Teachers Are Looking to Bring Presidential Debates Into Lessons

By Madeline Will — September 26, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The first presidential debate is tonight—and as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton square off, teachers and students will be watching.

Justin Christensen, an AP U.S. Government teacher at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco and the founder of the Twitter chat #hsgovchat, tweeted that high school government teachers and their students from across the country will be live-tweeting the presidential debates, using #hsgovchat and a specific class hashtag.

The rules for participating classes: Act as political scientists while tweeting. Don’t root for or against a candidate. Instead, evaluate the moderator’s questions and follow-ups. Evaluate the candidates’ answers (Are they fact-based? Consistent? Are they targeting certain demographic groups? What does the candidates’ body language say?). Ask your own questions, and respond to other tweets with research and evidence.

I spoke to Christensen earlier this month for an Education Week article about how teachers are navigating this contentious election cycle in the classroom. He said having students take the perspective of political scientists, without going into personal preferences or attack, is the best way for teachers to approach this election.

Another way to get your students involved in the debate is have them look at it from a historical standpoint, evaluating presidential debates as far back as 1960. A project by PBS NewsHour and Microsoft has compiled over five decades of debates, broken down by issue so students can track how the discussions of, say, the economys or civil rights have changed over the years. The project,, will also stream all three 2016 debates with Microsoft Pulse, an audience response tool, so students can register their reactions to the candidates and their answers.

PBS NewsHour also released a related lesson plan of presidential debate moments that have shaped history.

Finally, if you want to re-enact the debate in your classroom, the project Join the Debates gives teachers free curricular materials to start a healthy and respectful conversation about the issues in the campaign cycle.

The first presidential debate is at 9 pm EST and will last for 90 minutes. This Verge article has a list of the networks and websites streaming the debate.

Image source: Hillary Clinton, by Susan Walsh/AP; Donald Trump, by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

More on the 2016 election:

Follow @madeline_will and @EdWeekTeacher on Twitter.



A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.