If you have never held a mock election with your students, I encourage you to add this simulation to your civics lessons. I get it---with this particularly polarized election you might be hesitant to conduct an in-class election. But I'm here to share 5 tips and ideas for conducting a successful election simulation in 2020.
1. Choose Kid-Friendly Candidates
Our students don’t have to vote for the current political candidates for this activity to be successful. I actually prefer to have students vote for a kid-friendly candidate or vote on an issue that is important to them. I've had my students vote on their favorite ice cream flavor and then we had an ice-cream party with the winning choice. I checked for allergies before conducting this, but you might choose to have an election between two types of candy, or maybe your students vote on their favorite book by an author. With upper elementary, if you have a class president, this is a great time to hold your class elections. You might also consider voting on a school issue that is important to your students.
2. Register to Vote
Research shows that there is a huge benefit to having students simulate our democratic processes and procedures. I like to have my students register to vote. We discuss not only how it's important to vote every time there is an opportunity, but kids can encourage their parents to vote and talk about voting at home.
3. Make an Informed Decision & Let Voices be Heard
I like to focus on the importance of making an informed decision. Providing time for students to determine specific reasons in support of the candidate of their choice, as well as a reason why a vote should not be cast for the other candidate is critical. This is a great opportunity to practice persuasive writing skills as well. I have students create a campaign poster for the candidate of their choice. There are several great picture books with examples and ideas of the campaign process and slogans that I share in this blog post.
Providing time for students to use their voice is an important part of the election process. I make sure students have time to share their campaign posters and get to practice good speaking and listening skills. I always review what this looks like, feels like, and sounds like before we begin sharing.
4. Go to the Polls or Mail-in Ballots
If you are teaching face-to-face right now, you could set up several polling stations for your students to cast their vote, while making sure to follow protocols for health and safety. I usually have a ballot box made out of a tissue container or dollar store box that I use for students to hand in their ballots.
If you are doing hybrid or virtual learning, one option is to mail or drop off a ballot to your students with a return stamp. Families provide a proximal zone of learning and this can be a great opportunity for students to participate with their parents in the voting process.
5. Sharing the Results, Facing Disappointment & What to Do Next
I usually wait to share results with my students, and if you conduct your simulation with mail-in ballots, it will likely take a few days before you have the final results. Before I share the results, I like to discuss the fact that there will be some students that are excited and others that are disappointed with the outcome. Both of these emotions are ok-- adults experience different emotions depending on the results too. It's what we do with our emotions that's important. I like to review being a good winner and loser with the help of the book Cheetah Can't Lose by Bob Shea.
This is also a good time to discuss voter-turn out. Did everyone in the class vote? Could the results have looked different if only a few more votes were cast? If several classes are conducting a voting simulation with the same candidates, did one class have a higher turn-out, or did they tend to vote in a particular way? This is a great way to weave in an analysis and graph the results.
Finally, I want to share a tip for encouraging civic growth and engagement, because we can't just stop here. Our students may be too young to vote, but one helpful book with action ideas that I love is, What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers. There are ways that our students can get involved now. They can write letters, join a cause, or help in their community.
Want some additional civics education tips and ideas? Check out these blog posts and resources: