On the board, I present the quote by Supreme Court Justice (1916-1939) Louis Brandeis:
The only title in our democracy superior to the that of President is the title of citizen.
Next, I ask the kids to ponder the meaning of this silently for a few minutes. They can jot down notes, but not discuss with others. After they've had a chance to think, it's opened up for discussion.
I begin with, "What idea do you think Justice Brandeis was trying to get across to citizens with this quote?"
Answers from my class will range from: It means we're more powerful than the President, even though we're not and We elect the President, so it makes us superior to him and finally If our title is superior, why isn't it in caps? Giving kids the challenge of analyzing quotes is a good way to engage them in deep thinking and questioning.
"Do you agree with this quote?" I like to put tally marks under agree or disagree as they state their opinions. This year, I had them complete the tally idea with a facebook type: Like/Don't Like and an area for Comments. Their reply was surprising, I thought they'd be unanimous in the idea of a citizens' superiority to the office of president, but instead, some found fault. Most notably a girl said, "Citizens don't have any power. Just look at how the government is shutdown. If it was up to me, a citizen, it wouldn't be shutdown." Others readily jumped aboard her bandwagon, and added other insightful ideas. I was quite happy with these responses because the class was getting involved with the lesson- questioning each other's opinions, which some kids stated as facts. Debating is an excellent way to cite textual evidence and engage in SL.5.3 summarizing their peers' points and explaining how claims may be supported.
After discussing thoroughly, the lesson turned to an introduction to citizenship, and specifically the responsibilitity of a citizen on Election Day. Overall, most of the comments were positive, but one boy felt like we were dishonoring the office, and he wrote, "The president was rightfully elected." I was glad he cited this, because others silently agreed with him. Clarification is a good thing!
I continue with, "Regardless of how the government functions from day to day, the responsibility of the citizen is more important than you may realize, as when Election Days occur. Today, we're going to explore this."
Elections occur more frequently than every four years, but let's face it...nothing compares with the biggie of the Presidential Election. I'm writing this lesson plan during a non-Presidential Election year, although I introduced the citizenship activities using an alternate idea. Regardless of it being an election year or not, a great way to start is with this informative slide show about Electing the President.
Compare/Contrast activity: One of the best ways to get the kids involved and discussing the candidates is to compare them with one another using Comparing the Candidates. In a non-election year, use two Fictional Characters or class presidential candidates, etc. While completing the chart, the kids are learning a wealth of current events information, and you may end up helping to clear some of the negative comments, etc. from tv ads and other sources. I've included a list of Election Vocabulary Terms from the same website as the slide show. These are all appropriate words to teach/review with the students.
The kids have experienced classroom elections over the years, so it's nothing new. Kids' Voting is a staple on Election Days across the country. Nevertheless, it's fun to conduct a mock election at any time. Many topics lend themselves to a mock election, but I like, Which Fictional Character Should Be President? I have the kids brainstorm fictional characters who would make an excellent president. It's an unique question, and they immediately start sharing ideas. That's great...the more fictional characters to choose from, the better. Choices vary from the seemingly ridiculous, like Tinkerbell from Peter Pan, to more thoughtful ones such as Peter, the oldest brother from the Chronicles of Narnia, tough Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, James Bond, even Obi Wan Kenobi of "Star Wars." Once you've narrowed a list down to between three to five candidates, you can allow the student(s) who nominated each candidate a chance to do a quick campaign plug for him/her, or have a class discussion about qualities of each. Either way, create a ballot...if you want to do it immediately, the kids can simply write the name of their chosen character or a piece of scrap paper, or you can create a ballot to hand out later. Fictional Character ballots: I have a cute little voting box, but anything will do. Give the kids a chance to take their vote to the box and "be heard!" (Katniss Everdeen won our election, which was no surprise since Catching Fire will be released in theaters in November.)
Political Cartoons: I love teaching with these throughout the year. They aren't difficult to find for any subject area, and daily political cartoon possibilities occur in the paper each morning. Of course, I say possibilities because you must discriminate when using them. During an election season, the cartoons are often better than average. My class begins analyzing political cartoons during our Native American unit, Political Cartoon Analysis, around the third week of school. By November, they're savvy with their interpretations and descriptions of the election themed cartoons. Cartoon Analysis Worksheets are excellent resources.
Here is a slideshow of Elections and a Political Cartoon example. Unmute at bottom left. Clicking on slideshow takes you to kizoa.com
Kids usually enjoy the process of creating something, and a simple something associated with this lesson is a campaign sign Voting Signs or "I Voted Today" buttons. No doubt, they're familiar with the official "I Voted Today" Buttons on their parents and teachers shirts on various election days (examples on the main picture of this lesson), and it is an easy thing to make. They have a lot of fun with it: Voting Buttons plus kids. This is also generic in case it's not an election year and they voted for the best "Fictional Character for President" in the earlier activity. They are persuading others to vote for their preferred fictional character candidate which is a great way to share their opinion and back it up with evidence.
During an election year, it's great to give them the chance to make campaign signs. I never want my kids to feel forced to indicate their favorite candidate, although at 5th grade, most don't care. Some ideas are below.
either of the candidates...
both candidates...Candidate A vs Candidate B style...
encouraging people to vote in the election...
showing symbols of the election, democracy, etc.
These are great to hang around the room, especially during an election year.