As the presidential election neared its final stages back in October, Kristen Dickey’s 5th grade students had a plethora of questions:

What is the electoral college? How does it work? Why do some states get more votes than others? What’s the difference between a democrat and a republican? What’s Congress? What is their role?  

Kristen knew she had to teach her kids about the US government, but that content was usually reserved for a later point in the year. But this opportunity was too good to pass up. She decided that not only would she teach students about the election process- she would allow them to simulate it in their own ‘mock elections.’

The idea for her project was borne.

Driving Question: How are our presidents elected, and can 5th graders mimic this process?

Main Standard: I can describe the three branches of government, the powers they have, and the checks and balances they have in place.

The ‘Mock Election’ Project

Starting the Campaign Process

Kristen thought of a brilliant way to launch the project. To keep things unbiased and focused on real issues, rather than have students run for president, they would have their pets run instead. Fido, Baxter, Benji and other pets all ran on student generated campaigns, slogans, and platforms. (see some of those below)

Caucus and Convention Debates

Next stop for the pets/candidates were the state caucuses.

Kristen built off of students’ previous learning. Since students had already prepared an essay for an opinion writing piece, Kristen used this as the focus for the caucus debates. She found random school rules to use as ‘policies,’ and had students identify where they stood. These issues included questions such as, ‘Should teachers continue to use red ink? Should we have homework? Do school uniforms help increase safety and academic performance? What technology should be allowed in class? What should be the policy around relationships, and socializing with friends?’

Amara Final Opinion Writing (Sample Essay)

After the debates, in the same way the electoral college map is used to determine presidential candidates, students would have to narrow their pet candidates down to 10.

Once the 10 students continuing were announced, they each picked a vice president and together wrote acceptance speeches. These 10 held another round of debates and the 4 students who were not in the running for president or vice, were instructed to vote on the most factual/ unbiased debater of each of the 10 candidates. If the presidential candidate won their debate they moved on to the next round of voting; if they lost their debate, they were out of the running. (see one of the debates below)

Primary Elections

It was now time to take candidates from 4 to 2. In a mock primary election, Kristen pulled in the team classes from 3rd and 4th grade to help her class vote.

There were now only 2 candidates left. Time for the final election.

For the final runoff election, Kristen extended voting to the whole school with each class receiving a designated amount of electoral college votes. Teachers with EA’s (Educational Assistants) counted for 2 votes; the custodial team counted for a total of 3 votes; and the Admin team counted for 2 votes. The winner of the presidential election would need 11 of the 20 available votes to win.

And the winner was…

The WHOLE SCHOOL! Their pets’ photos and Campaign Posters will hang in Kristen’s room the rest of the year!

The Transformation

The mock election did more than just teach students about the three branches of government. As Kristen describes, it helped students ask deeper questions like, ‘Why  does our country vote this way, and is it fair compared to the ‘popular vote?’

These kind of questions don’t come from skimming over summaries from a textbook, they take place from what Kristen describes as ‘actively participating in the process.’ Through real, project-based learning, Kristen gave her students an experience they will never forget.

To learn more about Kristen’ mock election project and how you can bring a similar project to your learners, reach out to her at