Grade Levels:

Speaking and Listening: Comprehension and Collaboration

Teacher Story Synopsis:

It’s a new school year for Fina Mendoza, another year of distance learning. Her teacher assigns a Genius Project, letting students pick the topic they’d like to research and present to the class. Fina is in a group with Becka, the most annoying girl in school, and Michael, the nicest boy. Since it's an election year and Fina’s congressman father is back in Californiacampaigning for re-election, the trio decide toresearch voting. Specifically, letting kids younger than 18 cast a ballot.

The students are urged to use primary sources, and they learn that in 2019, Congress voted on an amendment that would allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. Fina, Becka, and Michael want to know why kids younger than 16 weren’t considered. They contact a member of Congress who voted “yes” on the amendment and convince Congressman Mark Takano of Riverside, California – an actual congressman – to zoom with them to answer questions about youth voting.

There is also a mystery to be solved: who broke into their classroom, ransacking the backpacks left behind last spring, and rifling the teacher’s desk, taking both chocolate and the test papers for an upcoming math exam.

Fina consults with her detecting partner, a giant orange dog named Senator Something, and talks her sister into accompanying her on a field trip to see if her hunch about the culprit is correct.

Listening Comprehension Questions

  1. What’s a Genius Project?
  2. What is Fina’s Genius Project?
  3. What is the name of the Congressman that Fina and her group interview?
  4. Who broke into Fina’s classroom?

Classroom Discussion Questions

  1. How old should a person be before they are allowed to vote?
  2. How old should a candidate be to run for office? Why?
  3. Why do you think people don’t vote?
  4. Should there be rewards for voting or punishment for not voting?
  5. Would you like to run for office? Which one?


  • Abuelita (noun, Spanish) – grandmother
  • Accuracy (noun) – how close you are to being exactly correct
  • Amendment (noun) – an idea added to a bill in Congress
  • Ballot (noun) – the way that you vote, either on a piece of paper, a computer punch card, or the touchscreen on a computer. Each state has its own method of voting.
  • Campaign (noun or verb) – the way a person runs for Congress or other public office. This could involve making speeches, knocking on doors, mailing postcards and fliers, posting on social media, putting up yard signs or bumper stickers, or running commercials on TV and radio.
  • Congress (noun) – the 435 members of the House and 100 senators who represent us in Washington. They vote on bills that will become new laws, decide how to spend tax money, and solve problems with the federal government for their constituents.
  • Constituents (noun) – the people back home who are represented by a member of Congress
  • Covid (noun) – short for Covid-19, a new virus that is spread person to person through tiny droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes
    or breathes heavily·
  • House Clerk (adjective, noun) – the chief record keeper for Congress
  • Insurance Commissioner (adjective, noun) the top official in a state for insurance matters
  • Intruder (noun) – a person who gets into a building with criminal intentions
  • Journalist (noun) – a reporter, someone who reports on the news
  • Primary Source (adjective, noun) - documents, images or artifacts that provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning an historical topic under
    research investigation.
  • Ransacked (verb) – to roughly search a room, drawer, or backpack
  • Reelection (verb) – to be chosen again by voters
  • Rules Committee (adjective, noun) – committee in Congress that acts like a traffic cop, deciding which ideas get included in a bill
  • Under Suspicion (idiom) – an idea that someone has possibly done something wrong
  • Unruly (adjective) – out of control
  • Vandalism (noun) – destruction of property on purpose

Activate Student Knowledge

BEFORE LISTENING: Activate Active Knowledge

Begin the lesson by asking students to talk about what they know about voting.

Preview the vocabulary by reading aloud the terms and their definition.

DURING LISTENING: Active Listening Supports

Have students take notes while they listen. In one column,note facts about American voting practices. In a second column, have the student note their opinions.

Fact: Currently, in most states, a voter must be 18
years old to cast a ballot.
Opinion: I think people my age should be allowed to

Begin the lesson by asking students whether they have ever done a Genius Project. What topic did they choose? If they haven’t yet done one, what topic would they

Introduce the story:
Fina Mendoza is the 10-year old daughter of a
congressman from California who solves mysteries. She
also walks the dogs lawmakers bring to their offices.
She’s attending school online because of Covid-19.

Ask students to respond to the listening comprehension questions and share their responses with a partner, a small group, or the whole class.

Ask students to share their notes to be sure they understand the difference between facts and opinions.

Ask students to make the case in one paragraph at what
age should young people be allowed to vote.

Classroom activities at home or in the classroom:

  1. How do you register to vote?
  2. Ask your parents if they are registered to vote.
  3. Ask why they vote or why they do not.
  4. Ask to go with them to vote in person or watch them vote by mail.
  5. Who is your member of Congress?
  6. What would you pick for a Genius Project?
    a. How would you research it?
    b. How would you present it?

Paired Text:

External Materials:

Literature Connections:

"Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza" - Kitty Felde

Ten-year-old Fina Mendoza, the daughter of a congressman, moves to Capitol Hill and solves the mystery of the Demon Cat of Capitol Hill. She also introduces basic information about Congress and how it works.