Teaching About the Midterm Elections

SEPTEMBER 18, 2018

As you and your students might have heard (if you are paying attention to local television campaign commercials!), the “midterm” elections are happening this November. Even though midterm elections tend to see a lower turnout rate compared to presidential election years, the results of these elections still have implications in who serves in our democratically elected republic governments at all levels including Congress.

There are a variety of ways to introduce students to the elections and the campaign materials within a compare and contrast format while also allowing them to show their creative side.

Possible Curricular Question:

Are political campaigns today different than in the past? Many people feel that the negativity around campaigning continues to get worse each year, but is that true?

Curriculum Solution:

Using Google news, Google newspaper archives, The Library of Congress - Chronicling America, and U.S. News Maps have students research how campaigning was and is reported by different newspapers throughout the years. The focus of this assignment starts out with working on the skills associated with archival research and can branch out in a variety of different ways to have students analyze the documents.

Possible Curricular Question:

How is teaching about the midterm elections different than teaching about presidential elections? Is there a way to sort through and organize information related to my local races? 

Curriculum Solution:

Unlike presidential elections, midterm elections are usually a lot more local. This poses a double-edged sword for teaching about the election in your classroom. The positive is that it is easier to help relate the election to our students and some of the issues that are important in your local community and maybe even get local candidates to come to visit your class! The challenge is that since your local elections might not be receiving national coverage, the amount of resources related to each specific election is not nearly as much as one would see for a presidential election. C-SPAN Classroom has a section devoted to campaigns and elections and PBS Newshour Extra has an Election 2018 section. Both sites are updated with new content regularly. You can also check out the Voting Information Project and Vote411.org to learn more about elections that are specific to your area. 

Possible Curricular Question: 

Teaching about elections is easy when they are going on, but how should I approach it after the midterms are done or next year when there is not a lot of election material in the news? 

Curriculum Solution:

Primary source documents serve as a great way to bridge the gap and provide real campaign material for analysis. The National Archives houses an extraordinary collection of political cartoons that are organized by the many steps that it takes to run successfully for office. The Newseum can also take your students along for the ride of running for office and decoding the election process. If you want students to see campaign commercials dating back to the 1952 presidential election, check out the Living Room Candidate where students also have the opportunity to take what they have learned about campaign commercials and work to create their own commercials right within the website itself. There are a variety of places where students can create videos, but in the Living Room Candidate, there is already a collection of appropriate audio and video clips already collected and organized for you.

 

Of course, these resources are just a small collection of what is available. Make sure you check out the free election resources and games available through iCivics as well. In the meantime, have your students play Branches of Power, LawCraft, People’s Pie, and Represent Me! To learn more about the jobs of the people that will be elected this fall! 

 

Joe (@madisonteacher) is currently in his fourteenth year of social studies education and currently serves as the Social Studies Specialist for the Maine Department of Education. In this position, he provides professional development opportunities and support for teachers in Maine and around the country. Joe is looking to change the world one teacher at a time by helping provide the support they need to ensure that all of our students gain the skills and experiences needed to be active and engaged citizens.