Gerrymandering Lesson & Activity  

This lesson was developed as part of a larger Voting Unit for a 10th Grade U.S. Government class using Illinois State Standards. It has been taught to Graduate level students and an actual 10th grade class in a Chicago area school. The reason the M&Ms are black and orange is because this lesson was taught during October and Halloween fever was in full swing.

Lesson Plan
Gerrymandering Lesson PowerPoint
Handout (Illinois Activity Map)

Date: October 20, 2008
Grade Level: 10th Grade

  • US Government/Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering Lesson Plan

Instructor: Tom Daymont       Course: U.S. Government Grade Level: 10th
Unit: Voting                          
Illinois State Standards:
16.A.4a: Analyze and report historical events to determine cause and effect relationships.
16.B.4: Identify political ideas that have dominated United States Historical eras
16.D.4b: Describe unintended social consequences of political events in United States history.
6.D.4: Solve problems involving geometric similarity using ratios, proportions and percents.

Upon completion of this lesson students will be able to:
1. Describe why and how gerrymandering came about. (Cognitive)
2. Understand how redrawing of voting districts can impact results (Cognitive)
3. Successfully draw details on a map (psychomotor)
4. Share ideas in a positive and productive matter (Affective)

Instructional Strategies:

  • Discussion/Group Learning
  • Direct Instruction
  • Discovery

    a.         Observation during anticipatory set
                Observation during activity
    b.         Map activity to be handed in (attached)
                Homework assignment to be handed in (attached)

Classroom Setup:
Set up the desks so they are in 4 groups of desks representing different districts

Activity 1 (Anticipatory Set – 5 minutes) Tell the students that candy will be used in today’s lesson but you are not sure which kind. Ask the students to vote on the candy they would rather use, but rather than using a popular vote, change up the voting “districts” to make the minority win the majority of the districts.

Activity 2 (5-10 minutes) Ask the students if what you did was fair (there is a good chance someone will blurt it out before you can even ask). Have the students give reasons for why they believe it was fair or not orally and discuss.

Activity 3 (10-15 minutes) Explain that what you did was called “Gerrymandering” and quickly review what you have gone over districts and how elections work. Use PowerPoint to illustrate how the term came about, what it means and an example of it.

Activity 4 (10-15 minutes) Tell the students that they will now try their hand at gerrymandering. Hand out the blank map of Illinois and give each student two markers and a bag of 30 dual colored candies (15 one color, 15 the other).  Ask the students which political party they want to be on (the colors of the candy: red or blue for example).
Have the students randomly place all the candy inside the outline of the map. Explain that these candies represent one vote, or one smaller district’s majority (whichever you think the students will understand easier). They can either take the markers and mark where each candy is placed on their map so it’s easier to draw the boundaries or they can leave them on the map if they wish.
Have the students draw district boundaries as to either dilute or pack the opposing party’s votes. Once they have completed it for their party, have them try it with the same map and same M&M’s for the other party.
Maps should now have 30 colored dots on their paper and two different colored sets of district boundary lines.

Alternate Activity (10 minutes) If students finish mapping earlier than expected, you can give them a new map with candy and see if they can show both gerrymander methods (packing and dilution) on the same map.

Activity 5 (3-5 minutes) Ask the students what they learned from the map and the lesson, and if they thought that this type of thing could still happen today. At the end of class hand out an article about Gerrymandering in North Carolina along with some short questions pertaining to it to be handed in the next day.

Key points (vocabulary words in bold):

  • Gerrymandering is a term that describes the deliberate rearrangement of the boundaries of congressional districts to influence the outcome of elections.
  • The original gerrymander was created in 1812 by Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who crafted a district for political purposes that looked like a salamander.
  • The purpose of gerrymandering is to either concentrate opposition votes into a few districts to gain more seats for the majority in surrounding districts (called packing), or to diffuse minority strength across many districts (called dilution).

Materials/Artifacts Needed:
Dual Colored Candies (Holiday M&Ms work great)
Blank map of Illinois handouts and a similar transparency of the map.
PowerPoint of key points of Gerrymandering.






Tom Daymont's Teaching Website. Copyright © 2010
All rights reserved.