Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Third Parties in the United States

U.S Government

Chelsee Wilson | Published: November 17th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. Government, U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 2-3 class period(s)
  • Duration More 150 minutes


This lesson analyzes the impact of minor political parties on national elections.

Essential Question(s)

How do third parties affect American government and society? 



Students watch an advertisement for Johnson/Weld 2016 and complete an I Notice, I Wonder activity.


Students analyze voter turnout statistics related to four key presidential elections.


Upon discussion of the statistics, students read and analyze an article over third parties in the United States.


Groups of students create a poster presentation discussing the pros and cons of third parties.


Students use a Gallery Walk to view and critique posters and participate in an Exit Ticket activity.


  • Pens, pencils, markers, crayons

  • Poster board or butcher paper

  • "Third Parties in the U.S. Political Process" article

  • Voter Results handout (attached)

  • Notebook paper

  • Sticky notes


Display slide 5. Upon entering the classroom, students will be asked to watch an advertisement for 2016 Libertarian candidates, Gary Johnson and William Weld. While watching the ad (slide 6), students will complete an I Notice, I Wonder activity to jot down any observations or questions they have about what they are watching.

Following the video, display slide 7 and ask students to share their observations and questions with the class. Then, display slide 8 and pose a few questions (below). Call on volunteers to share out their thoughts.

  • What does it mean to be a third party in the United States?

  • How are third parties different from the Democratic and Republican parties?

  • What have you heard about third parties? What have you heard about third party candidates? Can you name any third party candidate (past or present) besides Johnson/Weld?

  • Do you think that third parties could have any impact on a national presidential election?


Next, students will receive the Voting Results handout. Display slide 9. Students will analyze the charts on the handout for any trends or interesting statistics.

Following the student analysis of the handout, display slide 10 and ask students to share out.

  • What trends do they see?

  • Would the elections have turned out any differently had the third party not been on the ballot?

  • What do you think was going on historically at the time of these elections?

  • How might those events have necessitated the inclusion of the third parties?


After students have analyzed past voting statistics, hand out the PBS article, "Third Parties in the U.S. Political Process" and display slide 11. While reading, students should complete a Why-Lighting activity to highlight key points and explain their understanding.

Once students have completed the reading, ask them to share what they highlighted (slide 12) and why they thought it was important.

If students do not mention highlighting the contributions of third parties, have them highlight those, too.


After reading and discussing the article, divide students into small groups of three to four. Display slide 13. Each group will be responsible for creating a poster that advertises the positive contributions (example: child labor laws) of third parties in the United States as well as possible negative impacts of these parties (example: election spoilers).

For each poster, students should identify a third party, a key change made as a result of that party, and a consequence of that party. Furthermore, students should include a visual in order to tie their advertisement together.

For example, one group may select to advertise the Populist Party. The Populists fought for many social changes, such as the 40-hour workweek, which we enjoy today. However, the Populist Party resulted in highly factionalized politics as well as a rise in tensions between industrial companies and industrial workers.


Upon completion of their posters, students will participate in a Gallery Walk to view each group's work (slide 14). As students view the work, each student should use a Post-it Note to provide feedback to the group.

After students return to their seat, ask them to reflect back on the questions from the Engage section. Display slide 15 and ask them to complete an Exit Ticket by selecting and responding to two of the questions from earlier.