Electing the President: Caucuses and Primaries

Teachers' Edition: Grades 3-6 (Lesson Plans)

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Key Concepts: political interest groups, representative democracy, two-party system

Duration: two (2) double-blocks (middle and high school), four (4) class periods (elementary school)

Goal: Students will understand how the American two-party system functions to accommodate interests that in other democratic countries are served by the multi-party parliamentary system..

Objective: Students will learn the process by which American presidents are selected and how that process functionally incorporates disparate political interests into a single governmental whole..

Essential Question: In a country with so many different political differences, factions, and interest groups, how is it that America routinely succeeds in selecting presidents capable of asserting executive power in a manner that is acceptable or at least tolerable for most citizens?

Common Core Standards Met: CCR English Language Arts Standards 7-10

21st-Century Skills Employed: Civic Literacy


Session One:

  • Introduce topic and question, then direct students to read the following online articles from EnchantedLearning (middle school) and Wikipedia (advanced middle school/high school) and watch the YouTube video.
  • Have the students produce a list of the various interest groups or blocks in the United States today (e.g. farmers, bankers, abortion rights proponents, labor union members, etc., results may vary). Next, have them create a table that sorts the interests according to their identification as either local, state, or national interests.
  • Break the class into small groups of four (4) students each, appoint a group leader.  Have each group leader create a Google document and share it with the rest of the group members. (Alternative: have the group leader provide butcher paper and pens/pencils/markers sufficient for all group members to draw and/or write on the paper.)
  • Session Two

  • Have the groups draw a series of concentric circles from small to large and label them accordingly: smallest circle—caucus; larger—primary; larger—nominating convention; largest—national election. Then, ask the students to place the interest groups that they had previously identified into the circle where their needs/demands would be most likely to be met (e.g. farmers = caucus, primary; abortion rights opponents = national, etc.).
  • Once the circle charts are finished, have the students present their product to the class, by group. Each student should have a speaking role in the presentation. (non-tech alternative—have students present their poster board). After the group presentation, open the floor to audience questions and comments.
  • Follow-up Discussion, “Selecting a President Who Can Govern”: In whole group, discuss whether or not the American way of electing a president ensures that the executive can govern effectively a nation with such a wide range of interest groups and divergent needs.  Does the process of moving from local caucus to state primary to national election allow an elected president to lay claim to being the president of all the people?
  • Assessment: assess students presentations based the rubric below:



    Students’ names: _________________________________________________________

    Oral Presentation Grading Rubric



    General presentation (audience appeal)

    Excellent = 5
    Good = 4
    Average = 3
    Below Average = 2
    None = 1

    Creativity, Originality, and Effort (aesthetic appeal of product)

    Exceptional = 5
    Good = 4
    As expected = 3
    Less than expected = 2
    Not apparent = 1

    Applied Knowledge (use of material and concepts learned)

    Solid application of learned material = 5
    Very good application of learned material = 4
    Adequate application = 3
    Weak application = 2
    No apparent application = 1

    Comprehension (understanding of topic/assignment)

    Excellent comprehension = 5
    Good comprehension = 4
    Average comprehension = 3
    Weak comprehension = 2
    No comprehension = 1

    Highest Possible Average Points


    Total Average Points


    Letter Grade


    Grade Scale: 5 (A), 4 (B), 3 (C), 2 (D), 1 (F)


    Materials/Resources Required

    Non-tech: butcher paper, colored pens and/or pencils; computer access to Internet and Google suite (Google docs)

    Primary and Secondary Sources

    United States Constitution, Article II, Section 1
    Ben’s Guide to U.S. History (Grades 6-8)
    Ben’s Guide to U.S. History (Grades 9-12)


    caucus: informal, local balloting often referred to as a “straw poll” to select delegates to a party nominating convention

    primary: formal state balloting to select delegates to a party nominating convention
    nominating convention: gathering of state party delegates that selects a political party’s presidential nominee

    Electoral College: body of state delegates chosen through the process of national balloting and given the power to elect the president


    Elections teaching resources at TeacherVision.

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