The Democracy Project

for Parents & Teachers

Resources and information about "The Democracy Project"...

All Aboard The Campaign Train!

Subjects: Social Studies/Math

Estimated Time of Completion: six fifty minute class periods

  1. I. Summary
  2. II. Objectives
  3. III. Materials Needed
  4. IV. Procedure
  5. V. Classroom Assessment
  6. VI. Extensions and Adaptations
  7. VII. Relevant Standards

I. Summary

The students will take the fictional platform from the lesson "Donkeys and Elephants and Voters, Oh My!" to raise support for members of their party at the local, state and national levels while on the campaign trail. Based on a student-created itinerary, the students will map the cross-country campaign stops. The students will estimate arrival and departure times and the distance between stops using an atlas. The students will take time zones into consideration when calculating arrival and departure times. The students will check these estimates by using Internet mapping sites like MapQuest or Vicinity.

II. Objectives

  • Students will use political terms and increase understanding of their meanings.
  • Students will improve writing and communication skills.
  • Students will express their opinions on issues, and compare them to the opinions of others.
  • Students will compare and contrast factual information.
  • Students will identify the geographic themes of place, location, and region.
  • Students will work cooperatively to achieve tasks.
  • Students will creatively express their ideas through the arts.
  • Students will estimate distances between cities using an atlas.
  • Students will estimate arrival and departure time based upon the distance and average speed of a train.
  • Students will check their estimated distances by using Internet mapping sites.
  • Students will become familiar with time zones and understand how they are important when calculating arrival and departure times when cities are in different locations.

III. Materials Needed

  • Computers with Internet access
  • White board or chalk board
  • Newsprint
  • Crayons, markers or coloring pencils
  • Construction paper, notebook paper
  • Tape, glue, rulers
  • Atlas
  • Reproduced outline map of the United States
  • Video camera (optional)

IV. Procedure

  1. Begin by reviewing the outcomes of the previous lesson, "Donkeys, Elephants, and Voters, Oh My!" Ask students, "OK, now you have a party and a platform. How will you get voters to join your party and vote for your candidate(s)?" Brainstorm ways that this could be done (direct mail, newspapers, radio advertisements, TV spots, etc.).

    Then introduce the idea of the campaign train, using the 1948 Presidential election as an example. Play train sounds from the Catskill Archive of Train Sounds. See photographs of the train President George Bush rode during his 2000 campaign.

  2. Hand each student a train ticket on which the name of a rail line is printed. This will be the method for forming student groups. Possible rail names include Union-Pacific, Illinois Central, Erie Railroad, Santa Fe and Baltimore and Ohio.
  3. Students should plan the campaign stops along the railway (a good collection of railroad maps is available from the Library of Congress). Students should attempt to visit strategic locations. What stops will present your party to the most voters, and by extension, the most electors in the electoral college? (For more information about the electoral college, visit the NARA site on the U.S. Electoral College.)
  4. Use newsprint to design trains; decorate the train cars to depict the party, party slogan/animal and the party's platform. The cars that students design may be labeled with a particular issue (foreign policy, gun control, pollution, aid to farmers, health care, immigration, trade, stock market, use of national resources, taxes).
  5. Use the mileage keys in an atlas to estimate the number of miles between the stops that the students have chosen for their campaign trip. These Atlapedia online atlases might prove helpful: Political Map of the Western United States and Political Map of the Eastern United States. Use MapQuest to check the estimates. Use the mileage to calculate the arrival time of the train. Use the World Time Server to aid computation if the train crosses a time zone. Create a master itinerary of times, distances and locations.
  6. Introduce students to campaign mottoes such as William Henry Harrison's "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too" (the first campaign motto); "The Buck Stops Here" for Harry Truman; Kennedy's "The New Frontier"; "All the Way with LBJ"; "I Like Ike" for Eisenhower; "He kept Us Out of War" for Woodrow Wilson and "Don't Swap Horses" for Lincoln. Students will create party mottoes for the train campaign. Use red, white and blue streamers to print mottoes and attach to students' display trains.
  7. Have students write a campaign song to the tune of a well-known train song such as "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "On the Atchison," "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad," "City of New Orleans," "Casey Jones" or "John Henry."
  8. Instruct students to create a campaign program for the "Whistle Stops." Invite another class, parent or community group, town officials or senior citizens group to the Whistle Stop performance, or videotape the performance.

V. Classroom Assessment

  • Excellent: An enthusiastic learner that seeks to get involved and learn. Shows drive to discover everything about the subject and wants to do a great job. A strong understanding of the subject was shown evidenced by the student's enthusiasm and newly acquired knowledge. A high level of care and creativity was expressed in all assignments. Everything was completed and exceptional.
  • Fair: Some exploration involved. Explores the topic only to the extent of doing enough to pass. There was a fair amount of understanding demonstrated through discussion and participation in activities. Student did demonstrate a commitment to finish some or all of the assignments and to participate in discussions.
  • Poor: No real exploration involved. Only a half-hearted attempt at gathering information and assembling it for assignments. No personal understanding was shown. Little care was taken to complete assignments.

VI. Extensions and Adaptations

  • Students will play the PBS interactive game, "Inside The Voting Booth" to learn about voting and to identify issues of future importance.
  • Have students learn about how train travel changed life in the United States, such as travel time across the country, settlement patterns and standard time (see the National Institute of Standards and Technology site for more information).
  • Students could create a fictional diary of their campaign stops. Include the public response that the platform received.
  • Most towns have a caboose on display because they are no longer needed for safe train travel. Visit the caboose, train depot or train museum in your area or online via the Train Museums and Tourist Railways site at the National Railway Museum. Instruct groups to draw a caboose and write issues that are based on current events in your own community. Attach the caboose to train display.
  • Plan menus for Whistle Stop picnics in various regions.
  • Write about a campaign trip in the Year 3000.
  • Learn more about how leaders are chosen by visiting this Thinkquest site called A Presidential Exploration.

VII. Relevant National Standards

These are established by McREL:

Social Studies

  • Knows how state and local government officials are chosen (i.e., by election or appointment)
  • Knows the fundamental principles of American democracy (e.g., the people are sovereign; the power of government is limited by law; people exercise their authority directly through voting; people exercise their authority indirectly through elected representatives)
  • Knows how the values and principles of American democracy can be promoted through participating in government (e.g., voting, keeping informed about public issues, writing to legislators, serving on juries)
  • Understands why it is important for citizens to monitor their local, state and national governments; and knows ways people can monitor the decisions and actions of their government such as reading about public issues, watching television news programs, discussing public issues and communicating with public officials
  • Knows ways people can influence the decisions and actions of their government such as voting, taking an active role in interest groups, political parties and other organizations that attempt to influence public policy and elections; attending meetings of government agencies (e.g., city council, school board); working in campaigns, circulating and signing petitions; taking part in peaceful demonstrations; and contributing money to political parties, candidates or causes
  • Knows different methods used to measure distance (e.g., miles, kilometers, time, cost, perception)
  • Understands the spatial organization of places through such concepts as location, distance, direction, scale, movement and region


  • Understands how scale in maps and drawings shows relative size and distance
  • Selects and uses appropriate tools for given measurement situations (e.g., rulers for length, measuring cups for capacity, protractors for angle)
  • Knows approximate size of basic standard units (e.g., centimeters, feet, grams) and relationships between them (e.g., between inches and feet)
  • Uses specific strategies to estimate quantities and measurements (e.g., estimating the whole by estimating the parts)
  • Selects and uses appropriate units of measurement, according to type and size of unit