Ask Dr. Blank: What are some classroom activities to help teach students about politics?

Politics often conjures up negative feelings involving anger, bitterness and disillusionment. But its ability to evoke these reactions illustrates how this subject can offer an exciting store of activities for students. The key is to bring in topics that allow them to get an insight into the process and feel the excitement that political issues can generate.

There have long been classroom activities, such as voting for class president, which are aimed at giving kids some insight into the political process. Often children fail to see the reason or value of these activities. By contrast, it can be more productive to have them engage in simulations that mirror events in the outside world. This enables them to gain an understanding of the process in a very direct way. Using the presidential election as an example, the following represent some of the activities that could be carried out (with necessary adaptations to fit the age and grade of the students).

Publicity

Elections, as is well known, involve major publicity efforts aimed at persuasion. To help students get a sense of what transpires, they could be asked to create ads in various media (web pages, radio, TV, etc.) in support of particular candidates. Historical perspective can also be brought in by using a particular time period (e.g., the Civil War In the mid 1800’s) and seeing how the media and content would vary from now to then.  As this example illustrates, this approach lends itself to analyzing the changes that have taken place over time.

Conduct Interviews

Students could watch television interviews of candidates and their various representatives and supporters.  They could then create possible interviews of imaginary or actual candidates with student playing both roles (i.e., one student being the interviewer and the other the political personage).  Other students could be asked to critique the interviews and offer feedback about its strengths and weaknesses.

Formulating laws

Using information gleaned from a range of sources (internet news services, TV news, etc.), a list of possible laws could be created that are aimed at meeting key issues facing the society (e.g., new defense equipment, college fees, healthcare problems, etc.) Then working in groups, students could research the process by which laws are created and passed. Once this information is in place, the students could then select one of the issues and design a law in that area. They could then go through the process that Congress and the President uses to attain passage of the law.

Getting out to vote

Voter turnout in our nation is very low (38% in the last mid-term election). Students could be asked to research the voter turnout in various years and various regions. They could then use this information to design campaigns to increase the voter turnout in selected places or particular campaigns. As part of this work, they might be required to structure their work so that it meets particular budgets that have been set for them.

The above are only a few of the possible activities that can be carried out in expanding students’ understanding of the political process. They offer numerous advantages. The interest level is high, the information base is considerable and the activities are interesting and appealing. Thanks so much for asking this important question.

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Marion Blank

Marion Blank

Dr. Marion Blank is a world-renowned psychologist and expert on the development of literacy and language in children as well as the creator of the “Six Skill Integrated Method” for teaching children to read. Prior to creating the Reading Kingdom online literacy program, she created and directed the Light on Literacy Program at Columbia University. She has authored dozens of peer-reviewed articles and books and developed numerous award winning teaching and assessment programs. Dr. Blank is also a recipient of the Upton Sinclair Award which honors individuals who have made a significant contribution to education.
Marion Blank