Presidential Election Lesson Resources

PresElectionVThese are some resources I put together about the presidential election, way back in 2008. The focus of the class was less on the individual candidates and more on the process of the presidential election itself. It’s the process that often confuses international students. Finding information on the candidates is often the easiest part. A lot of newspapers publish articles such as, “Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump’s Economic Plans: A Comparison” with lots of tables and clear summaries. Those are great for ESL students!

Feel free to share your go-to election day resources in the comments

With any conversation class, you want to make sure you have lots of background information. When dealing with something as complicated as the US election for president, the class is going to have a lot of questions. So you either need to read up and bring materials to look up anything you didn’t memorize. Or you need resources that the students can read and research themselves.

Resources and Materials on the American Presidential Election

Read Article II of the Constitution which defines how a President is elected and the powers of the President. Links to relevant amendments are provided in the text.

Wikipedia also has the text of Article II with explanations in plain English. I wouldn’t recommend giving beginner or pre-intermediate students the original text of the Constitution because it is difficult. Better to summarize for them.

Presidential and VP Debate transcripts from 2008 to 1960. Provided by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-profit that sponsors the debates. An interesting conversation topic there: Should independent organizations sponsor debates?

Simplified readings on the candidates and the election process including a good explanation of the electoral college system.

If you have computers with the Internet in the classroom, All About Electing a President is a pretty good slideshow summary of the process from primary to election. And One Vote 2008:Election Playbook has more in-depth guides to topics such as delegates and primaries.

Lesson Plans on the American Presidential Election

The New York Times provides lesson plans based on relevant issues and linked to articles. Good materials and interesting ideas. I particularly like the ones on political humor and caricatures. However, students may not be used to that in their country. 

These lesson plans involves in-depth research on the political process in the US. The lesson plans here are best for intermediate-advanced students. Students also need access to the Internet or a good library. However, the worksheets are great for thinking of guiding questions or evaluating how much you know about the presidential elections.

Here are some conversation questions from Heads Up English on the Election 2008. And some are still quite relevant.

Fun Quizzes

The US Election Facts Quiz is a pretty interesting. This quiz will help students find out if they are a Democrat or a Republican. International students in particular enjoy that because they can understand the meaning of the American political parties.


How to Use Videos in Class

FIlmFBMediaAlthough, I freely admit that I’ve planned movie lessons upon occasion in order to get out of preparing a real less, students actually can get a lot out of videos and films. When students are watching a video, they’re listening and also absorbing body language. Videos are full of visual cues that students can pick up on. Finally, films are often fun and engaging, so students want to pay attention. But without a plan, a film-based lesson can turn into kids just watching a movie.

Now there are some great sites for using films in class, such as I’ll also  Film English . But what if you have a film you love, and you want to use it in class. But no one’s done a lesson about it yet?

How to Use Films in Class

Here’s a basic framework for how I like to use videos in class, along with some examples of how it can be used with a video that I love: Mr Bean. It does require breaking the video into shorter sections. I recommend watching the video before class to get an idea of how it logically breaks down into sections. Note the times when each section begins and ends.


You’ll also need to prepare a few sets of questions. First you need questions that students can answer while watching the film. These questions should have clear and concrete answers. They should guide the student to understand the important parts of the film such as “Why did the man go into the building?”, “Who did he see in there?” Avoid questions about small details, like “What color was the man’s suit.”

On the other hand, if the film maker is using color or clothing to depict a theme, it’s good to direct students’ attention to that while they are watching.

The second set of questions should be more abstract and focus on the themes of the film or larger artistic issues. Ideally, these should be questions that require an understanding of various parts of the film, and be open to debate: “What kind of person do you think the hero is?” or “Do you agree with the mother that people are always cruel to each other?”

If the film is not one that lends itself to heavy themes, or it’s a non-fiction film, you can ask questions such as, “Have you ever been in that situation?” or “What do you think would happen if something was a bit different?”

The Procedure

1. Put students in pairs or small groups.

2. Play the video bit by bit. Have students watch and try to answer questions related to that section.

For the Mr. Bean video, I’d divide it into the parts where he makes the sandwich, eats the sandwich, and perhaps making tea/the ending. So I’d give students a worksheet with three sets of questions to answer as they are watching.

As for what would be good questions: I’d ask lots of questions about what he pulls out of his coat and why. Very concrete questions about what he does. Incidentally, this would be a good video for practicing vocabulary or verb tenses as students describe Mr. Bean’s actions.

3. Have them check their answers with another pair.

At the end of each section, stop the video and give them a chance to check their answers with another pair or group. This lets them help each other recap what happened, too. If you hear confused students, hopefully you’ll also hear other students explaining what happened to them.

4. If the whole class is completely lost, replay that section.

If 75% of the class, can’t figure it out, give them another chance or two, before stepping in to help.

5. Discuss the questions and any other questions students have to make sure they are following the video.

Before going on to the next section, give students a chance to ask any burning questions or quickly underline any key points. You might say something as simple as, “So, we’ve seen Mr. Bean make a sandwich in a very odd way. And his neighbor, well, his neighbor is pretty surprised. He probably thinks this is pretty gross.”

6. Have students predict what will happen next.

You may also want to give them any information they might need to interpret the next section.

7. For the next section of the video, repeat steps 2-6.

8. When the video is over, review the video as a whole. Discuss questions about the general theme or objective of the video.

You might do a quick summarizing activity, such as having students write a short summary or each tell one thing that happened. I sometimes do paragraph frames with key words missing and have students fill in the missing words.

Then move on to thematic questions. For Mr. Bean, questions about intercultural understanding often work well, as well as the theme of clowning. Clowns show us why we do things the way we do them, by showing what happens if you do them the wrong way. At the same time, clowns are very consistent in their own universe. You might ask students what is the normal way to make a sandwich? Why do you think Mr. Bean does it his way? Does Mr. Bean think we are strange? Can you think of different ways to do the same thing?

You could discuss the performance. Why doesn’t Mr. Bean talk? How does the actor use his face to make us laugh? What is the role of the straight man?

9. Move on to talking about how the video relates to something personal. This is a good time to do a writing or task where students apply something from the video to their lives. Students could also create their own scenes, or talk about a time they saw a clown or comedy performance.

I hope that framework works for you. I’d love to hear how it goes for your film-based lessons. Let me know in the comments.

TpT Sale and Giftcard Giveaway

If you haven’t entered my giftcard giveaway yet, quick! Comment on this post with your favorite Back to School resource on Teachers Pay Teachers. You’ve got until 8:30pm EST Sunday, August 21st.

Teachers Pay Teachers is hosting a big first week of school sale. But it’s only for one day: tomorrow, Monday the 22nd. Everything on the site will be 10% off if you use the promo code OneDay when you check out. On top of that, I’m automatically taking 20% off of everything in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store , including all of my back to school resources. You don’t need a promo code to get that extra 20%. Together both sales come out to a total of 28% off everything in my store.

50 Activities for the First Day of School by Walton Burns worldmapThis is a great time to pick up my Flag World Map that I use for one of my all time favorite go-to icebreakers. As an ESL teacher, I always want my students to know where all their classmates come from. And the getting-to-know-you exercise I describe on the product page never fails to get students curious about their fellow students and the world.  Plus having a map in class is never a bad thing.

You can also learn about Single Point Grading Rubrics and why they will be your best friend this year. Instead of having to create giant rubrics with 5 or 6 columns of grades that your students will never read, save time. These rubrics require only one column. Focus students on success rather than failure! Tell them what you want them to do, rather than describing all the ways they can do wrong, or all the superhuman things they may never accomplish.

And pick up my new book at the lowest price possible. 50 Activities for the First Day of School is my collection of icebreakers, warmers, getting-to-know-you activities and other fun and engaging activities that take care of first day of school business. Learn their names, build a trusting classroom community, set the tone and expectations for the year, and assess your students’ learning goals and needs. There’s an activity for everyone here. And remember that rapport-building doesn’t stop on the first day or the first week. These activities can be used year-round to keep your classroom a friendly, safe, respectful community dedicated to learning. I don’t have the ebook up on TpT yet, so you can pick that up at Amazon . You can also buy it direct from Alphabet Publishing or almost anywhere else you get books.

But wait. There’s more…..

$10 Giftcard giveaway on Sunday night!sale_1200_628

The good people at Teachers Pay Teachers have  sent me a $10 gift card to help promote this sale. And I want to spread the love around to all the great teacher-sellers on the site. I also want to make sure the winner has the chance to use it during the sale.

So in order to win, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post with a link to the best Back to School resource on Teachers Pay Teachers.

It might be something you plan to buy.

It might be a resource you already bought and love.

It can be something you want to promote.

It doesn’t have to be one of mine 🙂

I just want to see as many great back to school resources shine as possible.

I’ll pick one of the names with a qualified comment using at 8:30PM EST on Sunday, August 21st.

I've been interviewed

I had a lot of fun answering Jennifer Lebedev’s questions for this interview on her blog: Making Discoveries: An ESL Story. I particularly enjoyed recalling that vocational school I worked at for a semester in Astana, Kazakhstan. As if teaching total beginners wasn’t a challenge enough, and the -30 Astana winters weren’t a hostile enough environment, there were the joys of the outhouse and the barebones classroom.

I do wonder what happened to those future hairdressers, cooks, and fashion designers of Kazakhstan. I wonder if any of them use English now at all. I wonder what they think of me and my class. Maybe, some day when we visit Kazakhstan again, we’ll run into someone a former student. Or I can drop by. Funnily enough even though we got lost for 2 hours trying to find the school the first time we went out there, I remember the road so well now. I’m sure I drive there without getting lost once.

I won’t spoil the interview anymore than I have, but if you want to find out how I became a teacher, my advice for designing lesson plans, or my favorite icebreaker, go check out the interview. And be sure to browse around Jennifer’s site for other great articles and interviews!

Fiction in Action: Spellbound

This is just a quick note to share this great reading comprehension textbook  Fiction in Action: Spellbound . I love the idea of using genre fiction to get students interested in learning. I have ABAX Publishing’s brillant textbook by Adam Gray and Marcos Benevides that uses mystery writing (I’m a bit of a fan of mysteries, if you hadn’t noticed from this blog!)

The mystery stories really suck the students in. And mysteries are a great way to teach reading for detail, evaluating information, synthesizing information from different sources, and other critical reading skills. Longer mystery stories are also great examples of universal literary devices such as foreshadowing, twists, misdirection, conflict, building tension, and catharsis.

This one goes on the list of books I wish I had written!

Visualize Your Goals: 30 Goals Cycle 7

For various reasons, I’m digging through a lot of communities and bloggers I used to follow with dedication. That led me back to the 30 Goals Challenge, which I really enjoyed. It’s a great way to be inspired as a teacher, writer, and a blogger. So here’s my entry for Goal 1 of Cycle 7 Visualize Your Goals
Visualize Your Goals

My Two Main Goals

My two goals are in the center and they’re quite broad, but I suspect quite straightforward: To make a living and to be happy. I should point out that making a living for me is about more than just making money or eating and sleeping. It’s about being productive, which is something that’s important to me.

I’ve then illustrated three branches or kinds of activities that make me happy and help me make a living.

The Three Branches

On the bottom left, there’s networking and reaching out to other teachers, including talking (I don’t know why those faces look so scary), social media, and a shout out to 30 Goals and communities like it.

On top, there’s the bulk of my work: writing and promoting my writing. Of course, there’s a wonderful overlap where I reach out to communities to help market my book and get swept back into those communities again and improve my teaching. That’s the best kind of professional development cycle!

Finally, there’s the part of my life that is sheer fun. I think it’s important to map fun and plan for it as you would work. So there’s family time with my son and my hobbies, like playing guitar, reading, and  working in the garden. That sprawling thing is meant to be a tomato plant but it kind of looks like green river now, which is fine.

What are your goals? What do they look like? How will you get there? Leave a comment or join 30Goals and Visualize your Goals as well!

50 Activities for the First Day of School

50 Activities for the First Day of School by Walton Burns

50 Activities for the First Day of School by Walton Burns

My book is officially for sale!

50 Activities for the First Day of School is a collection of activities teachers can use on the first day of school or anytime they need an icebreaker or team building activity. While aimed at the English language classroom, the book is useful to any teacher who wants to start the school year out right!

This book features

  • Classic icebreakers and name games
  • Fun ways to start teaching on the first day
  • New innovative activities to build rapport
  • Practical ideas to set the rules from day one
  • Engaging ways to introduce the course right away
  • Effective methods of assessing your students’ language level

You can also find more information on the book and great first day of school resources at The First Day of School webpage.