A mock presidential debate engages students in the political process and, depending on their age, prepares them to vote in upcoming elections. Hold a mock classroom presidential debate in which students are divided into multiple “parties,” including Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent and whatever other parties you want to focus on in your lesson plan. Hold a series of at least two debates in which students prepare in groups to defend their candidate’s position on a range of relevant issues. Use the exercise to teach students about and gauge understanding of the American political process.

The Economy

Group of classmates having a discussion
Group of classmates having a discussion

The economy is always a factor in a presidential election as voters want to know what methods and philosophies the candidates will use to produce a productive economy. To get at the candidates’ economic philosophies, ask students to prepare responses to questions like: “How can the free market be used to create jobs?” or “How do you propose that the federal government and states reduce budget deficits?” or “What strategies will ensure that American workers are prepared to compete in a global economy?”

The Environment

Student answering question in class
Student answering question in class

Clean energy, alternative energy and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil are all environmental issues that have been hotly debated in recent presidential debates. Engage the students in your class on thinking about environmental issues and the different viewpoints on those issues with debate questions like “How do you propose that America reduce its dependence on foreign oil?” or “What in your opinion is the single greatest threat to the environment and how can you help solve it?” or “What is the most viable alternative energy source and how can Americans incorporate it into their lifestyles?” or “Should companies be forced to be ‘green’ and if so, how?”

Foreign Policy

Students looking at globe in class
Students looking at globe in class

How America interacts with the world has always been important, particularly in presidential debates because the president has a great deal of influence in shaping American foreign policy during his time in office. Create a series of questions to help students develop their understanding of candidates’ stances on foreign policy. Sample questions may include “Congress requires every president to submit a National Security Strategy for the United States. What changes would you make to the current one?” and “How will you keep foreign nations from acquiring nuclear weapons?” and “Is it America’s role to be the world’s policeman?” and “Under what conditions would you send American troops into harm’s way when America’s security is not at risk?”

Social Moral Issues

High school class discussion
High school class discussion

Social ethical or moral issues always arise during presidential debates, and the American public cares what presidential candidates believe about moral topics like the separation of church and state, homosexual marriage and abortion. Ask questions that address these topics so that students can examine where candidates stand on them. Questions could include but should not be limited to: “Do you support state amendments that place restrictions or qualifiers on abortion?” or “Do you believe marriage should be confined to a woman and a man?” or “Do you favor extending social or tax benefits to same-sex couples?” or “Should students be allowed to form religious groups at school, even if that involves praying together on campus?”