The Presidential Elections Unit Study from Silverdale Press was written for students in grades six through twelve. It is unique in that it includes sections that pertain particularly to the 2016 election. While it would be ideal to complete this study in the weeks leading up to the November 2016 election, the study will still be pertinent for at least a year or two.
There are eight lessons in the study, and it seems best if you can allocate September and October of 2016 to it, accomplishing one lesson per week. That way you would finish right before the election, and you can capitalize on the latest news to make your study more interesting. If you don’t care about completing it prior to the election, you might spread lessons out, even allowing two weeks per lesson.
Presidential Elections comes only in digital (PDF) format. While you might want to print it out, there are weblinks in the PDF in the activity sections that make it easy to jump to websites for information and activities. While it is written for use by families, it might work as well or better in a co-op setting where you can have discussions and debates. You have permission to purchase one book and use it with your entire family, but co-op groups need to have each student purchase a book.
Lessons each deal with one aspect of the election process; titles of the eight lessons are The Primaries, Parties and Conventions, Issues and Platforms, The Electoral College, Campaign Strategy, Advertising and Media, The Debates, and Election Day. You can see from the lesson titles that this study goes beyond the legal and historical aspects of elections to explore how candidates position themselves to appeal to the electorate, how they make use of various forms of media, and the critical role that debates now play in elections.
Lessons draw heavily upon recent elections—late twentieth century to the present—for illustrations. Each lesson follows a similar pattern. First students read the lesson material from the Presidential Elections. Lessons are illustrated and include factual information, stories, and examples from actual elections. For example, the second lesson on Parties and Conventions has a section on “Capturing Delegates” that explains the complex systems within both parties as it is playing out in the current primary races for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Students are given a list of key terms. You can have them write definitions of these terms if you think it helpful. This is one of many ways in which you might adapt the course to suit different students.
Next, students write out answers to “Questions for Review.” These are primarily comprehension questions. There is no answer key, but parents should be able to easily find answers within the lesson material.
“Questions for Debate” that come next might be used in a number of ways: for discussion, as the subject of a short position paper, or as the topic for an actual debate which might just be between a parent and the student.
“2016 Exercises” are specific to the 2016 election and require research and analysis. For example, one exercise directs students to “Research your state’s role in the primary season. When does your state vote? Does it hold a caucus or primary? Based on its place on the calendar, how much influence did it have? How many delegates did each candidate win from your state?” (p. 14). There might be three or four such exercises, and students might choose one or more of these to complete. While most of the “2016 Exercise” questions would be useful even a few years down the line, the information might become more difficult to find as time passes.
“Historical Exercises” offer students a few different questions to research as do the 2016 Exercises, but these questions are based on past elections. For example, “Read Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s statements announcing that they will run for the 2008 Democratic nomination. How were the two candidates different? Whose announcement did you like better and why?” (p. 15).
Both exercise sections often direct students to particular links at the end of the lesson where they can find the information they need.
A section toward the end of each lesson, “Get Involved,” offers suggestions such as volunteering for a political party, writing a letter to their congressional representative, and conducting a survey of views regarding whether or not people think the Electoral College should be abolished.” Again, you can choose whatever activities are suitable.
The Presidential Elections Unit Study was clearly written by someone who really knows the election process. Students will probably find some of the inner workings of elections fascinating as they learn about brokered conventions, why candidates run both positive and negative ads, and how important Twitter exchanges have become in the 2016 election. Most parents are likely to learn something new as well.
While the study is intended for students in grades six through twelve, it should be relatively easy to adapt the challenge of lessons by requiring more research and writing from older students than from younger students. You can download a sample chapter from the publisher’s website for free to check it out.
The Presidential Elections Unit Study might serve as part of a government course for high school students, although they will need additional course material covering topics other than presidential elections for a complete course. Depending upon the amount of research and writing required, it might also provide some language arts credit. Even if it serves only as an elective course, Presidential Elections offers a rare opportunity to capitalize on current events to make learning come alive.