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Lesson Plans

Young voters turned out: How teen reporters covered the midterm elections

November 15, 2018

Full Lesson



Directions: Read the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs article below (see original version here), watch the videos and answer the discussion questions below. Turn on the closed captions “CC” button to help students follow along easier.


PBS’ youth reporters add critical youth angle to NewsHour midterm election coverage by Tom Maxwell


Unprecedented voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections was a defining factor in the race for control of the U.S. House and Senate, and young voters demonstrated their potential to change the outcome of future elections.


According to the Federal Census Bureau, less than 1 in 5 eligible voters under 25 cast their ballots in the 2014 midterm elections. Data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) reported that 31 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds voted in the midterms this year — the highest rate of youth participation in at least twenty-five years.


As part of our series, Turning Out: The Youth Vote, we asked our student correspondents across the country to interview their classmates on the youth vote. Why do young people think so few of their peers show up at the polls? What issues would encourage them to participate in state and local elections?


PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs in action.


“A specific issue that’s [motivating] me a lot is DACA,” said Axel Siliezar, a student from Northview High School in Covina, California. “I am an international student, I’ve been here for two years.”


“If the school really encourages [voting], and the teachers encourage it, and in fact make it a part of the curriculum, it can be really encouraging,” said Joseph Izampuye, a student at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.


In Florida, Mason Berger from Pine Crest School interviewed individuals and organizations turning the tide on the youth vote. Berger talked to high school students who plan on voting for the first time, as well as representatives from NextGen America and the Florida Federation of Young Republicans, two political advocacy groups aimed at registering millennial voters to turn out.


“When I first set out to do a story about first-time voters in Florida, I was not expecting the sheer volume of work being done to engage young voters,” Berger said. “I had always read that politicians ignored younger voters, given their tendency to not show up at the polls. So it was very interesting hearing about strategies targeted specifically at this generally overlooked group of voters.”


Students from Christopher Columbus High School in Florida interviewed students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a mass shooting killed 17 students and staff members. The story was shared widely over social media, including Twitter:



The 2018 midterms also saw a rise in minorities and women running for office. Students at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, spoke with one candidate, Shireen Ghorbani, who thinks this election will have a domino effect, causing more young women to volunteer for campaigns and become more civically engaged.



Discussion questions:


1. Essential question: Why was the youth vote higher in the 2018 election than it had been in the past 25 years?


2. Why do so many young people (18-29) not vote in elections? What can be done to encourage more young people to vote?


3. Student Cara Westra of Pine Crest High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told SRL reporters: “I think teachers are a little more cautious about talking about politics, so that might negatively affect the youth vote, because people are hearing less about it.” Do you agree with this sentiment? Why or why not? If you feel comfortable, ask your teacher their reaction to this statement.


4. In the Utah video, India Schoenherr says there’s something special about seeing a woman candidate who believes in representing you. How many women live in the state of Utah? What is the percentage of women in the Utah state house? What about in your state? Why might it be meaningful for voters, especially young people, to see candidates who look like them?


5. Media literacy: Who is the intended audience for these three SRL videos? Do you think journalists have a specific audience in mind when they set out to produce a story? Why might that be the case? Reflect for a moment on the fact that middle and high school students produced the videos you viewed here. Do you think student-produced work makes a difference when it comes to understanding the issue of the youth vote in America? Why or why not?


Extension activity: Should 16-year-olds have the right to vote?


Directions: Important background–read these two paragraphs first!:


In 2015, D.C. Councilman Charles Allen introduced “The Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018,” to lower the voting age in local and federal elections to 16, however, it failed to come up for a hearing. On June 2018, following the March for Our Lives, Allen introduced the bill again, which moved it out of committee in early November. On Wednesday, in a 7-6 decision, the city council voted to delay the vote, which meant no debate or vote would be allowed at that time. On Twitter, Vote16DC’s Alik Shier said the group will “get back up and fight even harder.” They may just have history on their side.


“Student activism was credited for lowering the voting age once before, in 1971, when Congress passed the 26th Amendment to the Constitution to allow people 18 and older to vote,” according to the Washington Post. “Young protesters during the Vietnam War argued that it was unfair that young men who were being drafted were unable to vote for the leaders who were sending them into battle. Before the amendment, many states set the minimum voting age at 21. The amendment did not prevent states from setting the age lower than 18.”


1) Now watch the Student Reporting Labs video below and read the following “Reporter’s Notebook” by Xavier Dominguez, a junior at Las Cruces High School in New Mexico. Xavier traveled to Washington D.C. to work with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs last summer on a story about the bill. We reached out to Xavier to reflect on the piece he produced with other student reporters before Wednesday’s vote by the D.C. Council.



2) Next, read Xavier Dominguez Reporter’s Notebook below:


I didn’t have a lot of interest in political issues or politics in general when my group was first assigned to cover Vote16DC – a national campaign aimed to extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year-olds in local elections. However, getting the opportunity to look more in depth into how people my age were wanting to make a difference, made me think twice about how politics could affect my future. While reporting on this story, I gained a better understanding of how much power people my age can have. It does not require an adult to make change but anyone can, no matter what circumstances.


Xavier Rodriguez interviewing Vote16DC’s Tiffany Missembe.

When I interviewed Tiffany Missembe, a student advocate for Vote16DC, she said, “I believe that youth are heavily affected by policies implemented in our community”. It made me think twice about my own community and the ways in which people my age are affected by decisions made by local representatives. Seeing how Vote16DC put their ideas into action, such as getting involved with a city council member, going to a city council hearing and reaching out to different stakeholders, taught me how important it was for teens all over the world to have their voices heard.


3) Once you are done watching the video and reading Xavier’s reporter’s notebook, ask students: 


  • Do you think the voting age should be changed to 16? Why or why not? Share your responses (feel free to make a short video, no more than 30 seconds, or take a picture with your written response) on Twitter with @NewsHourExtra and @ReportingLabs.



PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) is a youth journalism program in hundreds of classrooms, after-school programs and clubs around the country. Its mission is to produce original, inspiring news stories that make an impact on young people’s lives and their local communities.