Vote-By-Mail Structured Academic Controversy (SAC)


Vote-By-Mail Structured Academic Controversy (SAC)



Washington State Library, Office of the Secretary of State



Grade Levels


In this focused inquiry, students investigate the question Does vote-by-mail strengthen democracy in WA?

Students engage in a visual analysis, a structured academic controversy, write a claim and counterclaim, and prepare an infographic.

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will be able to assess the value of the Vote-by-mail system.
  • Students will be able to communicate ideas, listen actively, and summarize one another’s thoughts.
  • Students will analyze texts to draw conclusions.


Common Core English Language Arts Standards, History/Social Studies
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1.  Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
College, Career, and Civic Life Framework
(See C3 Framework to adjust to the grade level of the audience of this lesson)
  • D4.1.9-12.  Construct arguments using precise and knowledgeable claims, with evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging counterclaims and evidentiary weaknesses.


Structured Academic Controversy (SAC)

Staging the Question

Compelling Question:
  Does vote-by-mail strengthen democracy in WA?

Visual Analysis of: How to Vote, An introduction to vote by mail (Snohomish County Elections)
  • Have students make predictions about how this relates to the compelling question in the Staging the Question portion of the note sheet.
Formative Performance Task

Supporting Question 1:  
What are the risks of a vote-by-mail system in WA?

Supporting Question 2:  What are the benefits of a vote-by-mail system in WA?

Structured Academic Controversy on: Does vote-by-mail strengthen democracy in WA?

Teacher Notes

  1. Pair/Team Assignments
    1. Pair students into teams.
  2. Pairs Study and Prepare
    1. Pairs independently study their assigned viewpoint information.
    2. Students take notes, keeping track of arguments to use (see Discussion Worksheet).
    3. Each pair prepares and practices a presentation it will make to the other pair.
  3. Teams “Debate” ~ without Arguing
    (Teacher uses timer to make sure teams stay on task. Teacher walks through the classroom listening and assessing participation levels and degree to which students stay on task.
    1. First pair presents their position and supporting arguments to opposing pair (3minutes).
    2. Second pair feeds back the first pair’s position and reasoning to the other’s satisfaction (proving that each pair has listened and understood the other pair’s presentation – 1 minute).
    3. Second pair presents (3 minutes).
    4. First pair feeds back the second pair’s position and reasoning (1 minute).
    5. Teacher invites students to drop the position to which they were assigned and continue to discuss the issue in teams, now reaching for a consensus.
  4. Whole Class
    1. Ask each team to report on its discussion. If teams didn’t come to consensus, have them report where their disagreements were.
    2. As class, discuss how the discussion went. What were the stronger/weaker arguments?
    3. Have the class fill out the rest of the Discussion Worksheet. Collect these to assess the impact of the discussion.
Taking Informed Action

Argument:  Have students write two paragraphs in the Taking Informed Action portion of the Note Sheet. The first paragraph supports their claim with clear and appropriate evidence from the sources. The second paragraph explains the counterclaim with evidence that support a refutation.
  • Students design new infographic to support voters using the vote-by-mail system.
Vote-By-Mail Lesson Plan with Activity Sheet.pdf
Visual Analysis, Timeline & Testimonies Text Set.pdf
Notes & Discussions Activity Sheet.pdf