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

10 Comments

  1. Everyone has a right to vote for whoever they choose. We have a democracy which means the people vote to elect figures to be head of our nation. I know many people around my age who choose to stay out of politics. This is because they do not know much or care learn about what is going on at all. I know some people who believe that either party in the government is not wrong or right. As we get older we see and hear things on the news, social media and television that are politics related. More children are being exposed to politics at such a young age but do not really understand what is going on. This could all be refocused on the younger generation if government/social studies was implemented longer in classrooms. The content has to be factual but not biased. Expressing biased information doesn’t give students the free will to decide what they think of politics.

  2. This topic is so very important for students to learn about in schools, especially more at the high school level when students are of age to begin voting. My senior year of high school, I was taking a government class and the teacher had sign up voting sheets available in class for us to fill out and he would take care of turning them in for us. I think this is a great first step to getting people to vote, but they also need to be educated. When I went to vote for the first time, I had no clue what to do or what it would be like. Had my teacher taken the time to go over what voting is all about and what is done, I had been more prepared. Students need to be taught everything that is involved with voting, not just filling out the form.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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