How We Elect a President: The Electoral College (Grades 4–6)

by Tim Bailey


This lesson on the Electoral College is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These resources were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts and secondary sources of historical significance. Students will demonstrate this knowledge by answering questions that seek to measure their conceptual understanding of the topic as well as engaging them in thoughtful discussions. Students are required to express themselves in writing. Students are asked to not only explain, but make fact-based arguments based on textual evidence.

After completing this lesson, students will understand how the Electoral College system was established and how it functions in determining who will be the president and vice president of the United States. The students will demonstrate their understanding by answering questions in writing that are designed to make them use textual evidence to support their answers.


One of the most important and least understood processes in American government is how we elect a president. This process was created by the founders of our country and is articulated in Article II of the United States Constitution. Many American citizens do not understand the purpose or workings of the Electoral College and its function in selecting the president and vice president of the United States. This lesson is designed to explain that process to the students and reinforce that understanding through a series of literal and inferential questions.



At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lesson individually, as partners, or in small groups.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. Share Article II of the United States Constitution and the Twelfth Amendment on an overhead or Elmo and discuss the fact that these documents are the foundation for how we elect a president and that this article established the Electoral College system.
  3. The teacher then “share reads” “What Is the Electoral College” with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English Language Learners (ELL).
  4. Hand out the Graphic Organizer: “Understanding the Electoral College.”
  5. Depending on how you have structured your lesson, students will be answering the questions on this organizer either individually or with other students. It is very important that student answers are backed up with evidence directly from the text.
  6. Make sure to allot enough time for discussion of the answers to the questions either in this session or at the beginning of another lesson.

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