Teaching the Election Blog Post No. 2: The Bad

October 04, 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.


By: Emma Humphries, Chief Education Officer at iCivics

The American people are more divided now than at any other time in our collective memory. That’s not just a perception – it’s a fact. We are indeed living in an era of extreme polarization and political segregation (and, consequently, fractured political caucuses and inefficient government).

But a beautiful thing happened last week in the run-up to and aftermath of the first presidential debate at Hofstra University. The American people were mostly in agreement, if only on one thing: the debate was bad.

This feeling transcended the performance of the candidates and individual or collective support for them. Regardless of one’s politics or candidate preferences, most people looked ahead to the debate with a sense of dread and foreboding. Those who dared to watch seemed to do so more out of duty than desire. And in their reflection of it, most Americans thought it was pretty terrible, albeit for different reasons. In other words, no one clicked off their television at 10:30pm EST and exclaimed, “Wow! That was fantastic!” – at least not without their words dripping in sarcasm. I for one stared wide-eyed at my husband, shaking my head, and said, “That was something.” His response: “That was pretty bad.”

As teachers, this complicates our obligation to teach about these important events. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recently noted in an op-ed about the presidential election, “We must seize this nationwide ‘teachable moment.’” But what are teachers to do when this “teachable moment” feels more like a minefield than a lesson on a basic democratic process? Should we even teach about the debates, some of the most anticipated and talked about events during a presidential election cycle, when the debates are so, well….bad?

My answer is absolutely! Dive on in! But don’t forget to bring a towel, which, in this terrible metaphor, is a collection of accurate and engaging instructional resources brought to you by iCivics and BrainPOP!


iCivics Resources


  • 2016 Candidate Bios: This resource can be used in a variety of ways in your classroom: reference document, starting point for deeper research, a discussion starter, and beyond. You will find a page of classroom discussion and activity ideas, candidate cards, and a table that compares seven different elements of each candidate and his or her campaign.



  • Political Debate Guide: Use this activity to help your students view any political debate- local to national, historical to live broadcast. Preview candidates, issues, expectations, and details about the location and moderators. Track what the candidates say and how they say it. Then ask students to reflect on the debate experience.



  • Candidate Report Card: Help your class apply their candidate evaluation skills with this election season activity. Students will select the issues and qualities they care about, then research candidates running for the office of your choice. Students will determine how the candidates rate, as they learn about the campaigns



BrainPOP Resources


  • Presidential Election movie: The path to the White House is long, difficult, and sometimes even treacherous. But how exactly does America pick its POTUS? Tag along with Rita and Moby as they follow the twists and turns of the campaign trail. General elections take place every four years, but presidential hopefuls spend months courting voters and vying for the endorsement of their party. They present their political platforms, and face off in state-by-state primaries. Candidates who garner the most support during these state contests are selected as the Republican and Democratic nominees. That's when the race really begins! Nominees choose vice-presidential running mates, engage in one-on-one debates, and develop strategies to secure crucial swing states—battlegrounds where most elections are won or lost. The candidate who captures the most nationwide electoral votes on Election Day becomes our president. They officially kick off their four-year term when they are sworn in on Inauguration Day.



  • Debates and Mock Election Lesson Plan: In this debates and mock election lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 3 through 5, students use BrainPOP resources to explore the differences between the Democratic and Republican political parties. Students then create a presidential race within their school and perform the parts of a formal debate.



So what are you waiting for? Go teach about the debates! They’re not that bad…

And don’t forget the Vice presidential debate, being hosted October 4 at Longwood University. As its president recently noted in an op-ed for Time.com, “During an election campaign focused far more on the contrast of personalities than the issues, the country may likely find this debate a high point.

Here, I’ll even help you mark your calendar:

  • October 4: Vice presidential debate, Longwood University
  • October 9: Second presidential debate, Washington University in St. Louis
  • October 19: Third presidential debate, University of Nevada - Las Vegas