Electoral College: Lesson Plan

Teachers: Election season lesson plan by History Department Graduate Assistant Genie Donley!
Fall of 2016 is undoubtedly the most exciting time to be an American Government student. The 2016 presidential election has been in the news for the past year, and only gets more and more interesting as we creep closer to November. The entertaining nature of this election may help to stimulate interest in otherwise non-interested American government students. But how does an election work? How do we specifically choose our next president? The simple answer is we go to the polls and cast our votes on Election Day. Students may be surprised to know that we do not actually vote for our favorite candidate. Rather, we vote for electors who will cast their votes in another election in December to determine the next president. Included in this post is a lesson plan that American Government teachers (or any other teachers) may use to introduce their students to the Electoral College. It includes a video by fellow social studies teacher and historian Keith Hughes as well as a worksheet to send students on a scavenger hunt to explore the 270towin website. Students will be able to see how many electoral votes each state has, how states have voted in the past, and they will have the opportunity to predict and design their own electoral map for this upcoming election.
Follow this link for a pdf of this lesson.
Here is the plan:
Lesson: The Electoral College
Rationale: This lesson is intended to provide students with a basic knowledge of the Electoral College system in the United States.

  • ODE American Government Content Statement 1: Opportunities for civic engagement with the structures of government are made possible through political and public policy processes.
  • ODE American Government Content Statement 5: As the supreme law of the land, the U.S. Constitution incorporates basic principles which help define the government of the United States as a federal republic including its structure, powers and relationship with the governed.
  • ODE American Government Content Statement 6: The Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers framed the national debate over the basic principles of government encompassed by the Constitution of the United States.
  • ODE American Government Content Statement 22: Individuals and organizations play a role within federal, state and local governments in helping to determine pubic (domestic and foreign) policy.

Objectives – Students will be able to:

  • Define elector
  • Describe the necessity for the Electoral College
  • Explain the reason why states have different numbers of electoral votes
  • Identify patterns throughout recent presidential elections
  • Explain what happens in the event of a tie in electoral votes


Prerequisite Knowledge

  • Students should have a basic understanding of the concept of federalism.
  • Students should be familiar with the Federalist Papers.

Key Questions

  • What is an elector?
  • Why did the founders believe the Electoral College was necessary?
  • Why do states have varying numbers of electoral votes?
  • What happens when there is a tie in electoral votes?
  • How many electoral votes does your state have?


  • Begin by asking students how the president of the U.S. is chosen. Introduce the Electoral College by giving a short description of what it is.
  • Play the Keith Hughes video for the students to provide a history of the Electoral College and how it functions.
  • Facilitate a class discussion that includes a summary of the video. Clear up any misunderstandings.
  • Distribute the Electoral College Worksheets and iPads/laptops or allow students to use their Smartphones if they have them.
  • Instruct and aid students to find the 270towin website. Allow them the rest of the class to complete the worksheet independently or with a partner. The teacher should circulate among the students to ensure they remain on task and to provide assistance with the worksheet.
  • If time permits, go over the worksheet as a class. Take a poll to see how many students favor the Electoral College procedure, and ask them to describe why they do or why they do not.

Assessment: Assessment for this lesson will be evaluation of students’ participation in the class discussion and completion of the Electoral College Worksheet. See the pdf.