Introduction

The United States is built on the foundations of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Along with possessing these unalienable rights, each citizen over the age of 18 has the right to vote. However, not all citizens utilize this right or understand civic engagement. In order for this to change, students need to learn how their government works, the process of voting, and how they can become involved. Teaching students about their civic rights and voting is a great way to encourage them to learn more and engage in their communities.

Resources

There is an abundance of resources online that teachers can use to teach their students about civic rights and voting. These lesson plans, articles, and informational sites have the possibility to make a difference in these students lives (if presented correctly) and are a sure way to make students aware of the fact that their voice, their vote, matters.

Lesson Plans

  1. Elections: Scholastic provides a collection of lesson plans, articles, book lists, discussion guides, and other resources for a variety of grade levels about elections to teach students about how important democracy is. The website has two different lesson plans, each of which provide the target grade levels, the duration, quick links to lesson materials (books, activities, and/or worksheets), objectives, directions for set up, lesson instructions, lesson extensions, an evaluation, and a lesson assessment. These lesson plans are both creative and extremely thorough, guaranteeing that they will be ones the students will remember!
  2. Elections and Civics Lesson Plans: GROWINGVOTERS.ORG provides “engaging hands-on classroom activities on electioneering, campaigning, and voting to support teachers as they help students develop into informed and motivated participants in the U.S. electoral system.” The site has lesson plans for all grade levels, from elementary school lessons to college assignments and exercises. These lesson plans include an overview, essential questions, national standards, objectives, instructions for the activities, and other resources for teachers to use in their classrooms. The main goal of the lessons are for students to understand how elections work in order for them to eventually participate in civic engagement activities.

Articles

  1. 10 Ways to Teach About Election Day: The New York Times published an article discussing 10 ways to teach students about election day. The piece recommends playing election bingo, creating fact sheets, writing personal statements, holding a mock election, hunting for election results, examining a local election, creating candidate profiles, and other activities. The authors give some directions to help teachers get started on these tasks with their classes. Try out some of these suggestions!
  2. How to Define Civic Engagement: This article is one that will help students learn more about both civic and political engagement. More geared towards older students who have a passion for politics and want to become more involved, this piece discusses the definitions of civic and political engagement, the degrees of political engagement, the purposes of civic and political engagement, the methods of teaching these types of engagement, and further research and reading.
  3. Teaching For Civic Engagement: TeachingChannel presents an article on teaching for civic engagement. The author, Matthew Colley, outlines the challenges he has faced when breaking down civic engagement for his students. He talks about how he incorporates civic engagement into his classroom and recommends a list of blog posts that may inspire others “to teach for civic engagement and provide a space for conversation for others to share their thinking, work, and insights.” 

Informational Sites

  1. youth.gov – Civic Engagement: youth.gov offers an article that defines civic engagement, gives examples of civic engagement, and provides a list of resources for further research. This resource is good for students because it will help them to learn about civic engagement and its four constructs: civic action, civic commitment or duty, civic skills, and social cohesion. For teachers who want their students to participate in civic engagement, this article is a great way to show them how they can make a difference!
  2. Civic Engagement: The American Psychological Association talks about civic engagement, some great resources for civic engagement, and APA divisions with a role in civic engagement. This informational site gives a good explanation of civic engagement and will be a good way to motivate students and their families to volunteer or participate.
  3. Importance of Voting: Hattie Lindell published a brief essay regarding the importance of voting. Lindell talks about how even though most Americans should know about the concept of voting and take advantage of it, not nearly everyone does. She goes on to express her opinion on how many people, young and old, don’t vote. It’s a great read for the generation who will soon be in the position to decide whether or not to vote in elections!

Conclusion

Many young people, despite having the right, decide not to vote when they come of age. Youth Service America says that the four reasons young people don’t vote are because they’re not asked or encouraged to vote, they’re not taught how the government and elections work, there are too many barriers to overcome, and they’re not interested in politics or don’t think their vote makes a difference. If we want the youth to become more involved, they need to learn about civic rights and voting. Since their parents aren’t teaching them, it is up to the dedicated teachers to help them learn!

Additional Resources

  1. Voting and Voices: Teaching Tolerance has compiled several resources to teach students about “the history and process of voting in the United States.” The site provides a quiz students can take to see how much they really know about voting in the U.S., various lessons, videos, and stories relating to voting, and a pledge students can sign to empower themselves and their families to vote and discuss voting. It’s a great resource to encourage students to get involved and vote in the future!
  2. Voting and Elections: Resources for a Civil Classroom: Teaching Tolerance put together a list of resources for a civil classroom. They are organized into themes of Countering Bias, Civic Activities, and Getting Along and How To. For this specific topic of teaching about civil rights and voting, Civic Activities is the theme that will hold the most promise. The corresponding resources give students ideas on how to participate in civic life and encourage them to get involved in issues that matter to them.
  3. For democracy to survive, it requires civic engagement: This article from Vox talks about how civic engagement is necessary for democracy to survive. Because this piece was written shortly after President Trump was inaugurated and he declared he is bringing the power back to the people, it focuses on how U.S. citizens can hold the power in a democracy.