Participating in a Campaign

From Vote Democracy! collection, lesson plan 3 of 7

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade Level: 9-12, College

Subject areas: Government, Political Science, Social Studies, Current Events, Language Arts, Debate, Sociology

Purpose of the lesson: In a democracy, campaigns have played a major role in determining the outcome of elections. A campaign incorporates publicity/advertising, image-building, media outreach, communication and people skills. This lesson analyzes common roles and skills useful in campaigns and allows students to develop their own campaign around an issue and design staff positions and materials to further their cause.


Students will:

  • learn about campaign roles and skills
  • analyze and critically view film as text
  • discuss in groups and as a class
  • exercise collaborative group skills
  • synthesize information gathered from case studies to develop their own examples


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussion and in writing, critical reading and viewing, researching, persuasive writing techniques, note taking, oral presentation


  • board or overhead projector
  • chart paper
  • An Unreasonable Man “Campaign” Film Module
  • Teacher Handouts A and C
  • Discussion Guides for Please Vote for Me and An Unreasonable Man
  • art supplies

National teaching standards addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards available in the educator guide for full descriptions of standards employed.

  • National Council for the Social Studies
  • National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association

Writer: David Maduli

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher.

  1. Write this quote on the board or overhead projector:

    “A campaign is about defining who you are–your vision and your opponent’s vision.” — Donna Brazile, Al Gore’s 2000 campaign manager

    Remind students about recent campaigns: 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections, local elections, homecoming queen/king, student government positions–and have them brainstorm some as well. Have students write a response using these sentence stems:

    • I think Brazile means that…
    • You can define your vision of who you are in a campaign by…
    • You can define your opponent’s vision of who you are in a campaign by…

    Call on students to share different responses.

  2. Have students read “Organizing Your Political Campaign: How to Assemble Your Campaign Team” by Benjamin Katz. Discuss using the following guiding questions:

    • What role does a campaign fundraiser play? Why is this role important? What can supporters and potential supporters provide besides money? Why is an accountant needed?
    • Why is voter contact the true objective of a campaign? Why are field, press, mail and TV/radio methods all necessary? Are any voter contact methods more crucial or more effective? How is voter contact like advertising/marketing?
    • Why are technology skills important? How might technology impact fundraising and voter contact in future elections?
    • View the Please Vote for Me Film Module highlighting different people and their roles in the campaigns. Have students take notes using the following prompts:
    • How does each candidate connect with and contact the voters?
    • What is the “brand” and message that each candidate develops? How successful are they? What factors affect their success?
    • What role do the parents, teacher and peer assistants play? How do they influence the campaign?
    • How does each candidate deal with opponents? How do they respond to attacks?

    Discuss responses. Additional discussion questions can be found in the Please Vote for Me Discussion Guide. Selected quotes from the films are in Teacher Handout C.

  3. View the An Unreasonable Man “Campaign” Film Module highlighting different people and their roles in Nader’s campaign. Have students take notes using the following prompts:

    • How does Nader connect with and contact voters?
    • What is Nader’s brand and message? How successful is he in developing it and communicating it? What factors affect his success?
    • What role do campaign staff, media, and the other political parties play? How do they influence Nader’s campaign?
    • How does the candidate (Nader) deal with opponents (Democrats, Republicans, Nader’s Raiders)? How does he respond to attacks?

    Discuss each of the roles, especially focusing on the Nader’s Raiders as a lobby group working against Nader’s campaign and their impact. Additional discussion questions are found in the An Unreasonable Man Discussion Guide. Selected quotes from the film are in Teacher Handout C.

  4. Assignment: Present the class with an election campaign for a classroom president. As a class, brainstorm what the role and responsibilities of the president would be. Divide the class into small groups. Each group should work together to create and develop:

    • A list of staff positions for their campaign. A job description for each staff member including skills needed and primary responsibilities.
    • A primary strategy that includes at least five voter contact actions they would take.
    • Visual design, such as posters, slogans, and graphics.
    • A voter guide containing candidate ideas and positions.
    • Strategies for how to respond to opponents and attacks.
  5. Have the groups present their work in a gallery walk.

    • What are some skills and roles that many groups have in common?
    • What are strategies that you think will be effective? What would you change or add to improve a group’s campaign strategy?
    • What makes a group’s visual design materials engaging and convincing?
  1. Contact and interview staff of local representatives to find out who takes part in the politician’s election campaign. Ask for job descriptions and responsibilities of different staff and intern positions. Present these findings to the class and compare similarities and differences.

  2. Invite a panel of guest speakers to come into the classroom to address student questions and comments about campaigning. Include local, state or federal politicians as well as members of their campaign staff. Have students prepare questions for the panel in advance and use the expertise of the panel members to learn more about what it is like to run a campaign. Follow up in class by discussing what insights students gained from each of the panelists, and how their strategies were similar or different to the ones developed in their classroom campaigns.

Note: See Teacher Handout A: Guidelines for Convening a Community Forum.

  • Film module:
    Please Vote for Me
  • Film module:
    An Unreasonable Man: Campaigns
Download lesson materials