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Leading coverage during an election cycle

Every year, but especially in a presidential election year, it’s important for students to be leaders in their school by covering the elections as they pertain to the local community and their school in particular. With this lesson, students will explore how to cover local, state or national elections through the lens of their school audience.


  • Students will identify people running for local elections, learn about the offices they are running for and the issues/platforms that their campaigns are centered on.
  • Students will invite all candidates to participate in a public forum discussion or debate that they will plan and host.
  • Students will plan and execute coverage of elections in their respective media.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance and style are appropriate to purpose, audience and task.


Depending on the extent of your election coverage, this activity could take anywhere from one block to multiple blocks throughout the course of the election season. Ideally, the activity will continue during summer months while campaigns are gearing up for November elections, fostering student learning and advancing student media activity.


Internet access

Whiteboard, camera or multimedia projector

Area to host forum/debate

Space in student media to publish results of debate/interviews

Presentation Rubric and Advanced Presentation Rubric

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 30 minutes

Lead a whole-class discussion and begin with some of these essential questions:

  • How do elections matter to us as students? Consider local, state, national and possibly international elections.
  • What is our responsibility when it comes to covering these elections? Why?
  • What does our audience already know about these elections? What do they need to know?
  • As we cover elections in our media, how will we present information in print? On the web? On social media? In our broadcast? What should our stories be? What should our infographics be? How should we tell stories with audio and video? What role do visuals play? What surveys/polls will we do and how can we guarantee their scientific validity? Why does how we present this information matter?
  • What will define the difference between the coverage on our news/feature pages versus the coverage on our opinion pages?

2. Small group work — at least one class period

Time needed will vary depending on what the teacher and staff determine necessary to read and process professional works.

Working in groups, students will figure out the answers to the following questions and craft a proposal for hosting a candidate forum on campus. The plan should include the subsequent coverage they will produce on the elections and forum across all media within the program. Make sure each group addresses these key questions:

  • What elections are being held this fall in our local community? Our state? Nationally?
  • Who are the candidates running for each office?
  • Describe each candidate’s platform on issues that that are important to your audience. (These could range from school-related items such as budget, building plans, teacher increases/decreases, salaries, materials, lunches etc. to hot button issues in the community/state, to big issues in the national spotlight.)
  • Decide what office(s) you would like to host in a public forum/debate situation at our school. Why did you choose this office?
  • Develop the questions you’d like to ask the candidates who agree to attend the forum.
  • Decide the parameters for hosting the forum/debate. For instance, who will serve as the moderator? How will you determine the order that the candidates are allowed to answer the questions? How long will they be given to answer any question? Will they be allowed to rebutt another candidate, and if so, how much time will be given for that? Will you allow the candidates time for opening and closing remarks? Will you permit other local media to attend your event? Will it be open to the public?
  • Craft a coverage plan for before, during, after the debate and for the election season in general. What is your plan? Will you livestream the event? How will you present the results of the forum in the paper? A story? An infographic? What images do you want to photograph or obtain?
  • If you’re not able to actually host an event at school, figure out how you can get press credentials to attend a campaign rally or event for local/state/national candidates. Begin by contacting the candidates’ offices and campaign staff or the staff at the venue where the event is being held. They are usually very responsive to including student journalists right alongside the professional press that will be in attendance.

3. Presentation to class/staff — 1-3 blocks

These could be fairly lengthy presentations. One possibility is to make sure different groups are responsible for different elections. For instance, one group could be covering school board elections, another could be covering local board of supervisors or mayoral elections, yet another could be covering state elections, such as for local senators or representatives, or gubernatorial candidates, and finally another could be covering national elections for House, Senate or President.

Each group can choose the way they address all of the questions above and the way they craft their presentation. Make sure students are aware that there needs to be evidence of equal amounts of work done on the presentation.

When all groups have finished, decide as a class the elements of all of the presentations that you’d like to follow through on as a staff. Which forum do you want to host? Can you do more than one?

4. Actual hosting of candidate forum — could be done during school day if candidates are available or in an evening setting. In all fairness, you need to contact all candidates and find common times that all are available.

Now that you’ve decided what you want to do as a staff, it’s time to plan together all that needs to be done to actually host a candidate forum. As a class, decide the following:

  • When and where can you host it?
  • What do you need? Lecturn? Tables/chairs? Microphone? Reserve the space? Money for paying janitors? Lighting? What accompanying paperwork is required as part of this process, and who will complete it?
  • Who will contact each candidate and invite them as well as explain how the forum will be conducted?
  • What is your timeline? What deadlines do you have to meet in order for the event to run smoothly?
  • Who will contact other local media if you’re choosing to invite them?
  • What school officials need to be told of your plan? Does it need to be approved first?
  • What students will actually host the forum? Who will ask the questions? Who will come up with the questions? Will you permit any questions to be asked by audience members? If so, will you have microphones available for them? Will you vett the questions before you allow strangers to ask questions?
  • Do you need a plan in place for security in case there are protestors for any reason?
  • Do you need additional chaperones/teachers present in addition to your adviser?

5. Assessment

Ways you could choose to assess this work:

  • simple grading rubric for presentations
  • a tad more complex presentation grading rubric
  • exit card after group discussion that asks students to list three things they learned from other presentations they could use in the class project
  • standard assessment you already use for coverage planning and execution, like a story/page/post rubric


Advanced students could plan to host multiple forums within a given election cycle or could make plans to cover rallies for all candidates running for election. Often staffs will make a concerted effort to cover every Presidential event in a national election year. Sometimes it isn’t feasible to logistically get to them all, but some students will really want to cover politics in as many ways as possible.

For students who need remediation or extra support: What aspects of the learning experience will keep them involved and interested in the election process? Make sure they are given a role at the actual debate. They might also spend some time interviewing social studies teachers in on campus to find out why it’s important that journalists cover elections and localize them for students/the school audience.

Extended learning: Students could combine election coverage efforts with other area, state or national schools and their journalistic presentations could be compiled in archives and shared on journalistic websites like your state association or possibly with national groups.