For more ideas and guidance on how to use these materials in your classroom, view our on-demand webinar with Nicholas Kristof, Janae McMillan, Martha Minow, and Randall Kennedy.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.)
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:
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.