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Help Students Navigate a Historic Election

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This article will be updated through January 2021 with relevant resources for teaching election civics and media literacy. Bookmark me. (Last updated 11/9/20.)


The 2020 election keeps on making history. Despite concerns about voter safety and election irregularities, more Americans of all political parties cast ballots at the highest rate since 1908 with almost no problems reported. When Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were declared the winners, an analysis showed that young voters ages 18-29, especially young voters of color, made a difference in several key states. Harris will become the first woman vice president and the first Black and Asian American to hold that office.

Ask your students to join the ongoing special election discussion on KQED Learn to share what it’s like to live through this moment in history.  Or join KQED’s Youth Media Challenge, Let’s Talk About Election 2020 where students can share the issues they want the Biden administration to focus on.

Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris Makes History

In How San Francisco Shaped VP Nominee Kamala Harris from KQED, students can learn more about Kamala Harris, from her roots in the Bay Area to her journey to the U.S. Senate and primary bid for the Democratic presidential nomination before becoming Joe Biden’s running mate in August. Learn more about the many ‘firsts’ she represents, including the first child of immigrants and the first graduate of a historically Black university to be elected vice president.

What’s Next?

Between an election and a presidential transition is traditionally a time to reflect on the outgoing president’s term and examine the plans of the incoming administration. This lesson plan from the New York Times Learning Network asks students to look back at the last four years and forward to a Biden presidency.

But few aspects of politics have been typical during the Trump administration. President Trump has refused to concede the election and has leveled accusations of voter fraud, which have so far been dismissed by both Democrat and GOP state leaders and in the courts. And while the election went to Biden and Harris, Donald Trump received the second-highest number of votes cast in any election. Students can investigate the results and examine a state-by-state breakdown with these data visualizations from The New York Times. Both senate races in Georgia remain undecided. Learn more about these run-off elections and their implications for which party will control Congress with this article from USA Today.


Get students involved more generally in evaluating and reflecting on the post-election process with Free and Fair Elections from Facing History and Ourselves. The News Literacy Project also has classroom resources for grades 4-12 on evaluating news and fighting misinformation.

After days of nonstop coverage of the blue-and-red election map, students may have questions about the Electoral College, which meets on December 14 this year. KQED’s Above the Noise video series invites students to consider the pros and cons of this very American institution with The Electoral College: Why Such a Big Debate? This video from PBS SoCal provides a quick overview of the electoral college.

Voting Made a Difference This Election

Voter turnout is key part of the 2020 election story.  This episode from KQED’s Above the Noise, Is Voting Too Hard? takes a look at voter access and suppression. This new report from PBS Frontline asks Whose Vote Counts?

How do your students feel about voting now that the 2020 election is over?  This article from Education Week offers Six Ways to Prepare Students for Voting. Dive deeper into the power of young voters this election with this infographic-rich report from the Center for Information and Research about Civic Learning and Engagement. 

Explore “Down Ballot” Races

Explore Voting in Your Town from Teaching Tolerance to help students make sense of their state’s process. This remote-friendly video lesson by Bites Media unpacks the pros and cons of voting by mail, including research showing that voter fraud is almost nonexistent in the United States. If you need a break from national news, this PBS NewsHour explainer about the role of “down ballot” elections brings politics closer to home. This video from PBS SoCal about California’s state elected officials can also apply to many other states.

Even the most typical U.S. elections feature ongoing debates about who can vote and how votes are counted. The election 2020 playlist from KQED’s Above the Noise video series for middle and high schoolers includes one of the biggest issues people are talking about: Gerrymandering and Your Right to Vote. This video from PBS SoCal provides a quick overview of the electoral college. Another resource-rich lesson from Facing History and Ourselves examines historic and current voting rights, as well as barriers to voting. Accusations of voter suppression aren’t new to this election, but they are front and center in 2020. This lesson from PBS NewsHour unpacks voter ID laws and America’s history of voter suppression.

Revisit Other Unusual Election Years

Students are too young to remember the 2000 election, but most educators recall when a too-close-to-call vote count in the swing state of Florida went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided in favor of George W. Bush. (This student-friendly History Channel video will take you back to the time of “hanging chads.”)

This lesson from the Bill of Rights Institute explores other controversial elections, including the 1876 contest between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes, which also took place in a highly partisan environment where the civil rights of Black Americans played a central role. This segment from WNYC’s On the Media breaks down the parallels between 1876 and now. Students can also explore the Electoral College breakdown of every presidential election in U.S. history with this interactive election map from PBS.

Support Student Civic Participation

Connect students to opportunities to learn about American democracy by directly taking part. Explore 18 Ways Youth Under 18 Can Contribute to Elections to get ideas. The Digital Civics Toolkit from Common Sense supports students in online civic engagement.

 Check Back for Updates


Bookmark this page and check back. Given how quickly things change, we’ll be posting updates with new resources through Inauguration Day.

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