Monday, October 18, 2010

Voter Education

Lessons on Elections and Voting in Minnesota

For English Language and Citizenship Classes

Thousands of students who are taking English or citizenship classes are, or will be, eligible to vote in the upcoming election. To be a voter, students must:

  • be citizens
  • be 18 years or older
  • have resided in Minnesota for a minimum of 20 days.

To become citizens, they study and pass a rigorous examination. Then they have the opportunity to vote in the election, and you, as a teacher, have the opportunity to help their participation by preparing them to vote. The basic message of these lessons is the importance of voting as one way to be involved in one’s community and country. Voting is a right of all citizens, and it is the responsibility of all citizens to be informed about the issues and candidates.

Voter Education for English Language and Citizenship Classes is a primer on the basics of voting. It is written for intermediate through advanced English language learners. These lessons are relevant for all students, even if some students in the class are not citizens. They can still learn about the issues, have opinions about candidates, and talk to others about their views.

The lessons are based upon original stories, using a ‘real-life’ approach to learning language. Students develop skills in reading, writing, speaking and critical thinking while they learn about a significant facet of life in the United States – voting and elections. All lessons include a question worksheet, an activity and relevant materials (or links to websites to obtain materials) for Minnesota and US elections.

  • Lesson 1 Registering to vote is about eligibility and voter registration. The story of Hawa teaches about voter registration. A pre-registration form in English is included in the lesson. Teachers are encouraged to actually register eligible voters in class, up until 20 days before the election. Otherwise, students can fill out the registration form in class, and take it with them when they vote in November.
  • Lesson 2 Learning about Levels of Government uses a map to teach about boundaries for federal, state, county and local jurisdictions. The story about Fatima responds to students’ confusion about who is running for which office.
  • Lesson 3 Learning about the Candidates and the Issues is how to become informed about the candidates. In the story, students follow Carlos as he learns to think about political ads and ethnic identification with a candidate. The subject of political issues is introduced, to help students discern what positions candidates support.
  • Lesson 4 Making a Choice continues the story of Carlos as he struggles to decide how to vote. Students learn about political parties and how to get more information before they make their choices.
  • Lesson 5 Going to the Polls focuses on the procedure for voting, using a sample polling place diagram and sample ballot. Mai takes his mother Tran to vote for the first time and they work their way through the polling place. Students end the lesson series when they make a sticker to wear that says “I Will Vote!”

Information for the lessons is from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office and the League of Women Voters. Recommended sources for you and your students

  • Voter’s Guide, published by the StarTribune; available at Target Stores, Mervyn’s and Marshall Fields, free of charge; StarTribune newspaper voter’s guide:
  • Secretary of State’s Office:
  • League of Women Voters of Minnesota Voter Guide: statewide nonpartisan publication that includes, in one issue, all the candidates for statewide offices for all the major and registered minor parties and photos, biographies and responses to our questions from US president, US House and statewide judicial candidates.

Lesson 1 Registering to Vote

Any person can provide registration cards and assistance to help register voters, and the ESL and citizenship classrooms are ideal places to do voter registration. When new voters take this first step of filling out the registration form, they are more likely to actually cast their vote on the day of the election. ESL teachers have a good opportunity to pre-register eligible voters. You can keep a list of names and phone numbers of the people you register to call and remind to vote the day before the election.

Eligibility requirements in Minnesota are:

  • 18 years of age or older
  • A citizen of the United States, and
  • Have lived in Minnesota for at least 20 days before the election

U.S. citizens may not be deprived of the right to vote because they cannot read, write or speak English.

Pre-registration is accepted up to 20 days prior to an election. Voters who register by this deadline will receive a postcard in the mail with information about their polling location. Eligible voters who have not pre-registered can register at their polling place on the day of the election.

Teacher preparation and materials: Make copies of the story, questions and voter registration form for all students. Decide on key vocabulary you might want to pre-teach. You also may get a supply of voter registration cards, available in Hmong, Spanish, Somali and Russian, at one of the following locations:


1. Hand out a copy of the story and questions to each student.

2. Read the story aloud while students follow along. Then read aloud, sentence by sentence, with the group repeating.

3. Ask if there are words or phrases students don’t understand and then explain and clarify as you go along. Teachers may want to pre-teach key vocabulary words before reading the story.

4. Give students time to go over the story silently and underline anything they don’t understand or want explained. If some finish quickly, they can work on the questions following the story.

5. Work with the words or phrases students underlined, and help them understand the concepts in the story.

6. You can use the questions in a variety of ways.

  • Have students work in pairs to write answers to questions on the worksheet, using complete sentences. Ask for volunteers to write answers on the board.
  • Use questions as a catalyst for discussion.

Follow-up Activity: Read aloud the statement of eligibility on the Minnesota Voter Registration Card. Explain anything students don’t understand. Give non-registered eligible students the option to complete the card. Other students can use the card to interview a partner and fill in the card for the partner (without their signature). Mail in only those cards that have certified eligibility and a signature.

Story: Hawa Registers to Vote

Hawa is 34 years old. She became a citizen in 2001 but she has never voted. She didn’t register to vote when she became a citizen. Now, there is going to be an election, and Hawa wants to vote.

Hawa asks her ESL teacher, John, “What do I need to do to vote?”

John says, “First you need to register. You can register to vote before the election. This is called pre-registration. That puts you on the list of voters so it will be easier when you vote in November. You can also vote on Election Day at your polling place.”

“What is a polling place?” asks Hawa.

“A polling place is the room where you vote. Polling places also are called ‘polls,’” says John. “Polls may be in schools, apartment buildings, churches and community buildings. Your polling place is in your neighborhood. The Secretary of State’s Office can give directions to your polling place if you call 651-296-2803. Their web site is”

“I want to register before the election. I want to pre-register.” says Hawa.

“I will bring a registration card to the next class and you can pre-register.” John answers. “Do you want the card in English or Somali? They also are available in Hmong, Spanish and Russian.”

“Please get me a card in English, so I can practice my English,” says Hawa. “Will you help me if I don’t understand the instructions?”

John gets a voter registration card in English at the public library. It is free. He brings it to class the next day. He also gets a card in Somali for Hawa to give to her husband. They need to pre-register 20 days before the election.

Hawa completes the card in English, using a pen, not a pencil. It is very easy. She puts on a $.44 stamp and mails it to:

Secretary of State

60 Empire Drive

Suite 100

St. Paul, MN 55103

When Hawa goes home, she takes the other registration card to her husband. Now she can help him fill it out. She can be his teacher.

Questions: Hawa Registers to Vote

  1. What does Hawa need to do before she can vote?
  2. What is the name of the place where a person votes?
  3. How do you find out where to vote?
  4. In what languages are registration cards?
  5. Where does John get the registration card?
  6. Where does Hawa mail the registration card?
  7. How can Hawa help her husband register?

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