Introduction

There are two major political parties in the United States—the Democratic Party and the Republican Party—and the youth are often unaware of the majority of the values, beliefs, and histories held by each of the parties, besides the information they have learned from their parents. Third parties are often overlooked, but they are important for individuals to learn about nonetheless. Teaching students about political parties and the political spectrum will give students the opportunities to form their own political beliefs, which will be important for them in the future when the time comes for them to vote.  

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching about political parties and the political spectrum. Because politics can be a touchy subject, it is one that many educators shy away from, but these resources will help you to teach your students about politics in the right way.

Lesson Plans

  1. Academy 4SC: Find videos related to political parties and the political spectrum at Academy 4SC, like Anti-Federalist vs. Federalist: The Debate Over the Constitution, John Locke: A New Slate for Governing, and Thomas Hobbes: Sign Here, Society, among others. Teachers have access to resources like worksheets, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more included in each topic’s lesson plan. Explore Academy 4SC’s full library of applicable content under the tag Political Parties and the Political Spectrum.
  2. Lesson Plan – Political Parties and Ideologies: This lesson plan calls for students to “explore and analyze the various types of political party systems and learn about the general characteristics of political parties.” The full plan can be found on a Google doc, and available resources for this lesson include Google slides and a supplemental resources document. The topics discussed in this lesson are George Washington’s Farewell Address, types of political party systems, and the political spectrum. Students will be engaging in hands-on activities which will require them to form their own personal political beliefs and ideology and which type of political party system they believe would make for the best government.
  3. Political Parties – Two is Company, Three’s a Crowd: PBS has put together a lesson plan for students in grades 7-12 that should take about one to two 50-minute class periods. The focus of this lesson plan is to have students “examine the two-party political system in the United States and the effect upon it that third parties have had.” The site provides all of the materials you will need, including student handouts, a film, and an informational website along with additional resources. This resource is a great one for learning about third parties, as they are often overlooked when it comes to examining political parties.
  4. Political Parties and Conventions: CarolinaK12 provides educators with a lesson plan which will have students “compare and contrast American political parties with an emphasis on the two major parties, Democratic and Republican” and explore how party leaders and platforms are chosen. Students will participate in a Democratic or Republican mock convention and later a mock press conference, where students will assume the role of prominent party leaders and reporters. Lastly, students will be given the opportunity to form their own opinions about what party they believe represents their beliefs and views best.

Articles

  1. Why We Need Political Parties: The New York Times published an opinion article which explains why democracies need political parties, despite the fact that many activists believe that nongovernmental organizations are the answer. The author believes that our country needs a “disruptive innovation that pulls democratic parties into the 21st century” in order for them to inspire those, especially the young, who dislike politics and keep political parties alive in the process.
  2. What to Know About the Origins of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ in Politics, From the French Revolution to the 2020 Presidential Race: This article gives a run-down of the most important information readers should know about the origins of “left” and “right” in politics. Carlisle explains the story of how these terms came into existence and how the “left-wing” and “right-wing” spread and entered American politics. Possibly the most important part of this article is when the author explains what “left” and “right” mean today, as this is most relevant to the present day’s political environment.

Informational Sites

  1. Political Parties – Lesson Overview: Khan Academy published a brief lesson overview on political parties, which includes information on linkage institutions, political parties, and party platforms. Key takeaways are provided for students to review the most important ideas, and review questions are located at the bottom of the page for educators to use to test how much their students have learned.
  2. Ideologies of Political Parties – Lesson Overview: This lesson overview from Khan Academy provides information on dominant U.S. ideologies and political parties. The terms of conservative ideology, the Democratic Party, liberal ideology, progressive ideology, the Republican Party, communitarian, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and nationalists are defined, and review questions are given for educator’s use.
  3. The History of Political Parties: lumen provides a history of political parties and gives information on the first political parties (federalists and anti-federalists), political parties from 1800-1824, Jacksonian Democrats (1824-1860), the Golden Age (1860-1932), and the modern era of political parties. Within each category are learning objectives and key takeaways along with general information on the subject.

Conclusion

Teaching students about political parties and the political spectrum is a very important job, and though politics is a sensitive topic to many, as long as you stick to teaching the facts rather than your opinions about political parties, much good can come from it. As a part of civic duty, every citizen of the United States has the right to vote, and in order for your students to eventually uphold this duty, they need to understand the differences between political parties. In addition, learning about the history of political parties in the United States is a significant part of our nation’s past, and the only way to understand our present-day political climate is to learn how it evolved over time.

Additional Resources

  1. Lesson Plan – Political Parties: K-12 Civics Education offers a lesson plan on political parties, which calls for students to work together in groups to explain one of five political parties and research the history of the party and the party’s position on five major political issues. A rubric is provided for evaluating each group’s response and all of the necessary materials for the plan.
  2. The Political Spectrum – Teacher Activity Guide: This teacher’s activity guide on the political spectrum includes an activity where teachers will read off items provided and students will determine where each falls on the political spectrum. In addition, there is an informational page on the differences in the beliefs of Democrats and Republicans and a worksheet which will evaluate how much information the students learned on the topic.
  3. Democratic Party and Republican Party: History.com provides two separate informational pages, one on the Democratic Party and another on the Republican Party. The article on the Democratic Party provides information on the Democratic-Republican Party, Jacksonian Democrats, Civil War and Reconstruction, Progressive Era and the new Deal, and more, while the article on the Republican Party provides information on early political parties, slavery and the Republicans, Reconstruction, Progressive Era and the Great Depression, Emergence of New Conservatism, and other subject matters.