers have limited financial resources for purchasing instructional materials, but this is one heckuva deal! I mean, if you’re taking full advantage of the Win the White House game and Extension Pack, then you’re riding pretty in terms of teaching your students about the Election. But this bundle will help you take your students to another level! The Elections in American workbook is incredible, and just think of the fun you’ll have with your students when the package arrives…