How We Elect a President: The Electoral College (Grades 7–9)

by Tim Bailey


This lesson on the Electoral College is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These resources were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts and secondary sources of historical significance. Students will demonstrate this knowledge by answering questions that seek to measure their conceptual understanding of the topic as well as engaging them in thoughtful discussions. Students are required to express themselves in writing. Students are asked to not only explain, but make fact-based arguments based on textual evidence.

After completing this lesson, students will understand how the Electoral College system was established and how it functions in determining who will be the president and vice president of the United States. The students will demonstrate their understanding by writing a short essay arguing for either keeping the existing Electoral College or adopting a popular-vote system.


One of the most important and least understood processes in American government is how we elect a president. This process was created by the founders of our country and is articulated in Article II of the United States Constitution. Many American citizens do not understand the purpose or workings of the Electoral College and its function in the selection of the president and vice president of the United States. Many people think that we should do away with the Electoral College and establish a popular vote in order to elect the president.



At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lesson individually or form discussion groups prior to the individual writing assignment.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. Share Article II of the United States Constitution and the Twelfth Amendment on an overhead or Elmo and discuss the fact that these documents are the foundation for how we elect a president and that Article II established the Electoral College system.
  3. The teacher then “share reads” “What Is the Electoral College?” with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English Language Learners (ELL).
  4. Hand out the two pieces “Arguments for the Electoral College” and “Arguments against the Electoral College.” You can either share read these articles with the students or have the students read them in small groups or individually.
  5. After the students have read the articles, pass out the graphic organizer “The Best Way to Elect the President of the United States,” and have students write a short essay addressing the prompt. This can be either an in-class or take-home assignment.
  6. Make sure to emphasize to the students that all of the arguments in their essay must be backed up with textual evidence taken directly from the three documents that you have given them.

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