Lesson Plan: US Civics and Government

Unit: The Electoral Process: Modern Political Parties and Elections

Materials: To save either file format, right-click on the link and select "save target as"

Objectives: The students will...
1. Define key terms relating to political parties and describe their function in American politics.
2. Outline the electoral process for major national offices such as the presidency and Congress.
3. Relate the place of political parties and election to the principles of American democracy.

Description: Students will brainstorm what they think they know about political parties. They will then take a diagnostic quiz on their understanding of the two different parties. They will proceed to research the positions of the two major parties on a list of issues. After viewing and recording answers on a PowerPoint presentation on American political parties, students will examine the Electoral College and its role in modern elections.

Motivation: Which party is which?

A) Ask students to brainstorm all of the things they already know about political parties, especially the Democrats and Republicans.

B) Place their suggestions on the board. Have them identify which items are characteristics of Democrats and Republicans or of political parties in general.

C) Have students answer the following questions on their own paper by deciding if the idea related to the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, or to a third party. Offer extra credit (bonus points) to students who write down which third party is being described. Review orally when complete.

1. They are willing to raise taxes so that the government can provide needed services such as education and defense. (Democratic)

2. This party supports the expansion of business without government assistance or interference. (Republican)

3. This party calls for the reduction of big government and cutting the budgets of those agencies that have grown too powerful. (Republican)

4. This party controlled the presidency from the time of the Civil War until after the Stock Market crash, which signaled the start of the Great Depression. (Republican)

5. This party expanded the role of the federal government in the lives of ordinary people and in the economy when programs were created to fight unemployment and bad business practices during the 1930s. (Democratic)

6. This party's presidents were associated with every major military conflict of the 20th century. (Democratic)

7. This party called for respect for the environment, restrictions on big business and its ability to pollute, and a restructuring of the economy to preserve natural resources. (Third Party / Green Party)

8. Theodore Roosevelt formed this party to enter the 1912 presidential race since the nomination went to President Howard Taft. It was based on controlling the trusts and monopolies that had grown up as a result of the Industrial Revolution. (Third Party / Progressive Party)

9. This party supports restrictions on large insurance companies and health management organizations so that the poor and middle class Americans receive adequate health care. (Democratic)

10. This party offered an alternate choice during the 1992 election when Ross Perot mounted a campaign against Bill Clinton and George Bush that gained 20 million popular votes but no electoral votes. (Third Party / Reform Party)

Content Reading Assignment: Investigating Political Parties

Have students review the chapter in their textbooks on political parties and elections in their text by defining the vocabulary terms relating to those chapters (Available as Vocabulary Worksheet: Political Parties and Elections).
Answers to the Vocabulary can be found in the lesson plan set available through TEACHINGPoint.

Review those terms orally with students as they check and correct their vocabulary sheets.

Lecture-Discussion: The Development of Political Parties in the United States

Show the PowerPoint presentation entitled "The Development of American Political Parties." Distribute student worksheets marked "The Development of American Political Parties" so they can fill in the blanks as they watch and read the presentation.

Divide the class into teams of four students. Assign each team one of the following issues and allow them time in the library or on the Internet to determine the viewpoint of each political party on that issue.

Once students have completed their research, have them present to the class their findings.

Distribute Chart: Comparing American Political Parties. 
Have students take notes on their classmates' presentations by completing the chart.

Period 5: The Political Spectrum: Liberals and Conservatives -- An Investigation

Share the following information with students. Use the PowerPoint presentation entitled "The Political Spectrum: Where Do You Stand?" to share the information. (To save the file to your own PC, right-click the link and select "save target as." Decide which folder you want to save the file to and open the file using PowerPoint.  To view the presentation in your Internet Explorer browser, just double-click the link). (Class notes are available in the student workbook with answers in the corresponding teacher's edition). The following lecture has been converted to PowerPoint as one method for sharing the contents with students. 

A. Radical: Seen as being on the far left of the political spectrum, radicals call for wide-sweeping rapid change in the basic structure of the political, social, or economic system. They may be willing to resort to extreme methods to bring about change, including the use of violence and revolution.
B. Liberal: Liberals believe that the government should be actively involved in the promotion of social welfare of a nation's citizens. Liberals usually call for peaceful, gradual change within the existing political system. They reject violent revolution as a way of changing the way things are, often called the status quo.
C. Moderate: Moderates may share viewpoints with both liberals and conservatives. They are seen as tolerant of other people's views, and they do not hold extreme views of their own. They advocate a "go-slow" or "wait-and-see" approach to social or political change.
D. Conservative: People who hold conservative ideals favor keeping things the way they are or maintaining the status quo if it is what they desire. Conservatives are usually hesitant or cautious about adopting new policies, especially if they involve government activism in some way. They feel that the less government there is, the better. They agree with Jefferson's view that "the best government governs least."
E. Reactionary: Sitting on the far right of the ideological spectrum, reactionaries want to go back to the way things were-the "good ol' days." Often reactionaries are willing to use extreme methods, such as repressive use of government power, to achieve their goals.

Take a look at this chart:

The Political Spectrum

Take your class to the Computer lab or project the World Wide Web by way of LCD projector.
Have students visit or display "The Political Compass" at http://www.politicalcompass.org/

Direct students to investigate the following ideas as they move around the Political Compass:

In the website, take a look at the political spectrum that shows US presidential candidates and international figures.
Take the quiz. Compare your own views with those of American political candidates and international figures. Where would you place yourself on the political compass
Think about American political figures in the news today. Where might they fall on the political compass?
For each issue mentioned, think to yourself if you agree with the Republican party's view or with the Democratic Party view, or somewhere in between.

Once you have a good idea of what each term means in respect to the issues, look at any library materials that identify American political figures such as books on politics, encyclopedias, or the newspaper. Create your own political compass and place the names of several figures on the compass. When you think you have the idea, find our own place on the compass.

Assessment:  Political Party Identification Worksheet

Distribute the worksheet with the ten questions about the positions of the two major American political parties. Allow students ten to fifteen minutes to complete the worksheet. When students have finished, have them correct each other's papers using the "quick switch" method. Have them place the number correct in the blank provided. Use the worksheet as a quiz grade or as a diagnostic quiz to see what students understand or what needs to be retaught.

Video: America's Political Parties: The Democratic Party (1960-1992)

Available through Aims Multimedia at http://www.aimsmultimedia.com/titles/title.php3?code=8332-EN-VID

A full study guide with suggested activities is available for this video at

America's Political Parties: The Republican Party (1960-1992)

Available through School Videos at http://www.schoolvideos.com/videos/SP595.cfm

These videos discuss the history of each party and the direction of their platforms through the three decades of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The election strategies of the two major parties are also outlined as the winners and losers of presidential elections through these years are portrayed.

Distribute the worksheet that corresponds to the video you are showing. 

Political Parties: Video Worksheet: The Democratic Party and Political Parties: Video Worksheet: The Republican Party

You can stop the video to guide students as they fill in the major issues facing each election. As historical and political figures are mentioned, have students place them on the line of the political spectrum. The winners of each election are listed in bold, red print. The losers of the election are listed in normal type. You can also make a transparency of the teacher's version and have students copy the information as the video progresses.

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