Campaign Mailers as Teaching Tools

Campaign Mailers as Teaching Tools

Election season is upon us, which means that you should have plenty of campaign mailers to use as teaching tools!

Teaching nonfiction with campaign mailers.

I’ve written before about ways to use campaign mailers as teaching tools. I love using them: they are free and plentiful and brimming with areas to study.

Different teachers of different subjects would surely analyze campaign mailers different ways; I imagine a math teacher could evaluate the statistics used.

My prior blog post does have some questions I use to encourage discussion. These are some more areas. I’ve included campaign mailers mailed to my house for these current elections. (I live in Illinois).

Questions for a mini-lesson on campaign mailers:

1. Is this reading material objective?

Hopefully students respond with “no.” Of course a campaign mailer is persuasive. The purpose is to persuade voters to vote for their candidate.

2. Who is “their” – the people who sent this out?

Someone or many people paid for the creation, printing, and mailing of the campaign mailer. The organization (normally it is an organization such as, “Citizens for (insert candidate’s name).” You can research who donated money at the Federal Election Commission. My students love doing that, which provides plenty of discussion points.

3. Who is the audience?

With campaign mailers, voters are. My house is split – we have a registered Democrat and a registered Republican. We only received mailers for the registered Republican, though.

4. What do the actual words say? Evaluate the statements and the language on the campaign mailer.

In this campaign mailer, we have sirens and the words “alert” and “steal.”

People who write campaign mailers have a command of grammar. A few questions to ask your students dealing with language:

What are the moods with verbs? If too many verbs are in the subjective mood, are the writers trying to sell a realistic hypothetical situation? Why would the subjunctive mood be appropriate on campaign mailers? Is the proposed situation possible? Are they written in active or passive voice? If passive – who is the subject? Why would the writers take the action away from the subject?

Look at the other side of this advertisement:

The first “X” is in passive voice. Why is the wording this way? The other “X” points emphasize “Chad Grimm.” In this situation, it looks like the writers did not want to make the Democrats (the people who did the action) the subject – to put them in a prominent place in the sentence.

5. Notice the differences between the presentation of both candidates. What messages are sent with the use of font, pictures, colors, backgrounds, borders, and angles?

Symbols and layouts can be deceiving, which makes explaining them to students important. In this ad, sent out by Republicans, the Democrats are featured with large font – a bit broken in appearance. The background is red and orange, almost like a fire. The top seems to have caution tape but it is not prominent. The caution/ police tape is subtle and people who simply glance at the mailer may not consciously notice it. The “alert” is written at an angle:

Look at the other side – he’s a breath of fresh air!

Smiling, with a gold medal at the bottom! The colors have are friendlier than the other sides, and the font is normal – except when the opponent is mentioned – then it is italicized again.

6. What does the layout symbolize? Are the ideas realistic, or is this the advertising technique of association? 

This campaign mailer is using association. The Libertarian Chad Grimm is associated with an eagle – America’s emblem. His side of the mailer is red, white, and blue. His opponent’s side is brown (you know, like dirt).

Here is the other side:

Again, we have the eagle. He is stating his political beliefs, but he also has that he is “100% pro-freedom.” What does that mean? It isn’t specific because it is an example of glittering generality.

7. What is the campaign mailer’s theme? 

To me, this is the most important question. Every campaign mailer has a message.

In Illinois, we currently have a Democratic governor. Typically, our governor races are not incredibly close, but this time the race may be. With that knowledge, the theme of this mailer comes through – it is possible to beat the current governor.

The message is uplifting – “this time let’s defeat Pat Quinn.” As a bonus, I like that Bruce Rauner (who paid for this advertisement) has his writing in blue, with a rainbow, bright background. He also has an outline of Illinois by his name – association again. His opponent has writing in a black box and his picture looks like torn paper, maybe shattered glass.

Those are only a few talking points when you use campaign mailers as teaching tools. Really, students could have writing assignments, analysis points, comparisons of different races – lots of teaching possibilities.

I think that Common Core Standards could be met using talking points, especially with Reading Informational Texts for grades 9-10 and language standards.* I’m sure others are applicable dependent upon where the lesson goes.


* Block your address, coworkers’ addresses, and students’ addresses out on the mailers.
* Remind students of political discussion guidelines. Most classrooms have basic guidelines, such as no name calling, everyone allowed a turn to speak, etc. Discussing campaign mailers can create a charged environment!

Students know that political campaigns are applicable to real life. Teaching students to analyze them will help them as they become adults, and help them evaluate advertising in general. This is why I love teaching English classes – students can really explore this topic and apply it to other life situations.

What other questions would you ask if you did a mini-lesson on campaign mailers?

This post can also be found at The Teacher Studio, along with other great lesson plans!

© Copyright 2010 National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.


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