Fall 3-Day Lesson 1: Becoming a Voter

In this lesson, students apply their state’s requirements for registering to vote. Students learn when and how to register, how to complete a voter registration form, and when and how to reregister.

Supplemental Materials

We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution student text correlations are offered as examples to use with Citizens, Not Spectators lessons when applicable. A comparable social studies text may be adapted for reference as needed.

The Citizens, Not Spectators high school curriculum correlates with the We the People, Level 3, Unit Six, Lesson 33: “What Does It Mean to Be A Citizen?” (pp. 243–52; this voting lesson focuses on pp. 250–52) and Lesson 34: “What Is the Importance of Civic Engagement to American Constitutional Democracy?” (pp. 253–60; this voting lesson focuses on pp. 258–59).

Suggested Grade Level

High school (Grades 9–12)

Estimated Time to Complete

50 minutes

Lesson Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • explain general voting requirements,
  • understand the voter registration requirements and process in their state, and
  • complete a voter registration form.


  • absentee ballot
  • citizen
  • felony
  • independent voter
  • mentally incompetent
  • parole
  • register

Materials Needed

Teacher Resources

  • Quick Vocabulary (Teacher Resource 1)
  • State Voting Qualifications (Teacher Resource 2)
  • Who Can Register to Vote? (Teacher Resource 3)
  • Absentee ballot

Student Handouts

  • Building Our Vocabulary (Student Handout 1)
  • Who Can Register to Vote in the United States? (Student Handout 2)
  • Voter registration forms from your secretary of state’s website or the National Mail Voter Registration Form
  • Homework assignment for Lesson 2a: If an election is scheduled in your community, distribute a Quick Reference Guide or Voter Information Guide to students (one per student).


  • We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 3, or a comparable social studies text

Before the Lesson

A week or two before Lesson 1, communicate with the Registrar of Voters’ office. Prepare for the lesson by obtaining the following materials and information.

  • Voter Registration Forms (one per student)

You may obtain voter registration forms from the registrar of voters or you can download, print, and photocopy the form from your secretary of state’s website. Another alternative is to use the National Mail Voter Registration Form.

  • Absentee ballot form (one)
    • You can obtain this from the registrar of voters.
  • Determine who can vote by absentee ballot in your state.
  • Determine the date for the simulated election (Lesson 3a or 3b). The simulated election can be timed to coincide with or precede the general election.
  • If applicable, request Quick Reference Guides or Voter Information Guides and official ballots for the upcoming election in your community or state (one ballot per student).
  • Request “I Voted” stickers—one for each student in your class.
  • Research your state’s requirements for registering and voting. You can find this information on your secretary of state’s website. You will use this information for Teacher Resource 3.

Review and photocopy all Lesson 1 student handouts and teacher resources.

Assign students to read pp. 250–252 in We the People (Lesson 33: “What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen?”) and pp. 258–59 of Lesson 34: “What Is the Importance of Civic Engagement to

American Constitutional Democracy?” or a comparable social studies textbook on the rights of citizens and the importance of civic engagement.

Distribute Student Handout 1 and instruct students to define the vocabulary terms for this lesson. Review the vocabulary list with students.

Lesson Procedure

1. Beginning the Lesson: Why Do States Control Voter Registration?

Student Handout 1 and We the People (or a comparable social studies textbook) are needed throughout this lesson.

Ask students to take out their homework assignment. Inform them that in today’s lesson, they will learn new vocabulary terms associated with the voting process.

Begin the lesson by calling on individual students to define the vocabulary terms they were assigned for homework.

Ask students who is eligible to vote today. From their reading, students should know that U.S. citizens and groups such as African Americans, women, and eighteen-year-olds are eligible to vote today. Ask students to explain what makes a person a citizen.

Have a student read aloud from a social studies text a brief summary of the responsibilities of citizens. If using We the People, have a student read “What Are the Responsibilities of Citizens and Resident Aliens?” on page 252. Ask another student to define the term citizen and direct students to add to the definition in their vocabulary list if they have learned something new.

As an introduction to the concept of registration, ask students whether they have a guaranteed right to attend school.

  • Ask them if they had to register to attend school.
  • Remind them that although they have the right to attend school, there is a procedure that must be followed to realize that right.

Inform students that the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions establish voter registration qualifications.

Ask students to define the phrase register to vote. Remind them about registering to attend school.

2. What Are the Requirements to Register to Vote?

Student Handouts 1 and 2, and Teacher Resources 1, 2, and 3 are required for this part of the lesson.

Distribute Student Handout 2. Inform students that in today’s lesson they will learn about rules for registering to vote and make a list of the rules on this handout.

On a screen or the classroom board, project the first half of Teacher Resource 3. It indicates voting requirements for all citizens of the United States.

Ask various students to read the registration requirements and instruct the class to take notes on Student Handout 2.

  • Students may require help with the vocabulary terms felony, independent voter, mentally incompetent, parole, and register. Definitions for these terms can be found in Teacher Resource 1.
    • Add the definitions to the vocabulary chart.
    • Instruct students to add to their definitions in Student Handout 1.

Show students the second half of Teacher Resource 3. Indicate your state’s additional requirements for voter registration.

  • Ask individual students to read each state requirement.
  • Have students add the state requirements to Student Handout 2.

3. Applying Information: Registering to Vote

A voter registration form is required for completion of this part of the lesson. You can obtain a voter registration form from your secretary of state’s website.

Inform the students that in most states, voter registration must be completed a few weeks before an election. Inform students about the voter registration deadline in your state.

Distribute a voter registration form to each student.

  • Review the registration form step by step with students.
  • Assist them in completing the form.
  • Collect all the registration forms.

4. Is My Voter Registration Good for the Rest of My Life?

Inform students that there are a number of reasons why they might have to reregister to vote.

Ask students whether they would have to reregister if they change their address.

  • They might respond that they will have to reregister.

Ask students whether they would have to reregister if they change their name.

  • Ask students to give reasons why people change their name.

Define and explain the term absentee ballot to the students (reference Teacher Resource 1).

  • Add the definition to the vocabulary chart
  • Have students add to their definition in Student Handout 1.

Show students the absentee ballot you have obtained from the registrar.

  • Ask students to think of voters who qualify to use an absentee ballot. Here are some examples of possible responses:
    • College students who cannot get home to vote
    • Military personnel who cannot get home to vote
    • Adults who cannot get to the election polls because of work
    • Physically disabled adults

Inform students that some states remove people from the list of registered voters if they do not participate in elections. This means that if you fail to vote in a specified number of consecutive elections you may have to reregister.

Ask students whether a homeless person can register to vote given that they have no permanent address.

  • The voter registration form in some states allows an intersection of streets to be used as an address. This would allow homeless people to register to vote.

5. Concluding the Lesson: Would Our Registration Forms Be Accepted?

Ask students whether the class would meet the state’s deadline for registering to vote if you mailed the forms today.

Ask students whether all the rules to register to vote were followed.

  • They should answer that most students do not meet the age requirement.
  • If everyone in the class were eighteen years old, would the registration forms be accepted?

Explain to students that during the next Citizens, Not Spectators lesson they will be given the opportunity to cast their vote on a ballot.

6. Homework Assignment: Preparing for Lesson 2a or 2b

If an official ballot for an upcoming election is available, proceed to Lesson 2a: Becoming an Informed Voter: Preparing for the General Election and assign the following as homework:

  • Distribute a Quick Reference Guide or Voter Information Guide to each student.
  • Ask students to review the offices and questions on the ballot.
  • Students should prepare a list of questions they have about anything in the guide.
  • This homework assignment will be graded.

If an official ballot is not available, proceed to Lesson 2b: Becoming an Informed Voter: Creating Initiatives and assign the following as homework:

Instruct each student to write a suggestion for a new class or school rule for their class ballot. Explain that they need to prepare reasons for the suggestion. This homework assignment will be graded.


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