Lesson plan

What Is the Electoral College?

In this civics lesson, your students will learn about the electoral college through first-hand experience! Then, they will write about the best way to vote using evidence to support their opinion.
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Students will be able to understand how the electoral college works. Students will be able to write about their opinion using evidence.

(5 minutes)
  • Show students a video that gives an overview of the electoral college and its role in the voting process. Like "What is the U.S. electoral college and how does it work?" by News Direct.
  • Explain to students that today we will be learning about how voting works in the United States of America.
(15 minutes)
  • Take a quick poll. Write "chocolate ice cream vs. strawberry ice cream" on the board.
  • Ask your students to raise their hands if they like chocolate ice cream and record their votes as individual tallies on the board. Repeat with strawberry ice cream and tally the votes. Announce the winner of the poll (the flavor with the most votes).
  • Explain that this voting method is called a popular vote because it counts each individual vote and the choice with the most votes wins.
  • Tell students that this is not how the president of the United States is elected. In the U.S. we use a system called the electoral vote in which citizens' interests are represented by a select few. We call this group of representatives the electoral college.
  • Provide a summary of how the electoral college operates:
    • People can cast their individual votes for the presidential candidate of their choice.
    • Then, the members of the electoral college cast their votes based on the popular vote in their state. So, if 49 percent of the people in a state vote for chocolate ice cream and 51 percent vote for strawberry, all the electoral votes for that state are given to strawberry.
    • Only the votes from the electoral college are recognized as formal votes.
    • The candidate with the most electoral votes is elected president. In some cases, this might be different than the popular vote.
  • Explain that the number of electoral college votes in a given state is based on the state's population. So states with more people are given more electoral college votes. For example, California currently has 55 electoral college votes, whereas Alaska has only three.
  • Remind students that there are a total of 538 electoral votes, so to win a presidential election, a candidate must win at least 270 votes.
  • Display the Electoral Vote worksheet and complete it with the class.
(10 minutes)
  • Split students into an odd number of groups. (Note: if possible, ensure that each group will also have an odd number of students. Groups can be different sizes.)
  • Tell students that they will be voting on a special privilege. Offer two popular outcomes, like extra recess time or no homework.
  • Hand out one slip of paper to each student and tell them to write their choice on the paper. Then, select one member from each group to collect the votes and tally them.
  • Explain that the selected member from each group represents the electoral college and that they will cast their formal vote based on the popular vote for their group.
  • Call on the representative from each group to stand and announce their electoral vote. Record the electoral votes on the board.
  • Announce the winner of the electoral vote.
  • Ask students to share their impressions of the process in a short class discussion.
(15 minutes)
  • On the board, write "What is the best way to vote?"
  • Hand out a sheet of paper, or instruct students to take out a writing notebook.
  • Tell students to respond to the prompt on the board by writing a paragraph about their opinion. Remind students to include examples or evidence to support their opinion.
  • Invite students to share their finished paragraph with a partner.


  • Provide sentence frames to support students with the opinion writing task (i.e., "I think ____ is the best way to vote because...").


  • In an election year, tie this civics lesson into current events by reading articles about the presidential election.
  • Encourage your students to write a letter to a member of Congress about a topic that is important to them.

Provide additional information with a TED-Ed video about the electoral college (see related media).

(10 minutes)
  • Divide a piece of chart paper into two columns. Title one column "popular vote" and the other column "electoral vote."
  • Tell students that they will be sharing evidence to prove which type of voting is best.
  • Call on students to provide evidence or examples from their paragraphs that support their opinions about each type of voting.
  • Record students' answers in the appropriate columns on the chart.
  • Use student responses to gauge their understanding about the topic of voting as well as the concept of supporting evidence.
(5 minutes)
  • Show a fun video reviewing the main ideas discussed in the lesson, like FraboomLive's "Class Pet Upset."

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