Lesson Plan: Overview of the Census

The Importance of the Census and How it Will Work in 2020

Former U.S. Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson discussed the importance of the decennial census to the functioning of the government. He also talked about how the census has worked in the past and how it is is using technology to streamline the process for the 2020 census.


The decennial U.S. census is the population count that is Constitutionally required to occur every ten years. The information obtained through the census is the basis for reapportionment and redistricting in Congress. This information also affects the allocation of government funds, state apportionment, and local planning and investment. In this lesson, students will learn about how the census works, obstacles in obtaining accurate representation and current issues pertaining to the 2020 census.



    To begin class, have students view the clip below and answer the associated questions to get a general understanding of the U.S. census.

    Review the students' responses and correct any misconceptions. Students can use the following handout to answer these questions.

    HANDOUT: U.S. Census Guided-Questions handout (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP: What is the census and how does it work? (4:49)

    • How does the census impact the following: redistricting, allocation of government funds, business investment and data collection?

    • Why is under-counting during the census a problem?

    • Explain the process that occurred in previous censuses?

    • What are the three innovations that will occur in the 2020 census?

    Students will view each of the video clips and answer each of the questions on their handout.

  • VIDEO CLIP: How the U.S. Census Bureau Counts Individuals (1:53)

    • What are strategies and tools that the U.S. Census Bureau will use to collect data during the 2020 census?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Underrepresentation in the U.S. Census (2:42)

    • Explain the population groups that are traditionally underrepresented? Which groups are traditionally over-represented?

    • Why is under-representation a problem at the state and local level?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Obstacles to Census Compliance (4:04)

    • Explain the impediments or obstacles that Secretary Ross and Representative Gowdy provide for low compliance rates?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Census Outreach Programs (1:37)

    • In the past, how has the Census Bureau reached out to the American people to encourage them to complete the census?

    • What were the messages that the U.S. Census Bureau wanted people to understand?

    • How effective have these programs been?
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Politics of the Census (1:38)

    • How are the consequences of the census political?

    • Why does the process of the census need to be non-partisan?

    Using what they learned from the previous videos, have the students pick one of the clips and prompts listed below and apply what they learned to one of these current issues. Students can either provide written responses to these prompts or they can discuss them in class.

  • VIDEO CLIP: Counting Prisoners in the Census (3:27)

    • How should inmates in prison should be counted for the U.S. Census? What would be the consequences of this?
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Census and Members of the Military (2:15)

    • How should members of the military who are overseas be counted for the U.S. Census? What would be the consequences of this?
  • VIDEO CLIP: 2020 Census to Include Citizenship Question (3:11)

    • Should the 2020 census include a question asking about citizenship? What would be the consequences of this?

    Create a Census- Develop a survey of your class or school similar to what the U.S. Bureau.

    Create questions for your survey and a plan for how you will implement this survey.

    Carry out the census plan that you created, after doing this evaluate how effective your census was.

    When crafting your survey questions, consider the following:

    • What information do you want to obtain?

    • What is the best way to distribute and collect your census?

    Census Data Exploration- Using data from the Census Bureau's American FactFinder tool, explore your local area. What information was provided in the 2010 census? Does any of this information surprise you?

    Census Advertisements- Create an advertisement to help people to understand the importance of completing their census survey.


    Additional Writing Prompts:

    • How is an accurate census important to the functioning of the United States government? Provide support for your arguments.

    • Develop a plan to improve the U.S. census. Include potential benefits and drawbacks.

Additional Resources


  • Allocation
  • American Community Survey
  • Apportionment
  • Census Bureau
  • Compliance
  • Data
  • Department Of Commerce
  • Differential Undercounting
  • Enumerate
  • Grassroots
  • Impediments
  • Intrusive
  • Investment
  • Non-partisan
  • Overrepresentation
  • Population
  • Redistricting
  • Rural
  • Underrepresentation
  • Urban


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