Getting Students Out to Vote! Lessons in Youth Civic Participation

By Curt Melo- https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/tweak-vote

Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

One of the most important rights people have in a Democracy is the right to vote in a free and fair election. However, unfortunately many people do not exercise their right to vote in the US. One of the primary reasons for people not voting is a lack of education or understanding of the process. Some people may not realize they have to register to vote first. Others may not know (Especially during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic) that they can vote early and avoid the crowds. Recently, there is a fear that mail in votes will not get to the polls in time for election day. But people may not realize that they can vote weeks earlier than the general election date. If citizens want to vote early through the mail they may not realize they have to request a ballot. But these reasons are all due to a lack of civic education.

One of the original purposes of social studies classrooms in the US (Which dates back to the mid 1800’s) was to educate citizens on their rights and responsibilities in a democracy. In this way, social studies teachers should design and develop curricula that will take students through the steps required to vote successfully when they are of voting age. In a high school senior level American government class many students are already old enough to vote, they just may not know the process or even deem it important. Below you will find lesson plans and activities surrounding voting for classroom use. 

Lesson Plans and Resources
Lesson Plan: To Vote or Not to Vote
Voting! What’s It All About?
Voting and Elections: Resources for a Civil Classroom
Voting Matters Activity
Lesson Plan: How to Vote and Why it Matters
Informed Voter Education in the Classroom
Elections: Lesson Plan
Elections and Civics Lesson Plan
Service-Learning Toolkit for Voting Engagement

18 Comments

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Getting Students Out to Vote! Lessons in Youth Civic Participation and the importance of addressing a person’s role with voting in a democracy. I personally know of a person who is in their 50’s and still to this day is not registered to vote but will be one of the first to voice their political complaints. This has always puzzled me why this person has chosen to not register, but now after reading this article I have come to the possible realization that this person was never taught how important their role is as a voting U.S. citizen. I am concerned that people may not know what their options are for the upcoming election and we may see an all-time low in voting polls for 2020. This might be avoided if we were able to spread the word on the many ways a person can exercise their voting rights, it’s not too late!

  2. I really like the idea of doing lesson plans to get students to vote. There does seem to be a problem with students being unaware of the process. Voting is the keystone of any democracy. I feel one area we could also focus on in addition to how to vote is why vote. I’ve seen too many people my age vote for reasons such as they don’t think their votes will matter. I think it would be helpful to teach why their votes do matter.

  3. Dr. Childs,

    I really enjoyed your article about getting students out to vote. This matter is so important, and many of us do not know that importance of it. I think something to add is that it is our duty as students to help other students learn about voting and the importance of having that right! Also, I think it is a great idea to have social studies teachers take the lead in teaching and informing students on the steps to vote successfully.

  4. I really enjoyed this article, as I also think that many people do not know how to vote nor want to because of it taking up their time. Yet, voting is a very important thing to participate in which I wish everyone would. My father being a social studies teacher made sure I registered to vote as soon as I turned 18. I am grateful for having him making me register, because I am not sure if I would have gone out of my way to register myself honestly. This past year, I voted by mail and requested a ballot when choosing KY’s state senator. It was so easy to request a ballot and to do it from home, I think if others knew how simple and easy it was they would also vote more too!

  5. Dr. Childs,
    I really enjoyed reading this article that you wrote as I do not have much background knowledge relating to how important voting is for everyone. Before reading this article,I was unaware of the reasons why so many young people do not vote. I had no idea and would never have guessed that the answer to this question was so simple-because youth are not properly educated or do not understand the voting process.I have always thought that youth do not vote because they are afraid of choosing the wrong candidate and in doing so, being ridiculed by the family or peers.I thought it was a fear based decision or maybe that young people felt one vote wasn’t important enough to affect the outcome so why even bother.This was a very interesting article and I have definitely learned quite a lot of valuable knowledge about voting by reading it, so thank you for sharing this with us!!

  6. Dr. Childs,
    I really enjoyed this article. I think it is very important to vote. It is true, so many younger people are uneducated on how to vote. I myself, didn’t know you had to register, I was unfamiliar of the process until I educated myself in college. More education on the voting process needs to be taught in school, today’s generation needs to be educated on how to vote. Many people feel as if 1 vote won’t matter, but all those 1 votes add up too many votes that do matter, your voice matters, and your vote matters.

  7. I thought this article was so great and very fitting for the state that the country is in right now. Voting has always been engrained in my head by my parents that it’s so important and that it’s my civic duty. Now more than ever is the time for people, especially college students, to go out and vote because every vote matters. I also love the idea of incorporating it into a lesson so that students know at a younger age the importance of voting.

  8. This is such an important topic that needs to taught in schools. The resources provided in this article are of such great use. As a future educator, it is my responsibility to make sure that students know why it is important to vote. I remember my senior year of high school when my government teacher made sure all of us were registered to vote, if we were of age. Looking back, it took little to no time for me to sign up to vote and he even did it during a class period so I did not have to take “extra time out of my day to register.” While I am teaching elementary education and won’t have the ability to do that, leaving such an important message with them to vote is something that I can make sure to do.

  9. Voting is a vital right in our democracy. Still, voter turnout is lower in the United States than in other countries. Teaching young people the process and importance of voting is something that high school classes should focus on. Giving the opportunity for students to register to vote, both in high school and college for younger students, may help with the registration numbers, but teaching the younger generation the importance of actually voting is important. While you are not be able to register elementary school students to vote, teachers still have the ability to teach the importance of having your vote counted.

  10. Dr. Childs:

    This article was extremely thoughtful and relevant in terms of the context of our current society. In light of the present political environment and the conversations related to voting opportunities, it is clearer than ever before that we must provide students with lessons regarding necessary civil engagement. All too often, we find ourselves only sharing lessons related to history. Although historic figures and the founding elements of our government remain important today, teaching lessons of civic engagement and other related elements are of equal importance. When lessons of this nature are not included in the curriculum, then we are failing as an education system in preparing students to be career and life ready.

    The lesson plans and resources which you provided in the article would be truly beneficial in any classroom. I believe classrooms serve as an avenue to prepare children in becoming active and responsible adults. This may be easily referred to as life readiness. In my curriculum, I would provide a variety of simulations which would provide opportunities that mirrored true civic engagement. For example, during election season, we could possibly promote a mock election in which students had the opportunity to vote. With an intentionally designed instruction, students would most definitely be prepared for the future.

  11. This article was a great read about the importance of getting out and voting. Many people probably don’t know that they can request a ballot in the mail so they can avoid crowds during covid-19. I also really liked the idea of using lesson plans in the classroom to educate students about voting, and why they should vote. Many people don’t vote due to lack of knowledge on the matter. By teaching this in schools, students will be able to have a better understanding of why voting is so important and what they can do to get involved.

  12. I really liked your article on getting students to vote. It is important for us as educators to teach our students the rights and responsibilities of citizens. If we do not teach this subject in our class, then they will be uninformed citizens and may not exercise the rights that they have being U.S. citizens. Also, it makes a democracy stronger when all citizens know and exercise their rights, especially the right to vote.

  13. I really enjoyed this article because I usually have to inform people around me on the importance of voting. I think a lot of people don’t understand how important voting is or feel like their vote doesn’t matter. Voter turnout is pretty low in the US, especially with younger voters, and this needs to change. I also acknowledge how important it is as an educator to educate my students on the voting process and how it works. The process can be very confusing, and if people had more education on how they can vote and when they can vote, we would have more voters. I love the lesson plans that are included and would definitely incorporate them into my classroom!

  14. I was very surprised that the original purpose of social studies was to educate students on their rights within a democracy — this is information that I definitely did not know before reading this article. I believe that informing students about their rights as citizens of the United States is an essential aspect of social studies that has been ignored by many teachers, including the ones that taught me back in middle and high school. Almost all of the information that I have learned about voting and elections is either from my parents or from my own independent research — I do not believe this should have been the case, since this topic falls under the “social studies” umbrella and should have been taught to me in class. If there is a bigger push for social studies teachers to educate their students about voting in the near future, then many American citizens might feel more comfortable voting and the voter turnout may begin to improve in the coming years.

  15. The topic of voting is so important and I agree with you that there is a lack of education on this topic. So many people do not get out and vote because they think their vote will not matter. Voting is a right that so many people have fought to have. Now most people age 18 and older are able to register to vote (with a few exceptions like being a convicted felon). Just about 100 years ago women fought for their right to vote and African Americans had to fight even harder for their right and finally in 1965 The Voting Rights Act prohibited states from using methods to exclude African Americans from voting. Schools need to put more of an emphasis on voting education to their students. I remember when I was in the sixth grade, our school held a mock election during the same time the actual 1992 Presidential Election was taking place. We had to register to vote and we also got to cast ballots. This would be a good school wide event to do with high school students because there is an election every four years, so each student will be able to participate at some time in their high school career.

  16. Voting is an important right to have as an American, although some people don’t exercise it due to civic ignorance. This may be because some kids were never taught about how to request absentee ballots, where to go to vote in person, or even to register. One of my teachers in high school who taught World Civics did a phenomenal job of educating all of us on how to vote and how to register to vote. She held tables in the cafeteria where students could come and register, and I think this is really helpful cause it’s something they could do in their free time. She also talked about it in her classes and why it’s important to vote and showed us how easy it is to register. The sad thing is, that was probably the first-time students learned anything about voting. This is why I liked the resources that Dr. Child’s provided along with this article because they are meant for younger students and the younger you expose them, the better.

  17. Dr. Childs’ article “Getting Students Out to Vote! Lessons in Youth Civic Participation” is a great read about the duty Social Studies teachers have to encourage civic participation in their students. He points out that many people do not exercise their right to vote because they are unsure of the process. Some people may not even realize they need to register first, or that they can vote before the election by requesting a mail-in ballot. This, as Dr. Childs points out, is all due to a lack of civic education.
    There are many reasons for young people to vote, but unfortunately, they do not do so in large enough numbers to accomplish real change. Many issues affect young voters, like student loan policy and climate change policy among others, yet young people do not seem to be as engaged in the political process as they should be. As a Social Studies teacher, even at the middle school level, I will make it a priority for my students to understand voting- not only how to vote, but why it is important.

  18. I really enjoyed reading this article because I felt like I was never taught how to vote either. I definitely plan to go to the court house this year with my parents and vote in the presidential election for the first time. I have always been nervous to vote because I was never taught how exactly to do it. I think it’s important that teachers explain good resources for students to use to educate themselves on who is running in the election, where to go to vote, and how to fill out a ballot. Especially right now when people can vote early and send it in through mail. Teachers should educate their students on how important it is to put in their input and have a say in who runs our country. Thank you for this article and the resources!

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