Joanna Slater summarizes the Trump and Sanders wins in the recent New Hampshire primary, which represents the first significant challenge for candidates vying to represent the Democrats and Republicans in this year’s American presidential election campaign.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, politics

Key Question to Explore:

  • What are some of the key political differences between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?

New Terminology:

Primary, mogul, divisive, strategist, demagogue, left wing, right wing

Materials Needed:

Globe articles and Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

By now most people know something about Donald Trump, the bombastic billionaire reality TV show host from a few years ago, and current candidate for the Republican ticket in this year’s US election. As anticipated–and to the dismay of many and to the delight of as many–Mr. Trump won the historically significant New Hampshire primary, part of the long and complicated process system Democrats and Republicans use to select their candidates to compete for the presidency. In most ways, Mr. Trump represents right-wing voters, who in the past would have voted for George W. Bush, for example, but he also speaks for some in the fringe Tea-Party movement, whose members defy easy categorization.

Bernie Sanders was more of a long-shot for the Democrats, however, and in defeating Hillary Clinton, who has been the Democrats’ front-runner since she announced her candidacy last year, he has changed the race dramatically.  Mr. Sanders is a rarity in American politics, a left wing politician who openly claims to be a social democrat—a socialist, in effect. Canadians would be less surprised, as one of our three major political parties, the NDP, has defined itself as “social-democratic” for some time now.

Students can benefit from a lesson in which they contrast the starkly different political principles each of these two potential candidates bring to the race. In this exercise, students will spend a half-hour researching the background and platforms of each man and group debate the merits of each.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short discussion about the New Hampshire primary, to see how many, if any, knew about it and to inform them briefly about the process and outcome. Ask students who already have opinions on both men to express them as a way to help engage all in the following exercise.

First, ask a volunteer to read the article by Ms. Slater aloud to the class to make them aware of recent events. Clarify any terms as needed and then organize the class into groups of at least six. Providing the following tasks and questions to all groups, as well as the official Trump and Sanders websites. Trump:  Sanders:


  • Three members of your group are to research Mr. Trump and three, Mr. Sanders, using only the websites you have been given (because these are the official positions of the candidates and not opinions on the candidates by others).
  • For each candidate, scan the first page of their website and for a few minutes check out parts of videos, biographies, or whatever catches your eye, to get a general impression of the person.
  • Next, for Mr. Trump, click on the “Issues” from the menu below the main picture, or, if your screen is small, click on the three horizontal lines on the right side of the screen to reveal the menu to find that link. For Mr. Sanders, click on “Issues.”
  • To work efficiently, each member of the group should select three different issues or positions to review, but make sure you cover these specific areas, shown below as they are worded on each site, Mr. Trump’s on the left and Mr. Sanders’ on the right:
    • “The economy”/ “Income Wealth Inequality”
    • “The establishment”/ “restoring democracy”
    • “Education”/ “…College Tuition..”
    • “The Military”/ “War and Peace”
  • Finally, what is the main—largest type—message on each of the candidates’ main page? How do you understand it, based on the research you’ve just done?
  • Take notes as you work and be prepared to debate based on you findings.
  • Take a show of hands determine which of your group members wish to debate in favour of which candidate and wait for instructions from your teacher.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • When students have completed their work, ask those who think Mr. Trump would be the best candidate to sit as a group and those who prefer Mr. Sanders to sit as another group. Using the tasks and questions from the assignment below, have the groups debate the merits of each candidate relative to each specific aspect of their platform.
  • Which candidate do you think has the best position on:
    • The economy/Income Wealth Inequality
    • The “establishment”/ “restoring democracy”
    • “Education”/ “…College Tuition..”
    • “The Military”/ “War and Peace”
  • Finally, if you have time, ask groups to argue for other aspects of the candidates that impressed them. When the short debate is concluded ask for a show of hands to determine who has won
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can describe key differences between Mr. Sanders’ and Mr. Trump’s positions on several issues.

Confirming Activity:

  • Consider having students follow the American primaries to keep the class up to date on the success or failure of each candidate.