Let’s Talk Politics: A Sociology Professor’s Activity Idea

Talking Politics in Sociology Courses
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Author: Dr. Jennifer Harrison, Professor, Warren County Community College


Election time can be a daunting time to teach Sociology, especially to incoming freshmen in a predominantly conservative area. It’s often assumed all professors, especially Sociology professors, are extremely liberal.

Whether that’s true or not, it’s our job to teach our students to think for themselves and form their own independent opinions based on credible information.

When planning my unit on politics, it just so happened to fall on election week (insert gasp here). I knew I’d be faced with some interesting discussions that I hoped wouldn’t become aggressive.

So, like any professor who’s nervous about a lecture, I dove into my old lecture notes and reviewed past class and coursework activities. I wanted to see if I should remove or add anything to ensure not only learning, but also prevent “fake news” from making its way into our virtual class discussion.

Activity Idea: Have Students Take a Political Quiz

Every year, my students take this Political Quiz before they attend class. The quiz is part of “an independent, self-funded, non-partisan voter education website” (as clearly stated before you enter the site).

Using this flipped-class method allows my students to come into the discussion with some awareness of the many political issues that influence political party affiliation in our country.

The quiz includes a variety of questions and tons of information, including stats and other resources, on specific question topics. This activity provides a safe space for students to explore politics and understand issues in a way that might allow them to form their own opinions based on factual information.

Ask Follow-Up Questions

As an assignment I have my students take the quiz, then answer two simple questions:

(1) Did your results differ from the political party you tend to vote for?

(2) What did you find most interesting about your results?

These two questions prompt very interesting responses. They stimulate great discussion both through the assignment and in class.

Many students are surprised they tend not to side with the political party they originally aligned with. Some students are also shocked so many other political parties exist beyond Democrats and Republicans.

Most of my students come to realize there’s numerous issues that might influence their vote, aside from the hot-topic issues discussed through the media or from their peers.

Teaching Tip: Focus on Facts

The topic of politics is challenging. I strive to teach my students how to gain insight into our country’s politics. At the same time, I know this lesson may also influence their political stances.

My job isn’t to change their beliefs. I aim to help them learn what they really do believe and decide if those beliefs are based on facts.

I highly recommend incorporating this quiz into any lesson on politics; it’s been a great learning tool for my courses. The most rewarding part? When students come back and tell me their friends and family also took the quiz and it prompted open dialogue and learning.


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