August 2016

As the 2016 presidential election approaches, many people have begun talk about the major issues facing the country. In order to engage in meaningful conversations about the United States today, it is important to examine and analyze the views, proposed policies, and opinions that shape these debates. In this lesson, students will examine their personally held values, explore the platforms of presidential candidates, assess how their own values and beliefs align with those of the candidates, and discuss the potential impact of the upcoming election.


Students will:

  • Determine the values that shape their personally held priorities.
  • Analyze how candidates’ platforms relate to values and key policy issues.
  • Assess the significance of the current election and the potential long-term impacts of its outcome.


In the Classroom

1. Determining Individual Values

Begin by asking students what qualities they think good and reliable leaders demonstrate. Are there certain values or interests that they think strong leadership requires? Who comes to mind as an example of a good leader? If students have differing opinions, ask them to consider what might account for these differences.

Next, prepare for the Prioritizing Values Activity by passing out all ten Choices value cards to each student so that everyone has the following cards in front of them:

  • Community
  • Cooperation
  • Democracy
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Justice
  • Security
  • Self-reliance
  • Stability
  • Diversity

Ask students to rank the values in order of importance to them as individuals, emphasizing that this is about examining students’ personal values when it comes to political leadership. Remind students that the order of other students’ value cards should not influence their own ordering of values.

You may wish to do this activity in advance and have students record the order of their values, collect students’ responses, and enter their rankings on a spreadsheet in order to review class responses all together.

Next, bring the class back together to discuss this task. What was easy or difficult for students in prioritizing these values? You may want to ask for a couple of volunteers to share their lists. Ask students which values they found easiest to prioritize. Which were more difficult? On what basis did they make their decisions? Did others see it differently? Remind students that some of these words can mean different things to different people and that it is important to respect the ideas and opinions of their classmates. Instead of facilitating deliberation over the meaning and importance of the values, you may prefer to guide students’ focus to how this activity reveals differing values and demonstrates that making collective decisions concerning public policy is not always easy.

2. Analyzing Candidate Platforms

Ask students to consider what values and skills they consider necessary for U.S. presidential candidates. Are there specific viewpoints or policies that students would want a politician to prioritize? What distinguishes the two main candidates of the 2016 presidential election from each other?

Divide the class into groups of three or four and distribute the “Candidate Profiles” graphic organizer. Instruct each group of students to visit the official websites for Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump. Have students fill in their “Candidate Profiles” using what they uncover on each website.

3. Identifying Key Issues

Ask students to share their findings on the Republican and Democratic nominees. Review the primary goals and positions of each candidate. Next, ask students to reflect on their own values and how they ranked these values earlier in the class period. Which candidate do students think would best represent their values? Do the issues that students identify as top priorities align with the priorities of either or both of the candidates? In what ways? Are students familiar with any other political parties or candidates whose values align more closely with their own?

4. Closing Discussion

Why do students think elections are important? Is there anything that makes this election particularly important? During the values activity at the beginning of class, did students highly prioritize the value democracy? If so, why, and if not, do they still stand by their original opinion? Did students prioritize other values more highly? If so, why? After completing the activity, in relation to this election in particular, which values do students feel are the most important to consider?

5. (Optional) Monitoring the Election

At the end of the class period, distribute the handout “Monitoring the Election” to each student. Instruct students to follow the guidelines for monitoring the status of the election provided on the handout. Inform students that you will collect their answers after the results of the election are announced.

Sources for Media Monitoring:

Al Jazeera—U.S. Election 2016

BBC—U.S. Election 2016

China Daily—2016 U.S. Election

Fox News—2016 Election Headquarters

The Guardian—Election 2016

New York Times—Election 2016

PBS—2016 Campaign Connection

Washington Post—Politics

Extra Challenge:

1. Creative Challenge

Using what they have learned from the lesson, invite students to create a fictional candidate, designing this candidate’s platform as well as creating a resume for the candidate. Students should consider what characteristics they feel make a strong leader, what issues the United States should prioritize, and how the United States should address these priorities.

2. Historical Analysis

Ask students to research one historical presidential campaign and the candidates in contention that year. Students may choose a candidate from any time period or political party. Have students present the similarities and differences of their chosen historical campaign and the 2016 presidential campaign.

Photo by Darron Birgenheier

Back to top