Mapping Electoral Districts
This activity can be used in a geography, world issues, social studies, civics or citizenship course to explore the concept of fairness in determining federal electoral boundaries.
In this activity, students consider the concept of fairness first in a familiar context, and then in the context of federal elections. Students will map electoral boundaries on an imaginary country, with the goal of making the electoral districts as fair as possible. They will interpret maps and analyze facts on population and geographical landforms to make their decisions. They will explain the rationale for their decision making, considering the distinction between equality and equity. Finally, they will watch a video to learn about the real process for determining federal electoral districts in Canada.
1. Elections are place-based and land-based. People vote for a representative in a particular electoral district.
2. In order for elections to be fair, careful consideration is given to both human and physical geography in determining the boundaries of electoral districts.
What makes an electoral district fair?
Competencies and skills
- Students will work collaboratively to manage information and think critically in analyzing, interpreting and making reasoned judgments in order to map electoral district boundaries.
- Students will apply numeracy skills to determine population numbers within electoral boundaries.
- Students will use map literacy skills to demonstrate understanding of both the physical and human geographical factors unique to each electoral district.
- Students will analyze geographic factors of regional significance when determining electoral district boundaries.
- Students will apply citizenship skills by considering issues of fairness and equity in the process of creating electoral boundaries.
- Students will communicate their thinking in small groups, and their conclusions in whole-class discussions and through personal reflection, to become self-aware of any changes to their thinking since the start of the activity.
The following materials are provided in different formats to help meet your needs. You can also find all essential materials for this lesson at the bottom of the page, including black and white PDFs.
- Master Map [HTML] [PDF]
- Reference maps:
- Info sheet for reference maps [HTML] [PDF]
- Teacher fact sheet [HTML] [PDF]
- Exit card [HTML] [PDF]
- Wild cards (extension activity) [HTML] [PDF]
- Optional assessment rubric [HTML] [PDF]
- "Interview with an Elections Canada Geographer" video [Link] [Transcript]
- Slide deck for teachers [HTML] [PPT]
Materials not included
- Dry erase markers
Ask students to imagine they are at a family party to celebrate a grandparent’s birthday. There are seven people at the party:
- Two grandparents
- Two adults
- One 3-year-old
- Two teenagers
Everyone wants a piece of birthday cake. As a class, discuss how you would divide the cake so that everyone gets their fair share. Should everyone get the same-sized piece, or should it be divided based on each person’s age, size or other factors?
Discuss the difference between equality and equity.
Introduce the inquiry question: What makes an electoral district fair?
Part 1: Getting started
Before beginning the lesson, read the teacher fact sheet to review the actual process for determining the boundaries of federal electoral districts.
Begin by explaining that Canada is divided into 338 electoral districts, or ridings. In each district, voters elect one member of Parliament to represent the voice and interests of everyone who lives there. To reflect changes in the Canadian population, the number of electoral districts is adjusted every ten years.
When deciding the boundaries of an electoral district, several factors are considered, including
- the size of the population;
- geographic features; and
- social factors, such as culture and language.
The most important factor is making sure that the number of people represented is as equal as possible, so that every vote counts the same.
Explain that students will need to consider these factors in their next task: drawing electoral boundaries for an imaginary country. This country has some similar characteristics to Canada, including a parliamentary system of government.
Divide students into groups of three to five. Give each group the Master Map, the three reference maps (Population Distribution, Language Communities, and Shared History), an info sheet and dry erase markers. Together, review the Master Map legend to identify the various physical and human geographical elements (mountains, bodies of water, languages spoken, and so on). Then explain the purpose of each reference map. Take a moment to make some quick comparisons to the students’ own space: “Our town is surrounded by mountains, too”; or “We live in an urban area with a high population density like this.”
Part 2: Mapping an imaginary country
Explain that students will apply the concept of fairness to map electoral boundaries on their imaginary country.
They begin by naming their country. Then they must divide the entire area of the imaginary country into eight electoral districts that are as fair as possible, and draw the boundaries on the Master Map. The total surface area of the imaginary country must be included within electoral boundaries.
On the Master Map, one electoral district has been included as an example. Students must use that boundary as a starting point to divide up seven additional electoral districts within their country, for a total of eight. If students are having difficulty limiting their electoral districts to eight, they may create more, but must provide a justification of why this is required.
Students should aim to have a similar number of people in each electoral district. Students can use the reference maps to sketch out their boundaries before drawing their final versions in dry erase marker on the larger Master Map.
Part 1: Gallery walk
There are no right answers to this activity, and every group’s map will look different. To consolidate their learning, have students participate in a gallery walk. This will give them an opportunity to explain their decisions and to compare the similarities and differences of their maps.
For the gallery walk, choose a format that works for your class. We suggest that you display each of the Master Maps throughout the classroom and divide each group into two sub-groups. One sub-group stays with their map to explain their decision making in drawing their boundaries, and the other visits the maps of the other groups. Halfway through, have the sub-groups switch.
Finally, have the original groups reconvene to share their observations and consider any changes they would make to their maps, in the context of fairness. Lead a discussion about the differences and similarities that can be observed in the maps and the reasons behind these.
Part 2: Real-life video
Play the video “Interview with an Elections Canada Geographer,” which explains the real process of mapping federal electoral boundaries in Canada.
After students watch the video, invite them to return to the inquiry question: What makes an electoral district fair?
Distribute an exit card to each student and ask them to reflect on their learning.
Extend your geographic thinking
- Distribute 1 or 2 wild cards to each group. Explain to students that they are to take into account the factors indicated on the cards and update their map accordingly. Have students explain the reasoning behind any boundaries they have adjusted, making sure to justify changes in the context of fairness.
- Have students create names for each of the electoral districts by referring to the information or geographical features included on the maps, especially the Language Communities Map and the Shared History Map.
- If technology is available, display the following map, which shows how electoral boundaries changed from 2003 to 2013: http://bit.ly/federal_redistribution. Find your community on the map and ask students if or how your boundary changed, and to suggest possible reasons why it did or did not change. Have students consider their real-world electoral boundary in terms of its physical and human geographic features.
- Exit cards require students to write responses to prompts or questions based on the lesson. The cards provide immediate feedback to help you assess students’ understanding of content, to gather feedback for your teaching and to see what questions students are asking to suggest new areas of learning. For students, exit cards provide a reflective space to consolidate and reflect on their learning and practice and to enhance their metacognition.
- A gallery walk is a learning strategy that involves an informal walk around the classroom. It can provide opportunities for students to talk to each other about the material in a less structured way, and allows them to reflect on their own learning.
To use this lesson:
You will need
Master Map (Colour)
Master Map (Black and White)
Population Distribution Map (Colour)
Population Distribution Map (Black and White)
Language Communities Map (Colour)
Language Communities Map (Black and White)
Shared History Map (Colour)
Shared History Map (Black and White)
Info Sheet for Reference Maps
Teacher Fact Sheet
Slide Deck for Teachers
Video - Interview with an Elections Canada GeographerVideo