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How Mock Elections Can Help Students Write for Different Audiences

Show students the real impact of writing during this election season

by Tanner Higgin

Common Sense Education logoIf you're an ELA teacher, election season is a perfect time to show students how writing has real impact. Everything from debates to campaign posters to stump speeches hinges on the very rhetorical skills students practice daily in an ELA classroom. To take advantage of this connection between ELA skills and elections, I put together a lesson plan that challenges students to use their persuasive skills to craft an election platform, analyze audiences, give speeches, and assess each other's campaign messages. While you can examine the lesson plan separately, I delve into it a bit more here.

Lesson Plan Explanation

First off, I have a few key goals in mind:

Help students understand political campaigns and how campaigns connect to what they're doing in class.

  1. Show students the importance of audience to writing.
  2. Get students to use audience meaningfully in their writing.
  3. Use formative and peer-to-peer assessment techniques.
  4. Address a ton of Common Core standards.

And to make the lesson feel more authentic and playful -- but not push the inhibitory limits of high school students -- I decided to use a little bit of role-play in the lesson.

In this lesson, students play a couple of roles: both candidate and constituent. Here's how it works:

First, they get assigned a constituency (e.g., a union, cultural group, or professional organization) with a specific set of demographics, expectations, needs, and so on. (For those of you familiar with tabletop role-play like Dungeons & Dragons, these guidelines act as their character sheets.)

Second, they act as a political candidate on a campaign tour, visiting constituencies and giving speeches. In this way, students must, as constituents, assess other students and also, as candidates, craft speeches for constituencies. I see this structure as packing a lot of punch: Students get a lot of practice both writing for audiences and assessing how writing meets the needs of audiences -- all in a fun, authentic, and playful context. Since constituents also cast votes (with written comments) based on how well the candidates' speeches met their needs, there's also useful feedback and healthy challenge.

As with any lesson, there's a lot of room for adaptation, from high-tech (blog posts and discussion along with dynamic, real-time voting using polling apps) to no-tech (giving speeches in class and using secret ballots). I made sure to note a few possible tweaks.

Don't forget to check out the lesson plan!

Photos courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

This article was originally published on Common Sense Education.

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