How to Talk to Students About the Election

The campaign and election that engaged today’s students more so than any political contest before is behind us. Educators have the incredible responsibility of providing civil context to students, and this election has resulted in much-needed dialogue. Educators are rightfully praised for teaching why the democratic process thrives on voting, but it can be far more difficult and important to teach that democracy only works when we accept and understand an election’s results.

We know this election sparked great emotion in children and teenagers. Naturally, these feelings come with students into their classrooms. Promoting student expression about the changing political landscape can create powerful learning opportunities, but expecting kids and teenagers to communicate deeply held emotions in a manner that cultivates a healthy classroom culture is difficult. Not allowing students to express themselves at this junction will have greater, and potentially worse consequences later.

Part of what I have seen engage learners and deepen knowledge and communication skills is when educators leverage topics of student interest. From my work with educators, the election has generated deep interest in more students than any other topic of recent memory. Many youth already already turn to writing to vent, reflect, and question. This great level of interest and overload of emotion can evolve into powerful learning with the use of strategic writing assignments. Simple writing prompts in the classroom, and at home, can help transition students’ emotions about the election into thinking that can elevate their understanding of their own and different perspectives.

For elementary and middle school students, teachers can use prompts like the ones below to help students channel their feelings into clear, specific responses.

  • The election results make me feel _____

  • I am concerned the new President will _____

  • I hope the new President will _____

  • I think the new President can be good at / not good at _____

Middle and high school teachers can incorporate class content with questions like;  

  • The new President will / will not be successful with international relations because _____

  • The new President will / will not be successful with domestic issues because _____

Replacing the domestic and international example with issues like the economy, education, health care, and other topics students learned about through the campaign will drive deeper thinking. Science teachers can use topics such as the environment, science funding, and other content-specific topics. To drive class dialogue, teachers can select responses that present multiple viewpoints, and which decrease likelihood of being offensive, as discussion anchors.

Few experiences both bind and divide people like a national election. We want our youth to be engaged and reflective in classrooms that are also emotionally safe and thought-provoking. Writing can help foster both. When our students can express their ideas in a focused manner they can gain a deeper understanding of their own and different perspectives, while learning about the complexities of our unique democracy.

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