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An inquirED Blog

Teaching the 2020 Election: Rights and Responsibilities

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Webinar Summary

During the webinar, we explored the challenges, ideas, and best practices associated with teaching the 2020 Election. We were honored to be joined by Dr. Paula McAvoy and Dr. Wayne Journell. You can find their bios at the end of today's post.

Our panelists shared tips, strategies, and resources during the webinar. Read below for a summary.

Tips for Teaching the 2020 Election

Tip #1: Don’t Avoid It

In an age of polarization, it’s understandable that you might want to avoid talking about politics. Don’t. Instead, if you’re worried about addressing hot button issues, take refuge in the process. Teach about the governing bodies, offices, and powers at the local, state, and national levels. Research where these elements are defined and described. Dig in and investigate how people register to vote, where they go to do it, and what they do when they get there. Not only are these areas of investigation relatively free of controversy, but they’ll also provide students with information that will help them be active participants in our democracy.

Tip #2: Acknowledge Feelings and Personal Experiences

Many of us are afraid that emotions will be heightened when we discuss the election. That's not going to go away if we ignore the anxiety and fear that students are feeling. Ask students to share their personal experiences with issues. Giving students this space and opportunity can elevate the debate by helping everyone understand the personal implications of issues.

Tip #3: Keep Administrators and Parents in the Loop

If you are worried about the experience of students or the reactions of parents to an election unit, let your administrator know what you are doing and why. Keeping them in the loop will mean they will be more able to support you if concerns arise.

Keeping parents informed might be a good idea as well. Some parents might assume you are lecturing your students, sharing your opinions, and imposing your beliefs. If you let parents know that you are taking an inquiry-based approach to the election, with student-led questioning, discussion, and research as the main instructional practices, they might be less likely to misinterpret what they hear from their children (or overhear on a distance learning call).

Tip #4: Choose Strategies that Build Consensus and Encourage Civil Discourse

Skip class debates, mock elections, or other practices that divide students into groups and encourage them to win at the expense of their peers. Remember, despite the partisanship of our current politics, civics shouldn’t be taught as a zero-sum game where there are losers, winners, and little room for compromise. Besides, dividing students in this way often gives the mistaken impression that there are only two sides, two ways of thinking, two choices. The reality is much more complicated.

Instead, try Structured Academic Controversies, a strategy recommended by both our webinar panelists. Read about this method below:

Tip #5: Don’t Assume You Know Your Students’ Experiences

An election can mean a lot of things depending on your socioeconomic status, background, and circumstances. While issues like immigration, the social safety net, tariffs, or subsidies may seem like abstract policy debates, for some of your students they may directly affect the safety, security, and happiness of the people they love.

Also, so much of the media we consume promotes sweeping generalizations about groups of people - (black voters, suburban white women, etc.). Avoid sharing these generalizations with students. In reality, some students and families may fall into those categories and have very different beliefs and opinions.

Tip #6: Be Patient and Celebrate Mistakes

Be patient and forgiving with students who come in ready to argue and insult. They are probably mimicking what they see and hear every day in the media. Our classrooms can serve as the antidote to that hyperbole and vitriol, laboratories for the thoughtful politics that our country needs to move forward together.

Tip #7: Investigate What Happens After an Election

Challenge students to discover what happens after elections, how they can make their voices heard, and how they can work directly to improve and empower their communities. Voting is an important right and responsibility, but it’s not the only outlet for civic participation.

Discussion and Collaboration Resources

  • Matching classrooms of diverse political orientations for discussion

Cult of Pedagogy

  • A list of discussion strategies from Cult of Pedagogy

Making Thinking Visible

  • Visible Thinking is a research-based approach to teaching thinking, begun at Harvard's Project Zero, that develops students' thinking dispositions,

Street Law

  • Deliberations allow teachers to help students cooperatively discuss contested political issues by carefully considering multiple perspectives and searching for consensus.

The Political Classroom

  • Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy argue that schools are, and ought to be, political sites -places that engage students in deliberations about questions that ask, “How should we live together?”

Organizations with Election Resources


  • The mission of Pro/Con is to promote critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting the pro and con arguments to controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan, freely accessible way.


  • It will take 270 electoral votes to win the 2020 presidential election. Click states on this interactive map to create your own 2020 election forecast.


  • iCivics works to ensure every student in America receives a quality and engaging civic education and graduates from high school well prepared and enthusiastic for citizenship

Civics Renewal Network

  • Explore thousands of high-quality, no-cost learning materials from our network of partners.

C-SPAN Classroom


  • Platform for tweens and teens designed to give them a voice in the 2020 elections


  • Screening of Youth Media Challenge: Let's Talk about the Election 2020

Finally, if you were not able to attend the webinar, please view the recording below.


Dr. Paula McAvoy is an assistant professor in the college of education at North Carolina State University. Her research focuses on philosophical and practical questions concerning the relationship between schools and democratic society. Recent publications such as “Should teachers share their political views in the classroom?” and “Polarized Classrooms.”

Dr. Wayne Journell is Professor and Associate Chair of the Teacher Education and Higher Education department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His research interests are the teaching of politics and political processes in secondary education. He is a two-time recipient of the Exemplary Research in Social Studies Award from the National Council for the Social Studies. He is also the current editor of Theory & Research in Social Education, the premier research journal in the field of social studies education.


inquirED has moved beyond the textbook, offering a customizable, digital curriculum that supports teachers in shifting to student-centered instruction. inquirED delivers year-long, student-centered curriculum and assessment with engaging content and activities for students and embedded professional learning for teachers. Inquiry Journeys is inquirED’s core elementary social studies curriculum. Inquiry Journeys is a comprehensive inquiry-based curriculum with embedded PD that helps teachers shift their practice to a more inquiry-based approach. Learn More

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