A More Perfect Union: When Civics Games Connect with ELA Writing Activities

APRIL 21, 2020

As part of Share My Lesson’s 2020 Virtual Conference, the iCivics team hosted a free webinar, A More Perfect Union: When Civics Games Connect with ELA Writing Activities. We were joined by over 600+ attendees from across the U.S.

If you missed the webinar, you can still register and view the full recording on-demand. We’ve also compiled a quick recap of the content shared, including audience generated ideas from the chat box below.

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Hoping to integrate the presidential election or other civics-related topics into your teaching, but not sure how? Wanting to inspire your students to engage in critical civics-related thinking outside of their history or social studies classes? During the webinar, we discussed practical tips for connecting civics-based online games to ELA writing exercises and skills. 

Leveraging Elections in an ELA Classroom

  • iCivics games and supplemental materials let you cover the election without having to create an entire unit. You can also develop writing assignments around the candidates, the election process, the issues, and more!
  • Start with our two election-focused games, Win The White House and Cast Your Vote. For the purposes of the webinar, we focused on Win The White House, but ideas can be adapted for Cast Your Vote as well!

Creative Writing: 

  • After playing Win the White House
    • Have students write a victory or concession speech to give to their supporters. An assignment like this will pull in writing skills around structure and organization, central idea, voice, and tone.
    • Ask students to make a campaign website for their candidate. What kind of experience does the candidate have? What is their platform and the issues they support? After students explore real campaign websites, they can create their own (in digital or paper format). Ask them to include a “Meet the Candidate” page with their candidate’s backstory and experience and an “Issues” page where students write their candidate’s stance on 1-3 issues from the game.

Persuasive Writing: 

  • After playing Win the White House
    • Ask students to create 3-5 positive and negative campaign ads for their candidate. For each ad, have students employ at least one rhetorical device (ethos, pathos, logos) to communicate their message.
    • You could also have students think about the type of speech they might give at a fundraising campaign. How would they persuade voters to donate to their candidacy? How are they convincing voters that their stance on an issue is the right one?
  • We asked attendees to share their “election-themed” writing activity ideas that could be assigned students, and here are some of the ideas:
    • Letters to their state representatives or school leaders on an issue of importance to them
    • Plan an opening statement for a debate
    • Hold a mock debate and have students write out their points, citing evidence and sources
    • A journalism piece reporting on a campaign
    • Biographies of candidates
    • Make their own campaign flyers
    • Special interest speeches
    • Make their own campaign slogans
    • Create questions to ask candidates running for office
    • An acceptance speech
    • Letters looking for volunteers to help
    • Thank you letters for volunteers or donors
    • Compare and contrast candidates’ positions on issues
    • Draft social media posts for candidates
    • Outline elements needed in a running mate
    • A journal article of their experience working on a campaign
    • Compare and contrast past elections to 2020

Research:

  • After playing Win the White House:
    • Have students research a relevant campaign issue. Students could select an issue from the game or one that they are interested in from the news. Research points can include a clear explanation of the issue, its history, its effects, each party’s stance on it (if applicable), and a candidate’s recommendations for how they plan to tackle the issue. 
    • Then, let your students weigh in after researching. What do they think of the candidates’ plans and solutions? Why? What did their research tell them?

Read:

  • If you want to incorporate reading skills into the election, again, use Win the White House as a starting point.
    • Discuss the role media plays in campaigns, then consider skills-based activities you can have your students do as they follow the 2020 election. Skills include:
    • Characterization — After reading an article about a candidate, have students analyze how the candidate is characterized. What inferences can they draw about the candidate from the facts and quotes provided?
    • Can your students detect bias? Do they recognize when an article is providing an objective and balanced view? This is another skill you can have students focus on while highlighting fundamental skills like word choice and tone. If you’re looking for news articles to use, a great resource for this is All Sides. The platforms provide articles on the same topic from a news source on the right, left, and one that is in the center.
    • What about fact v. opinion? Do your students recognize the difference? Can they spot opinion journalism? This is another skill that combines reading and the elections.
    • News literacy — While bias, distinguishing fact from opinion, and recognizing opinion journalism are all news and media literacy skills, you can also dive deeper with students into mis- and disinformation. We have a unit that supports introducing your students to news literacy skills. 

Tips to Collaborate with Colleagues in Different Departments

  • To collaborate across the curriculum, keep in mind:
    • ELA teachers want interesting topics for writing assignments or discussions.
    • History/Social Studies teachers want well written essays, reports and research papers.
    • Using the topic of the election, you can merge both of your needs while promoting civic knowledge and education!
  • Getting started:
    • Start with your next email or in the next PD session. Depending on the size of school, maybe you want to talk to the Department Head first.  Either way, put feelers out there to see who’s interested in collaborating.
    • Establish a timeframe for teaching the election. It doesn’t mean each teacher collaborating has to spend the same amount of time on it, but you will have an idea of what is going on in the other class and can coordinate your lessons and activities.
    • List the types of assignments and topics you each want and need to cover:
      • ELA: persuasive writing and language, understanding tone, audience and intention, and analyzing the media. 
      • Social Studies: examining the electoral process, political parties and their stances, and issues of power and popularity.
    • Bring your lists together. How can you take what you have to cover and make it fun, interactive and interdisciplinary?
    • Collaborate by using iCivics games and materials.
    • Communicate with students so they know what to expect, and look forward to.

What to Look For at iCivics in an Election Year

  • Bookmark iCivics’ Election HQ: icivics.org/election  
  • A presidential election year always brings extra teaching opportunities. Our Election Headquarters features new curriculum, timely infographics, blogs written by fellow educators, and activities to keep your students engaged and informed through November and beyond!