Presidential Elections - ESL Lesson

The Elections
It's Time to Vote. Andrew Rich / Getty Images

It's the presidential election season in the United States and the topic is quite popular in classes around the country. Discussing the presidential election can cover a wide range of topics beyond just the two candidates. For example, you might discuss and explain the U.S. electoral college and process of collecting and counting votes. Advanced level classes might find the topic especially interesting as they can bring in observations and comparisons from their own electoral systems.

Here are some suggestions and short activities that you can use in class to focus on the election. I've put them in the order in which I'd present the exercises in class in order to build up vocabulary. However, each exercise could certainly be done as a standalone activity.

Definition Match Up

Match the key vocabulary concerning elections to the definition.

Terms

  1. attack ads
  2. candidate
  3. debate
  4. delegate
  5. Electoral College
  6. electoral vote
  7. party convention
  8. party platform
  9. political party
  10. popular vote
  11. presidential nominee
  12. primary election
  13. registered voter
  14. slogan
  15. sound bite
  16. stump speech
  17. swing state
  18. third party
  19. to elect
  20. to nominate
  21. voter turnout
  22. voting booth

Definitions

  • choose who will be the next president
  • a state which does not typically vote either Republican or Democrat but 'swings' back and forth between the parties
  • a short phrase which is used to encourage voters to support a candidate
  • a political party which is neither Republican nor Democrat
  • the person who runs for president 
  • the person who is chosen by the party to run for president
  • an election to decide who will be chosen by the party 
  • a representative from a state who can vote at the primary convention
  • a gathering of a political party to choose a candidate and vote on other issues important to the party
  • a standard speech that is used repeatedly during a campaign
  • advertising which is aggressive and tries to hurt the other candidate
  • a short phrase which sums up an opinion or fact and is repeated throughout the media
  • how many people vote in the election, usually expressed in a percentage
  • the group of state representatives which cast the electoral vote
  • a vote by someone in the Electoral College for the vote
  • the number of people who vote for the president

Conversation Questions

Here are some questions to get the conversation going. These questions use the vocabulary in the match up to help start using the new vocabulary actively.

  • Which parties have candidates?
  • Who are the nominees? 
  • Have you seen a presidential debate?
  • How do presidential elections differ from the US election in your country?
  • Do voters have to register in your country?
  • What's voter turnout like in your country?
  • Do you understand the difference between the Electoral college and the popular vote?
  • What do you think are the main "planks" in each party's platform?
  • Which candidate appeals to you? Why?

Electoral Points of View

In this day and age of media sound bites, it can be a helpful exercise to remind students that media coverage almost has its own point-of-view despite claims of objectivity.

Ask students to try to find examples of articles that are biased from both the left and the right, as well as from a neutral point of view. 

  • Have students find an example of a biased Republican and Democratic news report or article.
  • Ask students to underline the biased opinions.
  • Each student should explain how the opinion is biased. Questions that can't help include: Does the blog post represent a specific point of view? Does the author appeal to the emotions or rely on statistics? How does the writer try to persuade the reader of his or her point of view? Etc. 
  • Ask students to write a short blog post or paragraph presenting either candidate from a biased point of view. Encourage them to exaggerate!
  • As a class, discuss what types of signs they look for when looking for bias.

Student Debate

For more advanced classes, ask students to debate the issues being presented as themes of the election.

Students should base their arguments on how they think each candidate would address the issues. 

Student Polling Activity

A simple exercise: ask students to vote for either candidate and count the votes. The results may surprise everyone! 

Finally, students might also find this presidential election dialogue helpful, as well as this longer reading comprehension on presidential elections