Explaining the Midterm Elections To Students

“The Times recently published an “Everything You Need to Know” guide to the midterm elections that asks and answers many of the same questions students might have about the midterms. The authors went out of their way to provide succinct answers to questions like…■ When are the midterms? ■ What’s at stake in Washington? ■ What about outside of Washington?” The New York Times, 2018

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Image: gc.edu

Excerpt: Everything You Need to Know for the Midterm Elections By Matt Flegenheimer, Grant Gold and Umi Syam, The New York Times


When are the midterms?

Nov. 6, 2018.

What’s at stake in Washington?

435 U.S. House seats and 33 U.S. Senate seats.

Matters of interest include: which party controls the two chambers of Congress and has oversight power of Trump and his administration. (Hint: Democrats will investigate far more aggressively than Republicans have, if given the chance.) 

What about outside of Washington?

6,665 state positions and thousands more local ones. Don’t forget the governorships, state legislative seats and scores of other nonfederal offices, down to the municipal level. Thirty-six states will elect governors this year.

Create a get-out-the-youth-vote campaign. Credit- Credit Leo Espinosa-NYT

If Democrats take the House, what happens?

Politically: investigations, lectern-pounding, maybe impeachment proceedings. Legislatively: probably next to nothing, with a return to divided government. Which Democrats would consider a significant upgrade.

Young voters for the Midterm Elections. Photo- theoutline.com

If Republicans keep the House, what happens?

Politically: more one-party rule in Washington, perhaps an even more emboldened Trump, almost certainly no impeachment.

How many House seats do Democrats need to pick up to take over the House?


How do they get there?

Start with many of the 23 Republican-held seats in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. But Democrats see plausible openings in dozens of districts, from diverse metro areas and suburbs — where many college-educated voters think little of Trump — to some rural seats.

How many Americans live in competitive congressional districts?

More than 50 million or so. There are about 75 competitive races out of 435 House seats. Districts are each intended to have about 700,000 people. So that gives us more than 50 million in competitive districts.

Does my vote matter?


Can I vote early?

Depends on where you live. Early voting has already started in some states.

How late can I register? Where do I vote?

Rules vary by state.

Predict election results. People cheered for Jared Polis, a gay man running for governor of Colorado, after he won the Democratic nomination in June.Credit Ryan Brown-NYT

What role is social media playing in the midterms?

A large one. The prominence of platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat is nothing new for campaigns, but never before have politicians had more options to circumvent traditional media. One critical example: Candidates are aiming to produce the next viral video as a proxy for pricey television commercials, and often sharing the message largely through social media.

How does the special counsel investigation affect the midterms?

Hard to say. Many Democratic candidates have largely avoided the Russia affair to date, preferring to talk about domestic issues. But Nov. 6 is still a long way off, in political terms, and a major breakthrough in the investigation led by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III (or other inquiries into the president and those close to him), could become an ‘October surprise.’

What kinds of policy discussions have dominated races?

Healthcare is universally a biggie, often with debates on two tracks: between Democrats and Republicans on the merits of the Affordable Care Act (still) and between Democrats and Democrats on whether Medicare for all is the long-term answer. Others: immigration, education, gun control.

Which Republican-held seats must the Democrats win to have any shot at capturing the Senate?

Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee. Texas is also on the radar, with Representative Beto O’Rourke running a strong race against Senator Ted Cruz.

Is it really the ‘Year of the Woman’?

Certainly looks that way. A record 257 women are running for the House and Senate this fall, and more women have won House primaries than in any year in the nation’s history — 235.

Follow a candidate. Women have won more primaries than ever before. Will the set a record in November 2018? the New York Times

Have scandals affected the House outlook at all?

Two Republican congressmen from solidly red districts — Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California — were indicted recently. Republicans, including the president, have expressed some worry about losing those seats now.

Can I trust the polls?

Yes and no!  Generally, polls are more revealing about the electorate and issues than highly accurate predictors for Election Day. This year, many projections suggest that Democrats have a better than 50-50 chance of taking back the House. And no one is saying it’s a sure thing. Here at The New York Times, the Upshot’s live polling project is a great example of both compelling data and radical candor about what we do not (and cannot) know for certain.

O.K., the midterms end and then what?

Joy, relief, despair. And the 2020 presidential campaign basically starts immediately.


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ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

The K-W-L chart is used to activate students’ background knowledge of a

topic in order to enhance their comprehension skills.

Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about the Midterm Elections. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic. K-W-L Chart from Creately.com

Advanced K-W-L chart.Intervention for Reading


II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Democrats will investigate far more aggressively than Republicans if given the chance.
  2. In addition, voters are generally eligible for those little “I Voted” stickers.
  3. There’s no guarantee which party will win big.
  4. If Republicans keep the House perhaps more deregulation, maybe another run at repealing the Affordable Care Act.
  5. Democrats see plausible openings in dozens of districts.
  6. There are diverse metro areas and suburbs where Democrats can win votes.
  7. How many Americans live in competitive congressional districts?
  8. The prominence of platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat is nothing new for campaigns.
  9.  Candidates are aiming to produce the next viral video as a proxy for pricey television commercials.
  10. There are state-backed attempts on social media to sway public opinion.

ELLteaching 2.0 vocabulary chart


Reading Comprehension


Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

There are serious___about protecting the ___of the vote — and the ___process. And, as ever, the White House has been a ___card. Mr. Trump, who has often questioned the___community’s consensus on Russian interference in 2016, has signed an executive order to punish foreign meddling, but ___in both parties have been pushing for ___more aggressive.

WORD LIST: something, integrity, questions, lawmakers, intelligence,election,wild,

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.


  1. House seats are up every two year.
  2. Senators serve six-year terms.
  3. Thirty-three states have Senate races this fall.



  1. Whose going to win the House?
  2. How many House seats do Democrats need?
  3. Midterm turnout generally lags well behind presidential year turnout.



  1. Can I vote early?
  2. The company has cited outside attempts to affect the midterms.
  3. Healthcare are universally a biggie.


III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion for Comprehension/Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions from the article. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. Students may also write about any of the topics discussed.

  1. According to the article who is going to win the House? Provide reasons for your answers.
  2. Are the polls trustworthy?
  3. Which democratic candidates are most popular?
  4. Which republican candidates are most popular?
  5. Is it necessary for everyone to vote? Provide reasons for your answers.
  6. If you are 18 years old do you plan to vote  in November? Explain why or why not.

Group Activities

Create A Poster

Have groups create voting posters of their choice.


Have groups create role-plays. An example would be having two group members represent a democrat and a republican competing for a seat in the Senate or in the House. Each writes a short list of reasons why they would be better suited for the job.

Class Debates

Divide the class into democrats and republicans. Choose 2 members from each side to debate one or two of the major issues mentioned in the article (i.e., the Affordable Care Act, gun control, immigration).

Group Campaigns

As a class or in groups have students create campaigns encouraging the youth vote.

Follow a candidate:

Have groups choose one of the candidates to follow online. Students can use the BALLOTPEDIA website to find out information about various candidates running for federal and state offices.

Fact Checking Sites

Don’t be fooled by Fake News sources! A good fact-checking site uses neutral wording, provides unbiased sources to support its claims and reliable links, says Frank Baker, author of Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom and creator of the Media Literacy Clearinghouse.”

Snopes  Widely regarded by journalists, folklorists, and laypersons alike as one of the world’s essential resources. Snopes.com is routinely included in annual “Best of the Web” lists and has been the recipient of two Webby awards.

Check The Facts! This independent and nonprofit website offers a comprehensive list of reliable top fact-checking sites.

Media Bias Fact Check  One of the most comprehensive media bias resources on the internet

Additional Election Resources Online

Kid Voting USA: Elections and civics lesson plans broken down by grade level (free downloads with registration).

FiveThirtyEight: Articles relating to the 2018 midterms.

NEA’s Elections Resources: The National Education Association has compiled a list of teacher resources just in time for election season.

Decoding Political Ads: This breaks down political ads in swing states, and provides critical thinking questions for students and possible lesson plans for teachers.

BBC News: How do US elections stack up to others around the world?: A short video that compares political campaigns in the USA to those around the world.


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.