Responding to the 2020 US Presidential Election

Last updated November 9, 2020.

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After weeks of absentee and early voting, the US electorate finished casting their ballots for the next president on November 3, 2020. This election has been shaped by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic: unprecedented numbers of voters chose to vote early or vote by mail, and counting absentee ballots meant the results of the election were not projected until several days after Election Day. While Election Day itself and most public gatherings have been peaceful, it is still possible that there will be unrest or instances of violence during the period following the election. Students who supported Joe Biden and Kamala Harris may feel excitement and hope, while those who supported President Trump and Vice President Pence may feel disappointment, anger, or vulnerability.

This Teaching Idea contains guidance for teachers on how to discuss the election with students, as well as a collection of activities to help students process their emotional responses to the election, find accurate information, and consider the impact of the election outcome. Choose any selection of activities that best fit the needs of your students.

Before Teaching

  1. Start with Yourself
  2. Consider Your Students’ Needs
  3. Coordinate with Colleagues
  4. Adapt for Remote Instruction

Initial Classroom Response

  1. Contract with Your Class
  2. Share What We Know
  3. Reflect Individually
  4. Determine How to Find Accurate Information

Reflect on Election Results

  1. Analyze the Election Results and Make Connections
  2. Look to the Future


  1.  Start with Yourself

    All teachers enter the classroom with their own political beliefs and identities, and self-reflection is important preparation for facilitating sensitive political conversations with your students. Read the “Start with Yourself” section on page 2 of our Fostering Civil Discourse guide. Then reflect on the following questions:

    • What emotions does the election raise for you?
    • What perspectives will you bring to your reflection on the election with your students?
    • What can you do to ensure that students with a range of perspectives are supported in your class reflection?
    • As the news around the election develops, how will you continue to learn alongside your students?
  2.  Consider Your Students’ Needs

    Your students will likely feel a range of emotional reactions after the election. Students who supported the losing candidate may feel disappointment, anger, or vulnerability among classmates or the community. Use the following questions to reflect on the needs and emotions your students may bring to a conversation about the election:

    • What emotions might your students bring to a discussion of the election? For example, which students might be feeling excited, disappointed, or vulnerable?
    • How can you foster a learning environment that respects a range of emotional reactions?
    • Are there any students who might benefit from one-on-one follow up from you or another staff member at your school?
  3.  Coordinate with Colleagues

    Before you discuss the election with your class, it may be helpful to reach out to your colleagues to coordinate your response as a school. Talk to other teachers in your school about how they plan to respond to the election. This can ensure that students have space to reflect, while also helping to avoid repeating the same conversations with students throughout the day.

  4.  Adapt for Remote Instruction

    If you are teaching remotely, it can be challenging to facilitate meaningful and emotional conversations. Consider using the remote teaching guidance in our Fostering Civil Discourse guide to help you plan your conversation.

    Additionally, the following teaching strategies can help facilitate meaningful reflection or discussion, and they all provide adaptations for remote instruction:

    • Journals can help students process their thoughts and feelings. While learning remotely, students may benefit from having added opportunities to reflect individually before participating in remote discussions.
    • Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn asks students to reflect on a topic in their journals, share their reflections in a small group, and then present their ideas to the whole class. This structured format helps students develop their discussion skills with a focus on strengthening their listening skills.
    • Wraparound asks students to share aloud a quick response to a prompt. It provides an efficient way for all students in a classroom to share their ideas about a question, topic, or text, revealing common themes and ideas in students’ thinking.


  1.  Contract with Your Class

    Let your students know that their learning environment is a safe and brave space. Begin with a brief Contracting activity if you have not already forged that space in your classroom. If you have already established a class contract, invite your students to add to or modify the contract to support this conversation using the following questions to prompt students’ thinking:

    • What would a meaningful conversation about the election look like, sound like, and feel like?
    • Which norms in our class contract are most important for guiding a meaningful conversation about the election and why?
    • Are there any new norms we need to add?

    Remote Learning Note: Use our teaching strategy Contracting for Remote Learning to create two contracts with your class, one for in-person learning and one for remote learning.

  2.  Share What Happened

    It could be helpful to begin a discussion about the election by sharing up-to-date information about the results in order to dispel misconceptions students may have. Misinformation about ballot counting and voter fraud has circulated in the wake of the election, and President Trump has made false claims about the legitimacy of the electoral process.  If unrest or violence occurs during the aftermath of the election, you should also share reliable information with your students about the incident in order to dispel misinformation or rumors.

    Helpful sources of information on the election include:

    To share the results of elections and ballot initiatives in your city or town, draw on local newspapers or other coverage.

    Remote Learning Note: Share news sources with your students during a synchronous session, or share the links to sources with your students and ask them to review them asynchronously.

  3.  Reflect Individually

    Give students a few minutes to write in their journals. You might simply ask them to write an open-ended response. Or you might provide a little structure by having them respond using the Pedagogical Triangle. Ask students to divide their paper into three sections and to respond to the following questions:

    • Section 1: What information do we currently know about the results of the election?
    • Section 2: How do you feel about the election and what is happening in the aftermath?
    • Section 3: How should individuals or politicians act in order to protect our democratic institutions?

    You may or may not choose to have your students share any of their reflections. If you choose to have them share, the Wraparound strategy can help make sure that all voices are heard.

    Remote Learning Note: Students can reflect in their journals asynchronously before joining a synchronous or asynchronous discussion on the election. Use our teaching strategy Journaling in a Remote Learning Environment for guidance on setting up student journals during remote learning and our teaching strategy Wraparound (Remote Learning) to ask students to share a key aspect of their journal entry during a synchronous or asynchronous discussion.

  4.  Determine How to Find Accurate Information

    Misinformation about voting practices and the results of the election might spread in the weeks after the polls close, which means it is important for students to know how to determine whether the news they come across is reliable or not. Ask your students:

    • How could seeing or reading misinformation about the election make people less likely to trust the results of the election?
    • What impact could it have if people lose trust in our government or elections?

    Share the News Literacy Project’s How to know what to trust resource  and have students look over the steps it recommends following to determine whether a source is reliable. Ask your students:

    • Do you employ any of these strategies already? If so, which ones?
    • Do any of these strategies surprise you? Why or why not?

    Invite students to write down their goals for how they will follow the news. They can draw on the Ten Questions for ideas. Prompt them to respond to the following questions:

    • What can you do to ensure that the news and information you use to form your opinions is accurate?
    • How will you decide what news to share with your friends or family or post on social media?
    • What effect could misinformation have on our democracy?

    Note: This activity was adapted from our Teaching Idea Where Do We Get Our News and Why Does it Matter?, which contains more activities on media literacy. You may also consider using our Teaching Idea How Can We Evaluate if an Election Is Free and Fair? and the accompanying Explainer Free and Fair Elections to help your students better understand voting practices and electoral systems in the United States.

    Remote Learning Note: Ask students to reflect on the two initial questions individually. Then, ask them to share a short response, either synchronously or asynchronously, using the Wraparound (Remote Learning) strategy.

    Share the  How to know what to trust resource with your students. For synchronous learning, send your students to small-group virtual breakout rooms and ask them to read and discuss the Ten Questions with their groups. For asynchronous learning, ask students to read the Ten Questions individually. Then, assign them to small groups and ask them to discuss the Ten Questions on a shared document or online discussion forum during a defined period of time.

    Invite students to individually write down their goals for how they will follow the news. Then, ask students to share their goals with the class by posting them to a class forum.


  1.  Analyze the Election Results and Make Connections

    Have students use Project Zero’s 3 Ys thinking routine to think about how the outcome of the elections will affect them and those around them. In their journals they can take some time to respond to the following questions:

    • Why might the results of the 2020 presidential election matter to me?
    • Why might they matter to people around me (my family, friends, or community)?
    • Why might they matter to the country?

    After students have had some time to reflect, lead a discussion that allows students to share some of their thinking. You might also include the following questions in the discussion:

    • How might recent events in the United States have influenced the turnout and the outcome of the elections?
    • How are the election results making you and people you know feel in terms of their own agency, vulnerability, and inclusion in American society?

    Remote Learning Note: First, ask students to reflect on the questions individually. Create a forum or shared document for each of the three initial questions:

    • Why might the results of the 2020 presidential election matter to me?
    • Why might they matter to people around me (my family, friends, or community)?
    • Why might they matter to the country?

    Then, ask students to write or record a response to each question and post it to the corresponding document or forum. (Note: You can use Voicethread to allow students to post and respond to audio recordings.)

  2.  Look to the Future

    Finally, ask students to think about how the results of the presidential election affect their thinking about the future. Lead a brief Think, Pair, Share discussion in response to the following questions:

    • Because of the election results, do you think things will get better, worse, or stay the same?
    • How can we support people who are feeling vulnerable because of the election results?
    • What’s next for me/us? What can we do to strengthen our schools, communities, and country, regardless of the election results?

    In addition to a group discussion, you can also direct students to the November 8 New York Times Learning Network Student Opinion Question, which invites students to share their reflections on “Where Do We Go From Here?”

    Remote Learning Note: First, ask students to reflect on the discussion questions individually. Then, assign students to small groups. For synchronous learning, send students to a virtual breakout room with their small groups. For asynchronous learning, ask students to discuss the questions on a shared document or online discussion forum during a defined period of time. Ask each group to pick one member to share the key takeaways from their small group discussion. Students can share synchronously during a full-class session or asynchronously by writing or recording a short summary of their discussion to share with the class.


  • 1 : The New York Times is offering free digital subscriptions to high school students and teachers through September 2021. Without a subscription, you have access to a limited number of free articles per month.
  • 2 : Without a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, you and your students will have access to a limited number of free articles per month.
  • 3 : Without a subscription to the Los Angeles Times, you and your students will have access to a limited number of free articles per month.

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