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March 1, 2009

Structure of Congress

By Lara Maupin, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia

Subject(s)

Social Studies, Civics

Estimated Time:

One to two class periods

Grade Level

9th-12th

Objective

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the structure of Congress and its legislative process. Students will begin to understand the roles played by the Democratic and Republican parties, congressional leaders, committees and other groups to which members of Congress belong, as well as the formal process of lawmaking and differences between the House and Senate. This lesson includes:

  • Introduction to the legislative process: Students will be divided into small groups and examine the structure of Congress, including how they make laws and the committees they lead.
  • Assessment: A classroom or homework assignment on the legislative process.
  • Role Play: Members of Congress and the media: Students will role play one of the following: House Republican leaders, House Democratic leaders, Senate Republican leaders, Senate Democratic leaders, or a member of the media. This simulated press conference will further explain the process of passing a bill.

Overview

The U.S. Congress is made up of two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate. This lesson will allow students to explore the many power positions in these branches of government and the role that they play in our legislative process.

Procedure

  1. Divide students into small groups and ask them to look at resources about congress together. They can begin with the following:

    Allow the students from 20-30 minutes to familiarize themselves with the information.

  2. Provide them with the handout, which includes study questions about the legislative process. Ask them to begin the handout in class. This should give them basic understanding of the power of the political parties.
  3. Have the students use the fill in the blank activity to familiarize themselves with important legislative terms and responsibilities. They can finish the worksheets at home and turn them in for credit.

Extension Activities

Press conference:

Divide the class into five groups total. Assign one group to role-play one of the following: House Republican leader, House Democratic leader, Senate Republican leader, Senate Democratic leaders, and one group to be a member of the media.

Tell them you will simulate a press conference in which each group of leaders will have the opportunity to “spin,” or explain, the newest legislation before Congress.

The press should ask questions about the process and the length of time it took, amount of cooperation between the parties, impact of the elections, etc. After students have had time to prepare, simulate the press conference, giving each group of leaders the chance to answer the questions asked by the press. Discuss and debrief.

Lara Maupin is a former social studies teacher and student government adviser at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. She has a Master’s Degree in Secondary Social Studies Education from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology and Philosophy from Mount Holyoke College.

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  • Common Core Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
    • Understands major characteristics of systems of shared power and of parliamentary systems.

      Benchmark: Understands the major characteristics of systems of shared powers (e.g., in the United States and Brazil the executive, legislative, and judicial branches each have primary responsibility for certain functions and share some of their powers and functions with other branches)
    • Understands what is meant by “the public agenda,” how it is set and how it is influenced by public opinion and the media.

      Benchmark: Understands how political institutions and political parties shape the public agenda
    • Understands the formation and implementation of public policy

      Benchmark: Understands the processes by which public policy concerning a local, state, or national issue is formed and carried out.
    • NCSS Standards: Individuals, Groups and Institutions, Power, Authority and Governance, Civic Ideals and Practices

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