Debating the Electoral College – A Structured Debate for Students


Let’s admit it.  This past election year has been really tough for teachers.  Although we want to talk about political issues, and we want to give our students the tools to sort through those issues, it’s very difficult to do so when the country is so fractured politically.  I’ve never seen my students so demoralized or disheartened by the political process.

Still, I love discussing the U.S. politics, with all the good and the bad.  I’m admitted political junkie, (the NPR Political podcast always comes up first on my phone), and the topic is naturally intriguing for students.

The results of this election reinvigorated debate over a topic I’ve been having students discuss for the past few years – Should the U.S. keep the Electoral College? 

I decided to create a lesson that had students debate this particular topic.  Generally speaking, it’s rather apolitical (although some may argue that 2016 proved otherwise).  With a debate, I can present both sides of the argument, and then have the students practice their debate skills.  I grade the final debate as a summative assessment, and I require that the students use evidence to support any arguments that they make in class.  By focusing on the Electoral College, the students focus on the election process rather than specific political issues (which generally leads to them parroting the political views of their parents).

I’m not kidding when I say that my students LOVE these debates.  As soon as I mentioned the word “debate” in class a few weeks ago, they were anticipating debate day.  They took preparation for the debate seriously, and asked very pointed questions to make sure they understood the material.  By the time debate day came around, they were ready.

During the debate itself, some of my students were more talkative than others.  To ensure that the students debate more evenly, I hand out little cardstock “talking” cards.  Each student gets four.  Three of the cards prompt students to add a piece of information to the argument, while one prompts them to ask a question.  I’ve seen students ask specific questions of more shyer classmates to draw them into the conversation.  On debate day, I just take one of the desks in the circle.  I sit there with my rubrics, and every time a student makes an accurate comment supported by data, I write an X.  My grading is finished within a half of an hour at the end of the day.

These debates are great for teachers because they can really see what their students have understood from the lesson, and where students still might need some clarification.  There were times when I interjected a comment or two when I could see them conversation veering off track (In one period, the students started to talk about term limits.  It’s a great topic, but not really the point of the debate).  The next day, I discussed a few of the small errors that had been made, and asked them how they had felt about the experience.  Most of them were wondering when we were going to have our next debate.

If you’ve like to have your students conduct an Electoral College debate in your classroom, you can find this product on Teacher Pay Teachers at the following link – Electoral College Debate Activity – Should the U.S. keep the Electoral College?  I’d love to hear how this works in your classroom!

How have you addressed the 2016 election in your classroom?  Add your ideas in the comments!



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