Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

This lesson plan, adaptable for grades 3-12, is built around Voters Ed: Trial Edition, an interactive designed to help students better understand the presidential election process. After watching a BrainPOP movie about the presidential election, students will use Voters Ed to explore election history dating back to 1789, including the participating candidates, key issues of the day,  and a U.S. map showing the results. Applying what they learn about past elections as well as what they discover about the upcoming election, students will use an interactive map to simulate their election prediction results. Finally, they will support their predictions using persuasive arguments.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Learn about the presidential election, from primaries and caucuses to electoral colleges, and more.
  2. Research key issues from one historic election, and present findings to the class.
  3. Identify differences between political parties using a concept map.
  4. Investigate the political makeup of different states, including population, voter registration, and campaign donations, and use the information to make predictions about the outcome of the upcoming election.
  5. Compare and contrast election predictions and use facts to persuade others to agree with their predictions.


  • Computers or other devices with Internet access
  • Interactive whiteboard


campaign, caucus, candidate, election, electoral college, nominate, political party, popular vote, primary


This lesson plan features Voters Ed: Trial Edition, an interactive developed by Second Avenue Learning. Voters Ed: Trial Edition engages students in the presidential election by having them explore historic elections and challenging them to use a prediction map to simulate results of the upcoming presidential race for the White House.

Preview and play Voters Ed: Trial Edition to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs. If students will be working in small groups, review tips on Setting Cooperative Gaming Expectations. Watch this tutorial video about Voters Ed for an overview of how the interactive works. Note this version has limited functionality.

For ideas on how to use SnapThought with this game, read Voters Ed: Additional Features for My BrainPOP for more information and specific SnapThought prompts to provide students during game play.

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies: Presidential Election, Political Parties, Voting, Primaries & Caucuses, Presidential Power or BrainPOP Jr. movies: President and Branches of Government.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Show the BrainPOP movie Presidential Election on the whiteboard or other display. After watching, prompt a discussion about the electoral college. Ask what the electoral college is, including its role in determining the President. Make sure students know that the popular vote (most votes across the country) does NOT determine who is elected. They should understand that the President is elected by electoral votes, and that each state gets a certain number of electoral votes based on a its population (higher population = more electoral votes). Students should also know that there are 538 votes in the Electoral College system. Ask how many electoral votes a candidate has to win to to be elected? The answer is 270.
  2. Display Voters Ed: Trial Edition on the whiteboard. Click the Election History button. Model using the drop down menu to select a year. Choose an early year, such as 1888. Point out that for each election year they can see the candidates, key issues, factoids, new states (if any), and questions about that election. Now draw their attention to the map and explain that it shows the results of that election. Remind them of the year they are looking at (e.g., 1888), and ask why some states have no results. They should recognize that those states did not yet exist.  
  3. Divide the class into pairs, and assign an election year to each. Instruct them to research the candidates and key issues listed for that campaign, examine the results map, and answer the exploratory questions. Then have pairs present their research to the class. As a way to keep the class engaged, pairs should pose the exploratory questions to their classmates to assess their understanding. Or, they can make up their own questions. For example, they might ask how it is possible in the 2000 election that Bush won if Gore had more of the popular vote.
  4. Now have pairs watch the BrainPOP movie Political Parties within Make-a-Map to learn about the history and differences of today’s two major political parties. As they watch, have them create a t-chart using Make-a-Map, and take notes on the differences between the two parties. Explain that having this background will help them as they make predictions for the upcoming election. NOTE: If you don’t have access to Make-a-Map, students can watch the movie Political Parties and take notes offline on a t-chart.
  5. Display Voters Ed: Trial Edition on the whiteboard again. Click the Prediction Map button. Tell students they will now work with their partners to simulate the results of the upcoming election. Point out that the default map displays the results of the 2012 election. Scroll down on the sidebar and click “Clear my predictions.” Model how to change the colors of the map by clicking a solid, leaning or toss up button in the sidebar then select a state. Hover over a state to show how the info icon appears, then click and point out the information for that state in the sidebar. To predict whether a state will be solid. leaning, or a toss up, tell students they will need to evaluate the provided state information (population, party affiliation) as well as consider the key issues and the candidates’ opinions on those issues. Explain that this will require research. Encourage pairs to review their political parties t-chart they created in Make-a-Map to recall the opinions of the parties on the different issues.
  6. If students have individual logins through My BrainPOP, encourage them to use the SnapThought® tool to take snapshots while they’re making their election results predictions. Review Voters Ed: Additional Features for My BrainPOP for suggested prompts.
  7. Have each pair compare and contrast their prediction map with another pair. If their predictions for certain states differ, have them persuade each other of their predictions. Encourage them to use their snapshots to support their argument for their predictions.

Extension Activities:

With the excitement of the upcoming election, here are some related activities you can do with your students:

Election Scavenger Hunt   Create an election scavenger hunt list or have students create one. Here are some ideas to include on the list:

  • article about the Democratic candidate
  • article about the Republican candidate
  • article about the Independent candidate (if there is one)
  • photograph of each candidate  
  • editorial cartoon about any of the candidates or a campaign issue
  • bumper sticker, yard sign, or other promo for a candidate (they can take a picture or bring one in)

Election History Scavenger Hunt   Have students create (or you can create) a scavenger hunt  in which the goal is to find facts in the Election History part of the Voters Ed. Students explore different election years and come up with questions. Then students swap their scavenger hunt with a classmate. After they find all the answers, they can swap with someone else. Here are example questions:

  • Which election years resulted in more red states than blue?
  • Find an  election year in which the candidate with a higher popular vote lost the election. HINT: Review the BrainPOP movie Presidential Election.
  • Find an election year when there were less than 50 states.
  • When was the first election where republican party won?

Mock Election Set up a mock election in the classroom. Invite students to take on the roles of the candidates and debate the issues. Then take a class vote. Graph the results.

Analyze a Campaign Ad Collect print campaign ads and/or look at campaign commercials online. Have students review the ads and analyze whether or not they are persuasive. Prompt them to consider what makes the ads persuasive or not.

Interview the Candidate Assign some students the roles of the current presidential candidates and other students the role of interviewer. Partner each candidate with an interviewer. Both should research the candidate’s opinions on key issues in this election. The interviewer is to prepare questions for the candidate and the candidate prepares his or her answers. When they are ready, the pairs conduct their interview. Have them record their interviews and share with the class.