Where Do We Go from Here? Resources to Help Classrooms Process the 2020 Election

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
While the 2020 election season draws to a close, IllinoisCivics.org is committed to helping classrooms prepare for what comes next after a contentious and polarized election season. Students will need help processing the election results and their impact on current and societal issues their communities face around justice, power, equity, and safety.

As all educators are civics teachers, we have a responsibility to prioritize our students’ lived experiences, putting Maslow before Bloom, to inform the essential questions we address in our curriculum. Educators will not have all of the answers to the questions students pose, but we can create a classroom space where we can be present, listen, and create a safe environment for our students to do the same.

Here are a number of ideas and resources to support this work beyond the 2020 election.

Start with Reflection

Your students may be wrestling with a range of emotions post-election. We cannot assume what students are feeling or their perceptions of the election results. The tools below can be used to “check-in” and see where students are at. After using the tool that works for you, collect student responses, and display them in a chart or word cloud. Discuss the patterns, trends, and outliers to build empathy and awareness of self and others in the class. Engage students in a proactive conversation about what can be done to address past issues and the question — Where do we go from here?

Have students individually complete the following sentence, "When I think about the results of the 2020 election, I feel_____________ because________________."

Use some of the Visible Thinking Routines from Project Zero:
  • Compass Point Reflection has students identify something that is worrisome, exciting, a “need to know,” and a suggestion for moving forward post-election.
  • Color, Symbol, Image asks students to share and discuss a color, a symbol, and an image that represents how they are feeling post-election.
  • 3-2-1 Bridge can be used to have students identify 3 thoughts they have about the election results, 2 questions they have, and 1 idea they have for moving forward.
  • Claim, Support, Question prompts students make a claim about the election results, support it with evidence, and a question they still have.
  • Have students identify where they are post-election on this Blob Tree, explain their placement, and the questions they have from their position on the tree. This tool is especially user-friendly for younger students.

Revisit Norms for Discussion

One of the essential questions tackled in any classroom is, “How should we live together?” Revisit your classroom norms for discussion. What does productive dialogue look like, feel like, and sound like? Here are a few tools to help to recalibrate or establish these norms.
  • Class Contracting from Facing History and Ourselves helps students discuss expectations and norms of how class members will treat one another face to face or online.
  • This one-page explainer of Dialogue vs. Debate from the U.S. Institute of Peace provides students a vision of productive dialogue.
  • Teaching Tolerance shares the importance of creating a Classroom Culture to foster respect for oneself and others and uses What is your FRAME? to encourage students to reflect on their own background and enlarge their perspectives.

Have a Structure for Your Conversation

Great classroom discussions, like great lesson plans, rarely “happen.” They take time and intention. Here are a few strategies to consider employing to help students share their reflections and address the essential question, “Where do we go from here?”
  • Socratic Seminar is a protocol designed to help students dive into a common text or process a common experience to promote understanding of multiple perspectives, deepen inquiry, and create understanding of the lived experiences of others. You could support the seminar with an article you have curated about the election or with ideas students created in one of the reflection activities above. This guide from Facing History and Ourselves provides an overview of the strategy in traditional classrooms and there is also a remote learning edition from the IllinoisCivics.org Remote Learning Toolkit.
  • Big Paper Talk allows students to reflect on a common text or experience and silently share their thoughts before engaging in a larger conversation. There is both a face to face and remote learning edition from Facing History and Ourselves.
  • Hexagonal Thinking is a tool that can be used in the traditional or remote classroom. Students use hexagons (physical or digital) to personally reflect on a prompt and then bring the hexagons to the larger group to make a hexagonal map, illustrating connections between participant ideas. Students work together to connect all of the ideas, deliberate how the hexagons should be shifted, question to understand, and create new hexagons if needed to make connections. You can find out more about this strategy from the Cult of Pedagogy blog or Vision in Practice.
  • Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn from Facing History and Ourselves has students journal, share and listen, then discuss ideas in small groups before moving to whole class group sharing and discussion. This protocol ends with a reflective journal entry. Students focus on listening to understand rather than to respond.

Words Matter

Classrooms often work to simulate the “real world” for students. However, much of the debate happening outside of the classroom is hyperbolic, misinformed, and often hurtful. Explicitly teaching and modeling “how we should live together” in the classroom is an important step to building “a more perfect union” outside of the classroom.
  • When speaking of the candidates, use formal language. Use terms like President Trump and Vice-President Biden rather than terms like “Trump” and “Uncle Joe.” Avoid the language of othering. As iCivics Chief Education Officer Emma Humphries recently explained in an opinion piece for The Hechinger Report, “Vocabulary can be divisive, so give some thought to class norms for talking about the parties and candidates. For example, say the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, not the Republicans or the Democrats.”
  • Give students tools like these sentence starters from Teach Thought and these transition statements from Illinois Civics Instructional Coach Candace Fikis to support civil discussion. This is especially useful for ELL students.
  • Do not allow dehumanizing language. To quote activist and writer James Baldwin, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” The Teaching Tolerance, Let’s Talk resource has specific advice on how to handle inappropriate language.

Model Media Literacy

Speculation and rumors may abound post-election day, especially if final results are delayed. You and your students do not have to navigate the information landscape alone.

This is NOT a “One and Done” Lesson Plan

These conversations will be ongoing. There are several civic learning providers who are creating space for educators to process, learn, and share resources. For further reading about “Where do we go from here?” consider the following:


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