K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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Related topics


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Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • make inferences about presidential candidates and American culture.
  • conduct research on American culture and values from 1970 to the present.
  • compare and contrast values of different time periods in recent American history.
  • illustrate their knowledge of how election materials are used to reflect current values in informal presentations and a creative skit.

Teacher planning

Your school librarian may be able to support you in finding resources for the students to use for research in this lesson.

Time required

Three to four 45-minute class periods or two to three block periods

Materials needed

  • White board or chart paper
  • Dry-erase or regular markers
  • Copies of page one of the 1979 Mini Page Meet Some Candidates — one per student (if students will not be accessing it on individual computers)
  • Copies of page four of the 1988 Mini Page Politics, Parties and Presidents — one per student (if students will not be accessing it on individual computers)
  • Copies of page four of the 1995 Mini Page How We Elect Our President — one per student (if students will not be accessing it on individual computers)
  • Copies of the Mini Page Analysis of Presidential Candidates handout — one per student
  • Copies of the Campaign Promotional Commercial Role Sheet — one per student
  • Resources (online and/or print) for researching American history during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s

Technology resources

  • Computers — one for each pair of students (preferred) or one per group
  • Computer with Internet connected to a multimedia projector
  • Access to Barack Obama’s For Decades to Come video and Mitt Romney’s Introduction video


Mini Page analysis of presidential candidates
Students complete this handout when analyzing Mini Pages about various presidential candidates.
Open as PDF (90 KB, 2 pages)
Campaign promotional commercial role sheet
This document explains the roles for the group campaign commercial activity. It also provides space for students to reflect on how well their group worked together.
Open as PDF (167 KB, 1 page)

Printing the Mini Page

To print a portion of a Mini Page, open the link in your internet browser. On the right side of the page, you will see a “thumbnails” column with an icon for each page. Click on the page you want to print. In some Internet browsers, you will see a print icon displayed at the top of the Mini Page. In others, you may need to bring your mouse to the main Mini Page screen, and hover on the bottom right of this screen. Click on the printer icon and print the desired number of copies. If you want to print all four pages of a Mini Page, it is easier to save the issue of the Mini Page you want (by clicking on the floppy disk icon) and then print. Make sure the free Adobe PDF reader is installed on your computer.


Prior knowledge

  • If you do not want to tell students which websites they should use for research, the students should already be familiar with conducting Internet research. Teachers could ask their school librarian to help teach a lesson on conducting Internet research. Students need to know how to use search engines effectively and how to decide which sources are reliable. For this lesson, deciding on reliable sources is highly important, as googling “American values” tends to result in very polarized and politically biased sources. Using search terms such as “1970 facts” will create better results.
  • Students should have a basic understanding of elections and American political parties. This Mini Page can be used for background reading, if necessary. The resources in LEARN NC’s 2012 Election Guide may also be useful.
  • Students should understand how to read charts and graphs and how they can be used to showcase some information and downplay other information. They should know how to calculate percentages and understand their implications. As written, this lesson does not include any direct math instruction.


Day one

  1. Ask students to write a short description of themselves and their interests. Write prompting questions on the board such as: What are your favorite foods? What kind of music do you like? Do you play any sports?
  2. Tell students that they will be using someone else’s interests to make inferences about their personality. Model this by writing your own interests on the board and then writing an inference that a partner might make. For example, “I wrote that I like listening to rap music and going to art museums. My partner might write that I am artsy and probably live in or enjoy cities.”
  3. Ask students to trade papers with a partner, and underneath their partner’s work, write a few phrases summarizing their partner’s personality based only on what is written. It will be helpful to direct students in trading papers with people with whom they are not already good friends.
  4. Ask students to trade back and read what their partner wrote about them. Does this description match with how they see themselves? Does it match with the image they want to portray for others? They may reflect on these questions in writing on the same sheet of paper or orally with their partner before talking as a class about the results.
  5. Explain to students that while image matters to many people, it is especially important for public figures to make a good impression. Teachers could ask students what public figures they believe rely on reputation the most, and guide them to coming up with political figures. Ask the students if they have seen any commercials or advertisements about candidates, and ask what messages they think are being portrayed.
  6. Explain that they will now be beginning a lesson about the presidential election in the U.S. in which they will examine the images and values the candidates project to the public. They will use this knowledge as a basis to conduct their own research on current American values, and then they will make a campaign commercial based on their findings.
  7. Tell the students they will be working in groups for the next activity. Tell them the following information: “Each group will be assigned one Mini Page to examine. All three are from different decades — the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s — and contain information about presidential candidates at the time. Since this publication is for children, the information focuses on the candidates’ personal interests rather than their political platforms. However, we can use this information to infer the kind of image the candidates want the American public to see. Taking this further, we can infer what values were, or were perceived as, important to the American public at the time the Mini Pages were published.”
  8. On the board or on chart paper, make a chart like the one in the Mini Page Analysis of Presidential Candidates handout.
  9. Use the 1995 page “How we elect our President” Mini Page as an example, as it shows several Republican candidates. Project page four for students to see. Choose either Patrick Buchanan, Lamar Alexander, or Robert Dornan to model, as these candidates have rich descriptions. Model going through these steps with the students:
    1. Read the first paragraph out loud, and ask students which party President Clinton is in and to which party the other candidates belong. Some clarification about the party system and a brief examination of each party’s priorities may be necessary.
    2. Write the name and party of the chosen candidate on the model chart, and ask students which interests they think should be listed. The teacher or a student can write as the students volunteer answers from the text.
    3. Tell students that, for now, they will only be concerned about the first three columns on the graphic organizer.
  10. Divide the class into groups of three to five students. Assign each group one of the following Mini Pages:
    1. Meet Some Candidates — page one (1979)
    2. Politics, Parties and Presidents — page four (1988)
    3. How We Elect Our President — page four (1995)
  11. Give each student a copy of the Mini Page Analysis of Presidential Candidates handout, and instruct each group to work together to fill in their organizers based on their assigned Mini Page.
  12. When everyone is finished, tell students that they will begin making inferences based on this information and conduct research to try to confirm their findings.

Day two

  1. Continue with the lesson by telling the students: “Now we will move from looking at what the text says explicitly to what it implies about American Culture. First, it is important to examine our own ideas about this.”
  2. Ask students to brainstorm about American culture by doing a free write or conducting a short discussion about what that phrase means to them and what images it evokes. Record their answers on the board.
  3. Project page four of the How We Elect Our President (1995) Mini Page and put up the chart example used previously (either Patrick Buchanan, Lamar Alexander, or Robert Dornan), as well.
  4. Tell the students that you will now make inferences about the candidates’ desired image and what this indicates about American culture at the time.
  5. Model again how to look at the candidate’s interests and make inferences about them. For example, “Robert Dornan says he has five children and two grandchildren and that he likes to boogie-board with his grandkids on the beach, so I think he wants us to know that family is important to him. He also says he likes to go to places “off the beaten path,” so I think he’s saying he’s adventurous and not afraid to try new things. He says he likes reading and historical documentaries, so he’s saying that he’s smart.”
  6. Say to students: “Looking at what we inferred about Dornan, we might think that some American values are family bonds, risk-taking, and intelligence. If we look at the Mini Page resources on the 1990s (see Supplemental information below), it seems that adventure was a value during that time because the Hubble telescope launched. There was a bombing in Oklahoma City, so maybe this made people grateful for their families.”
    1. Optional math component: teach or remind students of how to read and interpret graphs and charts, and check them for accuracy. Then show them the Pew resource (or something similar).
  7. Explain that students will now complete this step using the candidates from their Mini Page to decide how these personal images relate to American culture. If students are going to be looking at other websites on their own, you may want to review how you want them to use the websites and how it can inform their decisions.
  8. Instruct students that they will now be making their own inferences. You may want to use these steps:
    1. Students can first make inferences about American culture based on the candidate information only, as was modeled. For example, if the candidate talked a lot about his family, we could infer that families were important to Americans.
    2. Next, they should look at resources from the time period and compare them to the candidate’s values. This can be done using the Mini Page resources. For example, if the candidate talked about reading, and they found that many Americans were concerned with education at the time (through newspaper/magazine articles talking about American schools, graduation rates, etc.), they could infer that education was an important American value.
    3. The teacher can also give students the option to record values they infer from outside sources that are not evident from the candidate’s profile in the Mini Page. For example, if Americans at the time were concerned with war, and the candidate did not mention war, the armed forces, or security, they may want to think about why this was left out.
    4. When students present their findings to the class they can explain how they came to their conclusions.
    5. Because this task is more complex than the previous group activity, it may be helpful to assign a student group leader who will divide the sources amongst individual students.
  9. When students are finished, they will share their ideas from their Mini Page with the class while their classmates fill in the rest of their graphic organizer.
  10. Through a class discussion, ask students to compare and contrast the American values from each decade, using information from the presentations recorded on their graphic organizer.

Days three and four

  1. As a bridge activity, show the students a campaign commercial so that they can analyze the American values shown in it. This will help them create their own commercial.
  2. After the commercial plays, the teacher should model the thinking process necessary to analyze the values shown. For example, “The candidate in this commercial was speaking in front of a factory, so I think he is trying to project that he cares about working people and about jobs.”
    1. Example A: Barack Obama’s “For Decades to Come” video (shows a diverse group of young people, including different races and social groups; inferred American values, as seen by Obama and Democrats, include: youth voices are important, American youth is a diverse group)
    2. Example B: Mitt Romney’s “Introduction” video (The first two minutes show many shots of Olympic athletes and detail Romney’s role in the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics; inferred American values, as seen by Romney and Republicans include: individual and group success with solo and team sport athletes shown, leadership skills)
  3. Next, show another commercial to the class, and have them conduct the same analysis with a partner or individually. This can be repeated if it seems the students will benefit from additional practice.
  4. Explain to students that they will now be using their knowledge of how what we say about ourselves can show our projected cultural values by creating a commercial. In their groups students will create an imaginary presidential candidate and make a commercial introducing him or her to the public. They will first survey their classmates to see what is valued and make sure they reference those things somehow in the commercial.
  5. Conduct a class poll to brainstorm what values are important to Americans today. Tell students that they will use this information in a later activity, so it is important that the poll is accurate. This can be facilitated as an open ended discussion by simply asking “What things are important to today’s Americans?” or by asking questions such as these:
    1. Do you think teachers’ salaries should be increased?
    2. Do you think we should have labor unions?
    3. Do you believe same-sex couples should have marriage rights?
    4. Do you think people with higher incomes should pay more taxes?
  6. Once the results have been tallied, students can calculate the percentages of each response. If collaborating with a math teacher, the students can create graphs to display this information. Keep this information visible so that it may be used in the candidate commercial activity.
  7. Stress that while creativity is encouraged, students should focus on the content of their commercial rather than the way it looks. They should rehearse it so that everyone is speaking clearly and confidently. The teacher can decide if they would like students to memorize their lines, or if reading from a script is sufficient, depending on the time given for the activity.
  8. Give each student a copy of the Campaign Promotional Commercial Role Sheet. Go over the required roles. Students can choose which role they like, so that students who are shy can be writers or directors rather than actors.
  9. Give students a minimum of twenty-five minutes to write and rehearse their commercials. Remind them to complete their Campaign Promotional Commercial Role Sheets. This can help students keep each other on task.
  10. When the students are ready to perform, tell them that after each commercial, you will ask them to jot down what values they think the commercial shows and why they think that. Tell students that it is fine if what they think it meant is not the same as what was intended. This will help them see how things can be interpreted multiple ways and to improve their writing in the future. Make sure students know that they will use this information for an individual writing assignment at the end, so they should pay careful attention. After students jot down their thoughts about a commercial, the performing group can explain their choices.
  11. After all groups have performed, facilitate a discussion about what worked best, and students can vote for the candidate who best encompasses the class values.
  12. Students should choose another group’s commercial and write an individual analytical response (length depending on students’ writing level) explaining what they learned about that candidate. Questions you may want them to respond to include:
    1. What image was the group trying to portray, and what values does it reveal?
    2. Does this match with their perception of American values?
    3. What values would they want a president to emulate?


  • Evaluate the inferences students made on their individual Mini Page Analysis of Presidential Candidates handouts and during class discussions.
  • Evaluate the extent to which the commercials portray values gleaned from the class surveys.
  • Evaluate the extent to which students can verbally explain what they wanted to portray through their commercial.
  • Evaluate students’ final individual writing assignment for their ability to make inferences from the commercials, interpret these inferences in a larger context, and reflect on personal and current American cultural values.
  • Gauge student participation in group activities and class discussions.

Supplemental information

These online resources can help students find information about the U.S. from the 1970s to the 1990s.


Barack Obama’s videos
This page contains official videos from Barack Obama’s campaign.
Mitt Romney’s videos
This page contains official videos from Mitt Romney’s campaign.
LEARN NC 2012 election guide
Teachers may find this guide, especially the National news and the Presidential election sections, to be useful while teaching this lesson.
This site from Clark College provides a listing online research tutorials that may help your students learn more about information and research.


This lesson could be extended for High School students by asking them to compare the candidates’ depictions to each party’s political platform at the time. These are available online at The American Presidency Project. This lesson may also work as a supplement to a unit on Animal Farm or other literature that includes propaganda as an important theme.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • History/Social Studies

        • Grades 11-12
          • 11-12.LH.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
        • Grades 6-8
          • 6-8.LH.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
        • Grades 9-10
          • 9-10.LH.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Information and Technology Skills (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.SI.1 Evaluate information resources based on specified criteria. 8.SI.1.1 Evaluate resources for reliability. (Reliability can be determined by currency, credibility, authority, etc. depending on the curriculum topic). 8.SI.1.2 Evaluate content for relevance...
      • Grades 9 - 12

        • HS.SI.1 Evaluate resources needed to solve a given problem. HS.SI.1.1 Evaluate resources for reliability. (Reliability can be determined by currency, credibility, authority, etc. depending on the curriculum topic). HS.SI.1.2 Evaluate resources for point of...

    • Social Studies (2010)
      • American Humanities

        • 12.C.1 Understand how American culture defines what it means to be an American. 12.C.1.1 Analyze expressions of identity within American literature, philosophy, and the arts. 12.C.1.2 Distinguish between Americans' acceptance or rejection of both religious...
      • Sociology

        • 12.C.5 Analyze the changing nature of society and the collective responses to change. 12.C.5.1 Analyze the theories that explain the changing nature of society and the collective responses to such change. 12.C.5.2 Analyze social change in terms of the influences...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 2: The learner will use and evaluate information from a variety of sources.
    • Objective 2.01: Analyze and evaluate informational materials that are read, heard, and/or viewed by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard and/or viewed.
      • recognizing the characteristics of informational materials.
      • summarizing information.
      • determining the importance of information.
      • making connections to related topics/information.
      • drawing inferences.
      • generating questions.
      • extending ideas.
  • Goal 4: The learner will continue to refine critical thinking skills and create criteria to evaluate print and non-print materials.
    • Objective 4.01: Analyze the purpose of the author or creator and the impact of that purpose by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard, and/or viewed.
      • evaluating any bias, apparent or hidden messages, emotional factors, and/or propaganda techniques.
      • evaluating the underlying assumptions of the author/creator.
      • evaluate the effects of the author's craft on the reader/viewer/listener.

Grade 9

  • Goal 5: The learner will demonstrate understanding of various literary genres, concepts, elements, and terms.
    • Objective 5.03: Demonstrate the ability to read, listen to and view a variety of increasingly complex print and non-print literacy texts appropriate to grade level and course literary focus, by:
      • selecting, monitoring, and modifying as necessary reading strategies appropriate to readers' purpose.
      • identifying and analyzing text components (such as organizational structures, story elements, organizational features) and evaluating their impact on the text.
      • providing textual evidence to support understanding of and reader's response to text.
      • demonstrating comprehension of main idea and supporting details.
      • summarizing key events and/or points from text.
      • making inferences, predicting, and drawing conclusions based on text.
      • identifying and analyzing personal, social, historical or cultural influences, contexts, or biases.
      • making connections between works, self and related topics.
      • analyzing and evaluating the effects of author's craft and style.
      • analyzing and evaluating the connections or relationships between and among ideas, concepts, characters and/or experiences.
      • identifying and analyzing elements of literary environment found in text in light of purpose, audience, and context.

Grade 11

  • Goal 2: The learner will inform an audience by using a variety of media to research and explain insights into language and culture.
    • Objective 2.01: Research ideas, events, and/or movements related to United States culture by:
      - locating facts and details for purposeful elaboration.
      - organizing information to create a structure for purpose, audience, and context.
      - excluding extraneous information.
      -providing accurate documentation.

Grade 12

  • Goal 3: The learner will be prepared to enter issues of public concern as an advocate.
    • Objective 3.01: Research and define issues of public concern by:
      - using a variety of resources such as the media center, on-line resources, interviews, and personal reflection.
      -specifying the nature of an issue, including the various claims made and the reasoning that supports these claims.