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Lesson Plans

Student guide to the Democratic primary debates

January 14, 2020

Full Lesson



Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the questions. You can turn on the “CC” (closed-captions) function and read along with the transcript here.

Teacher’s note: To hear about the run up to the Iowa caucuses, stop the video at 4m:32s. To hear about the Democratic debate including the tension between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, watch after this point.

Have students use this #DemDebate Handout as they watch the debate.

Summary:  The last Democratic presidential debate of the year will take place in Iowa on Tuesday night before that state holds the first set of caucuses on Feb. 3. In NewsHour’s Politics Monday segment, find out about shifting poll numbers from Iowa that show strength for former Vice President Joe Biden, the withdrawal of Sen. Cory Booker from the 2020 presidential race and the clash brewing between Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Discussion questions: 

  1. What is the significance of the latest Monmouth poll?
  2. What issues do you think the moderators will ask the candidates about in Tuesday’s Democratic debate? What issues would you like to hear the moderators ask them about? Play this video by PBS’ Student Reporting Labs (SRL) of students asking questions. What questions are missing?
  3. What do you know about the Iowa caucuses? What is a caucus? Read the article, “Presidential caucuses are complicated. Why do some states use them?”.
  4. If you plan to watch Tuesday night’s debate or recap, fill out this #DemDebate form.
  5. #Media literacy: What is the “spat” that has occurred between Sanders and Warren? If time allows, read the article “Warren says Sanders told her a woman couldn’t win presidency” here.
    • Short recap: Anonymous sources who were not present at a 2018 one-on-one meeting between Sanders and Warren told CNN that Sanders said a woman could not be president. Warren confirmed the comment on Monday. Sanders denies ever saying such a thing and has for decades publicly supported women running for office. “It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win,” he said. In her statement, Warren said she and Sanders “have far more in common than our differences on punditry.”
    • Questions: Why do you think this matter is coming up now? How might context matter in a case like this? Do you think CNN should have used anonymous sources? How does this affect the progressive cause of the campaign? How might this affect Tuesday night’s debate?

Extension activity

Create a #DemDebate BINGO sheet and discuss in class the next day.


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Media literacy education

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate and create all types of media, including news media.

All of NewsHour Classroom's resources contain lessons in media literacy, including questions like who produced the piece and what do you know about them?

Start by evaluating this video introducing NewsHour Classroom here.