Why Voting Matters: Connecting Democracy with Literacy

By Lisa K. Winkler

Looking to bring democracy into the classroom? As a member of the League of Women Voters, I created an interactive, 40-minute lesson that engages students in the voting process. Adaptable for all ages, “Why Voting Matters” includes a script and power point.

Joined by the League’s president, also a NJ certified teacher, we introduce the League’s history—nearly 100 years old, and founded by a teacher, Carrie Chapman Catt shortly after women received the right to vote in 1920. Catt wanted to educate newly enfranchised women about the issues and candidates so they could make decisions independent of their husbands or fathers.

Our lesson includes vocabulary: What does it mean to be informed? What is non-partisan? What is apathy? What is enfranchisement?

We use hypothetical issues and two candidates, Apollo and Zeus, who have opposing views, to involve students in discussion and voting.

For elementary students, Apollo wants to create a skate park for the town’s children, who need more recreational space. However, a rare species of ducks inhabit the site proposed for the park, and Zeus opposes the park’s creation.

For middle and high school classes, small groups discuss issues affecting the town, the state, the nation, and the world. We point out that many issues are not merely local or global, such as the environment.   The students then discuss the positions of Apollo and Zeus on two issues. The first involves a pharmaceutical factory that is polluting a local river. Apollo wants to close the factory; Zeus wants to protect the many jobs of local residents. The second issue addresses traffic at the schools. Apollo wants to ban all student cars and require walking or biking; Zeus proposes more carpooling and improving walking and biking lanes.

After a show-of –hands vote, we discuss why people don’t always vote, noting reasons like laziness, apathy, and lack of transportation.

We share the voting participation statistics for the state from the 2016 and 2017 elections. (68% of NJ’s registered 5.7 million voters voted in 2016; 35% in 2017). We discuss why the participation dropped—the turnout in presidential elections tends to be higher—then count off a percentage of the class, telling them they won’t be voting. We call for another vote on the same issues. Often the results are different than when everyone exercised their right to vote.

We end each presentation asking students to brainstorm ways they can get involved in democracy. Ideas include writing emails, volunteering on campaigns, reminding their family to vote, and protesting.

We’re happy to share our presentation or adapt it to meet your needs.

Why Voting Matters: Connecting Democracy with Literacy

Get Out and Vote Today!

by Dr. Patricia Schall


Get out and vote! It is one of the most important things you can do as an American citizen. My old high school social studies teacher, Mr. Sloan, always reminded us that voting in the primaries was critical since we get to select the candidates who will run in the general elections in the fall. This is our chance to shape our political lives for years to come.

Don’t take your right to vote for granted. Many of our predecessors struggled for this right. Ratified on February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” With the ratification of that amendment, Black freedman earned the right to vote. Women in the USA, regardless of race, did not earn the right to vote until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920. This is not ancient history!

Vote as if your life depends on it. It does! Let your voice be heard! Your vote counts.

vote 2

“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

Dorothy Day

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Get Out and Vote Today!