Presidential Election 2008:
Making Decisions about
Political Candidates

Grade level 4-6

 

by Jinnie Spiegler


Time

This lesson will take four 45-minute sessions (3 hours total), plus 2 homework assignments.

Objective

The objective of these lessons is to get young people to think critically about:

1) what qualities to look for in a political candidate

2) the information sources about political candidates

3) how they and the adults in their lives make decisions about whom to vote for and/or support.

They will be able to decide what they think are fair and unfair reasons to support certain candidates as well as how to evaluate the validity of the information they receive about them.

 

 



LESSON ONE

Gathering

Have students pair up. Have each student share with the other one quality they look for in a friend. Then bring the class back together and ask for a few volunteers to share the quality they look for with the class.

Check Agenda

Explain: In this lesson, we will consider together the qualities we look for in a friend. Then we consider what qualities we look for in a leader.


1. Qualities in a Friend: Brainstorm/Web

Write "Qualities in a Friend" and draw a circle around it as in the drawing below. Have a discussion with the class and record their responses to the following questions: What qualities do you look for in a friend? How do you choose the friends you have? Take all of the responses from the group and create a semantic web that may look like the following:


After brainstorming ask: What do you notice about the responses? Are there things you didn't think of before? Are some qualities more important than others? How do you find these things out about your friends (i.e. how do you know you have common interests, or can trust them)?


2. Qualities in a Student Council Representative: Paired Share

Tell students that you would like them to break into pairs and share responses to the question below. (You may want to model the process with another student.)

If you were asked to vote for one of several students running for student council (or other leadership post) in your school, how would you make your decision about who to vote for?

Give each person in the pair two minutes to respond, then have everyone come back to the whole group and share their responses. Make a list of the qualities the students named. It may include some of the following, but feel free to add if they don't contribute these:

  • Her leadership style
  • What he said he would do for the school
  • I just like her
  • My friends like this person, so I figured he was good
  • She has a lot of friends
  • He has good ideas
  • She is smart
  • He gets along with the teachers and principals
  • She is in the same class as me
  • He is creative
  • I wanted to vote for a girl and she's the only one running
  • He's a good student

Discuss:

  • What do you notice about the list?

  • Do you agree or disagree with things on it?

  • What's fair to take into consideration? What's not fair?

  • How is choosing a friend different from choosing a student council member?

  • How do we judge what a student says they will do for the school?

  • How do we assess a student council candidate's ideas or "campaign promises?" For example, a student says that if she gets elected, she will change the school lunch menu. You need to ask yourself a few questions such as: does she have the power to do this? How does she propose doing it? What is her plan/strategy for making this happen?

Generally, if a candidate gives a more specific answer it means they have thought it through and there's a better likelihood that the candidate will make their plan happen. If the candidate says he is going to change the school lunch and you're pretty sure the student council has no control over this, find out if the candidate has a detailed plan for doing so. If he has no plan, there may be reason to be skeptical. On the other hand, if he has a specific plan for making his proposal happen (e.g., he is going to bring it to the School Leadership Team for discussion or create a committee of students and staff to take it on), then you might be more willing to believe that he can make it happen. Elicit other examples like this from the class.


Closing & Evaluation

Ask a few students to share one thing they learned in the discussion today.



LESSON TWO


Gathering

Paired Share: Ask students to pair off. Share with each other one thing they have seen or heard about the current presidential election.

Check Agenda

Today we're going to reflect on what qualities we might want to look for in a presidential candidate. We'll also consider where we might find information we want to know about the candidates.

How do we decide?

Part A

Explain: We're in the midst of an important, exciting, and potentially historical presidential election. There is a lot of energy and discussion around this particular election, but every year there are candidates who are elected for various leadership positions in government.

Ask students to list some of the political offices people run for (senator, representative, mayor, councilperson, etc.).

Explain: In this year's presidential election, both Democratic and Republican candidates are putting forward proposals for how they would address some very important issues that affect everyone in this country. The candidates have very different views on these issues. Since the president generally has more power than any other individual in the country over what policies the U.S. adopts, who we pick as president will greatly affect our future.

But just because a candidate says he or she is for a particular policy doesn't mean they can necessarily bring it about. The president has to work with Congress to get laws passed, and also garner support from the public. Sometimes to get a law passed, a president has to be willing and able to stand up to powerful companies, organizations, or individuals. So voters often try to figure out if they think a candidate has the ability to do all these things.

Ask: When we think about voting for an elected official (school board, city council, mayor, congress, senator, president, etc.), what qualities are important to look for in a candidate?


Web

Create a web on "qualities in a president." You may want to prompt the students with these questions:

  • What qualities should we look for in a presidential candidate?
  • What have you heard your parents and other adults talking about?
  • What have you seen on the news?
  • Are there some similarities to qualities you would look for in a student council member?

Discuss:

  • What do you notice about the web?

  • Are there things you agree or disagree with?

  • Are some of the items on the list objective (factual) or subjective (opinion)? How do you know?

  • Are they all equally important? If not, which ones are most important? Why are some more important than others? Why might we have different opinions about this?

  • Do you think most people think about all of these qualities, or just a few?

Part B:

Explain: Now we're going to discuss how we get information about the candidates. Let's make a list of all the ways we get information about the candidates in order to make a decision. Remember to look at the list of qualities. Think about your parents and other adults in your lives and where they get information.

The students may not know about many of the sources on this list, but start with their ideas and then add to it. (See Handout A if you want to give a copy of this to all students)

Information Sources

  • Debates
  • Articles in the newspaper
  • Their voting record
  • Their professional background
  • Their personal story
  • Advertisements--printed, TV, radio
  • Letters you get in the mail written by someone else
  • Letters you get in the mail written by them
  • Endorsements by elected officials
  • Endorsements by celebrities or other individuals
  • Endorsements from newspapers, unions, other organizations, etc.
  • Speeches
  • Their statements on the internet
  • Articles in the newspaper
  • Our gut feelings
  • Books they've written or books written about them
  • Parents, older siblings, friends, etc.


Go through each item on the list and explain it. Ask the students what they know about it, and for each, ask: Is this a fair source or unfair source to get information? Have students put their thumbs up for fair source, thumbs down for unfair source, and thumbs to the side for unsure or mixed feelings. Elicit from the students some of the reasons why for each.

Pick a few items from the list and ask the students the following questions about each of them:

1. What is the interest being advanced by the source?

2. Does the source have a bias, and if so, what is it?

3. How do we know whether what the source says is true or not?


Closing & Evaluation

Ask a few students to share one thing they learned in the discussion today.

 


 

LESSON THREE


Gathering

Ask students to break into pairs and share with each other their response to this question: What issue is most important to you in this presidential election? What is the most important challenge in the world that you think the candidates should address?

Then bring the class together and ask for a few volunteers to share their responses.

Check Agenda

Today we are going to try to agree on a few qualities we think are most important in choosing a president. We are also going to think about some of the issues that matter to us most.

Prioritizing the Qualities: Small Groups

What qualities are most important when making a decision about a candidate?

Have the students look again at the "Qualities of a President" web they created in the last lesson. Ask if they'd like to add anything else. They should also look at the list of information sources. Break the students into groups of four. Give them 15 minutes to come up with a list of the 3-4 qualities that are most important to them in selecting a presidential candidate. They will need to discuss it fully because they should all try to come to an agreement on these top qualities. For each quality, they should list a few information sources to back up their position. For example:

Quality:
Their Position on Issues

Information Sources:
Voting record
Website
Debates

Have all of the students come back into the large group. Have each group report back on the top qualities they came up with and their information sources for each.

Discuss: How did you decide what was most important? Did you all agree? Why were these qualities the most important ones to the group?

Because candidates' positions are one of the most important things to consider when voting, have a discussion about specific issues with the students. Write 3-4 issues on the board which you think your students find interesting and understandable. Either elicit ideas from them or list issues.

Issues might include:

  • What should we do about the war in Iraq? Should the US pull out right away or not? Why or why not?

  • Should the government do something about global warming? If so, what?

  • Should the government try to provide health insurance for everyone in the United States-and if so, how?

  • Should we allow all immigrants to become citizens if they want? Why or why not?

  • Should we allows gays and lesbians to get legally married? Why or why not?

Ask for volunteers to explain their opinion on any of the issues, and ask them to explain how they will find out how each candidate stands on the issue.

Interviews (Homework)


To learn more about how citizens make their voting decisions, have students interview an adult in their life. In class, first have them think together about the adults in their lives who vote (at least sometimes) and brainstorm a list of them (e.g. parents, grandparents, caregivers, aunts/uncles, older siblings who vote, after-school teachers, babysitters, store owners, neighbors, etc.). Tell them they will each choose a person to interview and it should be someone who votes or plans to.

Give students Handout B below and go over the interview questions with them, making sure they understand each one. Explain that they will choose the person to interview and that they will then have a few days to do the interview and write it up for homework. They will probably need 20-30 minutes for the interview. During the interview, they should take notes on the form.



LESSON FOUR

Check Agenda

Today we will share what we learned from our interviews.

Discussion

Ask students to break into groups of four. Give each student in the groups three to five minutes to tell the others the results of their interview. Then give students a few minutes to discuss which issues appeared to be most important to the adults they interviewed. The group should then pick a reporter who can report their findings back to the whole class.

Report Back

Ask the reporters from each group to share with the class their group's finding about the most important issues. Discuss these issues.

Essays (Homework)

After the class discussion, give students a homework assignment. Ask them to write up the interview they conducted in essay format. The essay should answer the following questions:

  • How did the person you interview make their voting decisions?

  • Why do you agree or disagree with their decision making process?

Closing

Go Round: Ask everyone to share one new thing they learned about how people should make decisions about how to vote.

 




HANDOUT A : Information Sources

  • Debates

  • Articles in the newspaper

  • Their voting record

  • Their professional background

  • Their personal story

  • Advertisements--printed, TV, radio

  • Letters you get in the mail written by someone else

  • Letters you get in the mail written by them

  • Endorsements by elected officials

  • Endorsements by celebrities or other individuals

  • Endorsements from newspapers, unions, other organizations, etc.

  • Speeches

  • Their statements on the Internet

  • Articles in the newspaper

  • Our gut feelings

  • Books they've written or books written about them

  • Parents, older siblings, friends, etc.



 

HANDOUT B: INTERVIEW


1. Do you vote?

 

2. What elections do you vote in?

 


3. Will you be voting in the Presidential election in 2008?

 


4. Will you/did you vote in the primary election on February 5?

 

 

5. Have you decided which candidate you will vote for yet?

 


6. If so, how did you make that decision? If not, how will you make that decision?

 

 

 

7. Have you always made decisions that way?

 

 

8. Do you think your criteria are fair?

 

 

9. What do you think is the single most important issue facing our country right now? Why?

 

 

 

10. How do you determine the candidates' position on this issue?

 

 

 



 

   

© Morningside Center
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 550
New York, New York 10115
212.870.3318 | fax: 212.870.2464
info@morningsidecenter.org