{Guest Post} Socratic Seminar and the Electoral College

I love teaching for the simple fact that most teachers are givers. Need help? They have a solution. Today, I welcome Lauren Donnenfeld Ivey, a 9th grade AP Government teacher at Alpharetta High School in Alpharetta, GA. She shares how she uses Socratic seminars with her freshmen!

One of the great things about being in my fifth year teaching AP Government is that I am at the point where I am mostly tweaking old lessons rather than creating. It is much more efficient and productive. I am also fortunate to have a great colleague to bounce ideas off of. The lesson below I have used similar versions of in other classes and on other topics. However, this was the first time I had used it in AP Government.

Yesterday, I spent about 20 minutes talking about the Electoral College. I tried to stick to mostly the facts, such as the following:

  • You need 270 votes to win the presidency
  • It was designed by the Framers to give less control to the common people, and more control to the educated elite
  • The role of faithless electors

I also showed them the CGP Gray clip online about the Electoral College, which mentions its problems, notably the fact that people in the territories are the only people in the world who can’t vote for President.

I explained that the next day we would do a fishbowl discussion. In a fishbowl, a small group of students sit in the middle at a group of tables, and when a student wants to talk they “tap out” someone in the middle and can talk. Students in the outside group cannot talk. I also explained that they had to make three intelligent comments to earn 100. For example, “yeah the Electoral College is cool” is not an intelligent comment. The comments needed to show understanding or higher-order thinking.

For homework, students read 2 articles of their choice on the electoral college. I listed three for them but gave them the opportunity to choose others to read if they desired.

The next day, students began the fishbowl. I reminded them of the rules and that if I saw anyone talking in the outer circle I would take off a point each time. I also gave them a simple handout for them to list pros and cons of the electoral college. I prompted students with questions that I both thought of and pulled from websites. These included some of the following:

  • How does the Electoral College increase or decrease democracy? Why?
  • What are two ways the Electoral College system makes people feel like their votes don’t count?
  • Should faithless electors be abolished and required to vote how the people wanted them to vote? Why or why not?
  • Is the popular vote better than the Electoral College? Why or why not?

In some classes, if I felt like students were getting redundant I also introduced other topics such as voter ID laws which we had previously studied.

While students were speaking, I wrote down who was saying what. Occasionally I reminded them who needed to make intelligent comments to earn credit.

Overall the lesson went well. If I were doing it again I’d probably require students to turn in their reading notes because I don’t think all students actually read the articles on the Electoral College.

I love this idea! Socratic seminars and discussions are so great for students to really process information. It allows them to explore ideas, ask questions, and look at the documents in a more in-depth way. When you develop an environment that allows students to openly admit they don’t know and ask the good questions, it opens a lot of doors! How do you accomplish this? Admit you don’t know everything. 


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