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Lesson Plans

Ballad of the Ballots

November 6, 2020

Full Lesson


Mail-in ballots are counted in Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Rachel Wisniewski

For a Google doc of this lesson, click here. For a downloadable Word doc, click here.


History, U.S. Government, Civics

Estimated Time

One 50-minute class period

Grade Level


Objective: Students will evaluate the history of ballots within the United States in order to draw conclusions regarding voting rights & access to voting.

Overview: Students will consider the importance of the ballot formats and technology in past and present elections and use this knowledge to  evaluate other circumstances that have impacted (and continue to impact) the accessibility and fairness of voting for Americans.



1. Students will complete a “See, Think, Wonder” using a ballot from 1895 in a GoogleForm (alternatively, image & question could be placed directly in a PearDeck).

  • If you would like to change the contents of the Google form, click on the “3 dots” on the top-right of the page and click “Make a copy.”

2. Students share observations for each stage of “See, Think, Wonder” to start class discussion.

3. Image is identified on PearDeck as a ballot from New York in 1895. Students make new observations (through discussion or PearDeck) with this knowledge. How does this change your understanding of the image?


  1. Students proceed with PearDeck (synchronously or asynchronously — a secondary form of final evaluation for asynchronous work is recommended, see below) by looking at the history of ballots and sharing observations on how they have evolved.
  2. Students complete a PearDeck true/false series on voting. Questions cover poll taxes, literacy tests and voter intimidation and include answers & explanations on the following slides.


A. Students share a one minute summary of the lesson as an exit ticket.

  1. OPTION: If students complete slides asynchronously, ask for a more detailed explanation of the evolution of ballots or voting practices in the United States. Possible questions: 
  2. Why is it important to protect voting rights in the United States? 
  3. What changes have been made in the past to better protect voters? 
  4. What can the government of the United States do today to better protect voters? 


  1. Students complete a GoogleForm where they select (or are assigned) one of five articles from the 2016 & 2020 election cycles regarding voting & voting access and answer questions.
  2. The following class, students complete a jigsaw where they first compare notes with those students who were assigned the same article and create a shared list of conclusions, and then split into groups where each student had a different article & share their results. Then the class reassembles to share findings.

Optional Extension:

  1. Watch clip from PBS NewsHour What Election Officials Think About Paper Ballots and Voting Machines
  2. Answer the following questions:
    • What styles of ballot machines were covered in the video? What style of voting seems most secure to you and why? 
    • What concerns about election security did the video address?
    • Do you think the way Americans vote should be uniform nationwide? Why or why not?

Mary Patton teaches US History I & II at Waltham High School in Massachusetts. Previously, Mary taught IB History & Geography at St. Timothy’s School in Maryland. Before starting her career in education, Mary worked in public relations at Powell Communications in New York City. Mary has a B.A. in History from Colby College and an M.Ed. in Secondary Education from Boston College. Twitter: @MsPattonWHS

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.