In the final weeks before the U.S. presidential elections, ELLs will likely find it hard to avoid hearing or reading about the candidates and their campaigns. Whether students are in the U.S. or not, having the opportunity to engage in election-related activities will bolster their understanding of current events and make them feel more connected to the English-speaking world.
1. Discussion. In my own virtual classroom, I plan to focus issues like who should and shouldn’t have the right to vote in a national election (e.g., voting age). I’ll also ask about fair election procedures. By focusing on the process, I hope to elicit personal opinion, but steer my students away from debating the merits and faults of the current candidates. A fun question to discuss (much like what would you do if you won a million dollars?) is would you ever run for a political office? or if you were mayor (governor), what changes would you make?
2. One-minute talks. Another way to focus on the election process is to assign questions and ask students to prepare very short informative talks. Challenge intermediate and advanced students to speak for at least 30 seconds but no more than 60. My most recent YT video on the election process is full of facts. It’s one of many online resources that could help students find answers to some of the following questions:
- What is a primary election in the U.S.? Do all states have them?
- What is a caucus in the U.S.? Which states have them?
- What’s the difference between an open and closed primary?
- What is a delegate and what do delegates do?
- Why do political parties have national conventions?
- How does a candidate campaign? Give examples.
- What is the difference between a presidential nominee and a running mate?
- What are red states and blue states? Give examples.
- What is the Electoral College? How many votes does a candidate need in order to win?
- When and where do voters cast their votes?
- What and when is the inauguration ceremony?
3. Debates. Certain aspects of the election process could be debated. Students can debate in groups, or sides can be assigned to pairs who must present their arguments for the class to consider. Possible topics:
- Should the voting age change from 18 years?
- Prisoners become ineligible to vote. Should ex-offenders be allowed to vote?
- Does the U.S. need primary elections?
- Does the U.S. need the Electoral College?
- Is it reasonable to allow a president to serve two terms for a total of eight years?
4. Essays. Fact-based questions about the process lend themselves to short informative essays. Questions that allow for debate lend themselves to persuasive essays. Why not hold discussion in class, and then allow students to consolidate their thoughts and observations by writing short texts on the very same questions?
5. Campaign slogans. PresidentsUSA.net is one site that lists slogans of past presidential candidates.
- Warm -up A: Match the slogans to the current candidates. You can throw in one or two distractors.
- Warm-up B: Present a list of 5-10 slogans and rank them from best to worst with a partner.
6. Sorting tasks. A quick task can be a warm-up or a springboard into a more in-depth look at a topic, such as political parties. For example, list past presidents and have students sort them into three groups: Democrats, Republicans, and “Other.” Suggestions: Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, George Bush, Bill Clinton.
7. Sequencing tasks. Like the sorting tasks, sequencing information can work as a warm-up or a springboard into a larger topic. Can students put a list of U.S. presidents in chronological order? You can make it fun by handing out single names and hints and having students work as a group. See presidents_handout.
8. Quizzes. An ideal way to see if students retained information from the 1-minute talks is to have them take a quiz. HowStuffWorks offers a 10-question quiz on the election process. I’ll be sharing a shorter interactive activity on my website. Or create your own on TinyTap.