Submitted by: Second Avenue Learning

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. The objective of the lesson is to introduce student to the concepts of the popular and electoral vote. This lesson assumes that students have some prior knowledge of the Electoral College as an institution, including its history, how the number of electoral votes is determined for each state, and how the winner of each state’s popular vote receives the entirety of its electoral votes.  

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Compare and contrast the popular vote and the electoral vote.
  2. Examine and discuss historical election data in relation to popular and electoral votes.
  3. Explain how it is possible to win an election with only the electoral votes.


  • Computers or other devices with Internet access
  • Interactive whiteboard


This lesson plan features an election interactive called Voters Ed: Trial Edition, developed by Second Avenue Learning, which 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 to get an overview of how the interactive works. Note this version has limited functionality.

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

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Ask students to open Voters Ed: Trial Edition and load the default Population Map. Or, you can display it on the whiteboard. Provide the following prompt either orally or on the board: What are the fewest number of states a candidate needs to win in order to receive the required total of 270 electoral votes to win the presidency? To help students, you may provide a written list of 20 suggested states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont
  2. Ask students to share their responses to the prompt. On the whiteboard, set the Population Map so that all states are highlighted for a single candidate (e.g. all Democrat). Ask students to observe the electoral vote totals at the top of the map, then begin changing some states to highlight the other candidate (e.g. Republican). This will allow students to test their list of states.
  3. Make sure students understand that the fewest number of states required to win the electoral vote is 11: California (55 votes), Texas (38), Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Georgia (16), Michigan (16), North Carolina (15), and New Jersey (14). Adjust the interactive map to highlight each of these states. If students are using their own devices, they may do this along with you.
  4. Divide the class into groups of three. Assign each group one of the following elections to research: 1876, 1888, and 2000. Encourage each group to use both the Election History button and supplementary resources to learn about their assigned election. Invite every student to take note of the popular vote and electoral vote totals for that year.
  5. Once students have completed this research, invite a spokesperson for each election year to describe that election.
  6. Discuss with students how it was possible, in these elections, for a candidate to win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College vote. Encourage them to consider factors such as third party candidates, differences across states, or other historical events.

Extension Activities:

Ask students to use the Voters Ed application to examine other elections in history. Invite them to write an essay, record a video, or write a comic strip that answers this question: Why haven't there been more elections in which a candidate won the Electoral College vote but not the popular vote?