Political debates can provide important learning opportunities. When election time comes around—whether it be a presidential election or a local contest for mayor, city council member, governor or member of Congress—these debates give teachers an opening to explore candidates, issues and the electoral process with their students.
More than 50 years ago, in 1960, the presidential election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy was the first general election debate ever held and the first to be nationally televised. We have come a long way since then. During election season today, there is quite a bit of time and effort that goes into planning, watching and analyzing the debates, which provide great fodder for political commentary and often move undecided voters in one direction or another.
Because teachers frequently assign students to watch and analyze political debates, we have provided this teaching guide for middle and high school teachers. The teaching guide includes vocabulary, instructions for the teacher prior to the debate and after students have watched, student materials including issues, a short response worksheet and long response essay topics as well as additional resources. The guide is nonspecific in format and substance and therefore can be used for any election, both national and local.