Papal Conclave Lesson Plan

There has been lots of excitement during Lent 2013 with the historic conclave to elect a new pope to succeed retired Pope Benedict XVI. Students will be likely to watch and listen to all sorts of stories about the election and selection process for the new pontiff. Use this papal conclave lesson plan with your students to help them explore and understand the process for electing a new pope.

Papal Conclave Lesson Plan

Papal Conclave Lesson Objectives

  • SWBAT describe the conclave process.
  • SWBAT compare and contrast a papal conclave to a presidential election (or student council election or another kind of election of leaders).

Papal Conclave Activities

1. Assess Prior Knowledge

Depending on the age group, your students may already know a lot about the papal conclave. When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation in February 2013, every major news venue gave a brief tutorial on the election of a new pope. Find out what they know already using one of the following teaching strategies:

2. Explore the Papal Conclave

There are a whole host of websites and videos on the Internet about the papal conclave. With so many resources, it is important to provide students with tools that will enable them to understand and organize everything they read, listen to, and watch. In other words, you need to give them a graphic organizer.

Have students take out a blank sheet of paper and fold it in thirds as if they were going to put it in an envelope. Then instruct them to fold the paper in half vertically (“hot dog style”) to create six boxes. Have them label the boxes Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

During class or as a research project, they must fill in each of these boxes with answers to the questions below. If you want to add an enrichment activity, have them draw a picture of what they’ve written in each box on the back of their papers.

Write the following questions on the board to help guide the students’ research or create your own questions:

  • Who: Who elects the new pope? (List three things you know about them.)
  • What: What do they use to elect the new pope?
  • When: When can a conclave take place?
  • Where: Where does the conclave take place (city and building)?
  • Why: Why does the Catholic Church have a pope?
  • How: How do they determine who they will elect as the next pope?

Alternative Activity: You might also try to give students ownership over this activity by looking to them to create their own questions. Instead of providing the questions, have students brainstorm their own questions. For example, they might decided to write: Who can become Pope? Or, How do we know when the new pope is elected?

Papal Election Educational Resources

I suggest that students use some of the following resources about the papal conclave to complete their graphic organizers: — A new website created by catechetical leaders to address questions about the conclave.

How the Pope is Elected Graphic — An incredibly informative, interactive graphic describing how the pope is elected.

How is a New Pope Chosen (USCCB) — A brief summary of the election of a new pope from the USCCB website with a free, downloadable bulletin insert.

Papal Transition Q&A (America) — The Jesuit America magazine collects a series of questions and answers about the transition to a new pope.

Election of a New Pope Resources for Schools (Archdiocese of Dublin) — Great collection of educational resources about electing a new pope from the Archdiocese of Dublin.

3. Conclave Q & A

Make sure students have a good understanding of the papal conclave. Have them form groups of three or four students. Using their graphic organizers, invite them to give each other pop quizzes.

When they finish, invite them add any new information they learned in their groups to their graphic organizers.

4. Compare Papal Elections and Presidential Elections

If you have time and interest, you may also invite students to compare and contrast what they have learned about papal elections at the conclave and U.S. presidential elections. You might also have them compare the conclave to student council elections. This is a great way to work with the social studies teacher if you are in a Catholic school.

Use the same process described above for the papal conclave in an exploration of the presidential election. Have them create a graphic organizer with boxes labeled Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Then, have them use the Internet or a social studies textbook to complete the graphic organizer for presidential elections.

Once both graphic organizers are completed, distribute a Venn diagram. Label one circle Papal Election and the other circle Presidential Election. Have them write similarities and differences in the Venn diagram.

For example, in the middle they might write something like “both are elected by a small group of people (cardinals/electoral college).” As differences in the outside they might write that “the Holy Spirit inspires the cardinals to elect a pope, while the citizens of each state inspire the electoral college to select a president.” Or, “the pope is elected with two-thirds of the votes, while the president is elected based on a majority (more than one half) of votes.”

5. Assessment: The Papal Conclave Process

With all of the news coverage of the conclave, have students use what they have learned to write a news report of the conclave. They can either write a newspaper article or a script for a radio or TV show covering the conclave. If there is time, have the students act out the radio or TV shows.

What resources are you using to teach about the papal conclave to elect a new pope? Share it in the comments below. 


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  1. Steve Maloney says:

    In honor of the conclave, I’m going to have a “Conclave Party.” We will be making mitres and having cupcakes. The cupcakes will be made vanilla with white icing (papal colors) with a cross on top. This is the link on how to make the mitres.

  2. I was hoping you were going to post a Papal Conclave Lesson Plan. THANK YOU!!!!!! :)

  3. Karen Cornell says:

    Thanks, Jared! Once again you have saved the day with an AWESOME lesson plan! Keep up the excellent work. God Bless!

  4. JS Columbia says:

    Impressive! Thank you very much :)

  5. Maureen says:

    I love Busted Halo’s “Sacraments 101” videos but found this one helpful as well! Thanks Jarred for sharing your resources. -Maureen, ACE 16

  6. Maureen says:
  7. Here’s another video that grabbed my students attention and had a lot of information

  8. Sister Ma. Paz, O.P. says:

    Great lesson! Even Catholics are ignorant about all this basic things…because they do not
    take time to study about their own Catholic religion! Let us ask the Holy spirit to guide and inspire all the voting cardinals starting today. Sincere prayers are heard…

  9. Banana Joe says:

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