I usually focus on the President and Vice President offices unless it is a nonpresidential year, when I might focus on the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. I want to pick the high profile offices because there is usually a lot of information on them. Then we list the candidates for each office and I ask students to pick a candidate to follow. I have them cut out articles from the paper or off the internet to discuss. They can also take notes from debates and TV ads. If possible, I try to tape the debates so we can watch them in class. We also list major topics that we want to like education, environment, taxes, etc and find out how the candidate feels about each one. Once a week, I let students share with the class the information that they have gathered. I encourage questions about the candidate’s platform and if they can’t answer them, I encourage them to find out the answers. This also leads to discussions at home, which I think are wonderful. Sometimes students will start pulling for one candidate over enough but I explain to them to wait until they feel comfortable with all the information they need to make an informed decision. At no time do I try to sway my students to support one candidate over another though and I usually tell them I’m undecided until election time because I’m gathering information. Otherwise, some students want to pick whichever one I like (thinking it will help their grade) or parents may feel like I’m campaigning for a certain candidate (which I don’t want to do in the classroom).
I think this process can be taught in elementary school and up. I remember when I was in elementary school and standing at the bus stop, we debated whether Jimmy Carter would be a good president (oops! Am I showing my age now?). Children are talking about the process because the media is flooded with this information! I think it is important to teach them how to sift through the information for fact and fiction in order to be better informed. This will improve reading skills and teach them how to analyze information. This was very successful in my class and hopefully it will be in yours too.