Teaching About Congress
A Day in the Life of a Senator
Students read a primary source document written by Senator Everett M. Dirksen entitled “What a United States Senator Does,” learn the responsibilities of a senator, create skits depicting a scene in the life of a senator, and evaluate their own potential as future senators.
The Comic Book Campaign: The Illinois U.S. Senate Race, 1950
In the 1950 Senate campaign in Illinois, the incumbent senator, Scott Lucas, a Democrat and the majority leader of the Senate, used a comic book to persuade voters of his qualifications. Students identify the messages the comic book intended to convey, describe the qualities of the candidate the book emphasized, evaluate the effectiveness of the comic book approach in depicting those qualities, and prepare a comic book storyboard for one of today’s candidates.
The Economy Act of 1933
H.R. 2820, which became the Economy Act of 1933, intended to reduce the federal deficit by eliminating government agencies, cutting the salaries of federal workers (including members of Congress), and reducing benefits paid to veterans. Historical documents about that bill introduce students to the process by which a Congress member evaluates a bill, decides to vote, and justifies that vote to constituents.
Eulogy and Obituary as Historical Evidence
Students will understand the purposes of a eulogy and an obituary and the differences between them, identify the essential elements of both, determine which is the more authentic historical record, and be able to associate an individual's life with important historical events.
Everett Dirksen Chooses a Sketch
Students will evaluate the elements of political cartooning by examining the decision of Senator Everett M. Dirksen to substitute a drawing for a photograph in the 1967 Pocket Congressional Directory. Students will select an editorial cartoon from The Center's extensive online collection that best depicts the qualities of the senator.
Every Vote Counts
You can't win if you don't play. Election outcomes are determined by those who participate. Students will see the importance of voting and that every vote counts.
Gulf of Tonkin Incident, August 1964
This lesson will introduce students to real-time reporting on the Gulf of Tonkin incident which led to the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resolution gave President Lyndon Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be threatened by communist aggression. Students will analyze historical documents using the following strategies: summarizing, contextualizing, inferring, monitoring, and corroborating.
How a Bill Becomes Law: The Case of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Students will understand how Congress makes laws through a case study of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They will be introduced to key concepts associated with the legislative process such as committees, filibuster, cloture, bipartisan, petition, and lobbying. Additionally, they will see how controversial social issues, such as civil rights, greatly affect the process.
How Influential is Your Member of Congress? A WebQuest
Students will learn about the concept of “influence” or “power” in Congress by addressing this question: “What experiences or responsibilities distinguish more influential Congress members from less?”
The Japanese-Americans Reparations Act of 1988
This lesson will introduce students to efforts by Congress to redress injustices to Japanese-Americans and Aleut civilian residents committed during World War II. Students will learn about the circumstances surrounding the relocation of Japanese-Americans in 1942 and compare the reasons for relocation with the justification for reparations in 1988.
Making Congress Work through Leadership
Different leaders in Congress use different leadership styles. Reading leadership statements by four members of Congress, students will understand such concepts as majority and minority roles in legislatures; the nature of deliberation, negotiation, and compromise; the context that shapes legislative leadership; and the work of Congress more generally.
Martin Luther King Holiday
Students will evaluate a report filed by congressional journalist Neil MacNeil on the acrimonious Senate debate about a bill to declare the third Monday in January a legal public holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Minority Representation in Congress, 1937-1938
Students will examine selected demographic features of one of the early New Deal Congresses in order to identify the characteristics of women members of the House and Senate—what qualities and experiences they shared, how they differed. Students may also compare and contrast the female membership in 1937-38 with female membership today.
The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940
This lesson will introduce students to efforts by Congress to establish military conscription, otherwise known as the “draft,” in preparation for possible war in 1940. The source documents raise questions about citizenship, military personnel needs, and events leading up to U.S. entry into World War II.
What Makes a Great Campaign Brochure?
Students compare and contrast the campaign brochures of two candidates for the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 1950 in order to (1) determine what elements make for an effective brochure (both content and design); (2) assess the relative effectiveness of the two examples; (3) understand what messages a campaign brochure intends to send; and (4) appreciate the similarities and differences between political campaigns of today and half a century ago.
What Makes a Congressional Leader?
Students will understand the qualities that make for a leader in the U.S. House and Senate.
Teaching About Congress
14 Units to Learn How a Bill Becomes a Law
The legislative process is a fascinating, important, and complex set of actions whose excitement and variability are not fully captured in the standard "a bill becomes a law" chart. While the formal stages in the legislative process are a good place to start, it is important to recognize alternative routes. Legislation passes or fails both on the quality of its content and the strategies of its opponents and proponents. This module uses text, graphics, and video to enliven students' understanding of the legislative process and to encourage them to explore its various facets in-depth.
An Effective Congress and Effective Members: What Does It Take?
What are the skills needed to serve effectively in Congress and how do politicians acquire them? Political scientist Barbara Sinclair answers these questions in an article that originally appeared in PS Online in September 1996.
How to Communicate Effectively with Congress
This selection from AdVanced Consulting's Advocacy Classroom provides expert tips for reaching your Congress member. Learn what a congressional office can and cannot (or should not) do for you, what staff members do, and how best to deal with them.
Reference Sources on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Reporting on Congress: The Role of the Media
Political scientist Stephanie Larson briefly answers these questions: Why teach Congress and the media? What would a comprehensive lesson on the media and Congress include? What approach can you take to teaching this information? What does scholarship teach us about Congress and the media?
The Ten Most Important Things to Know about the U.S. Senate
Betty Koed, Associate Historian of the U.S. Senate, identifies ten factors organized around six major themes: the Senate as a deliberative body, as protector of minority rights, as promoter of compromise, as “cooling factor” in the legislative process, as “states’ ambassadors,” and as advisory body.
The Ten (Really Twelve) Most Important Things to Know about the U.S. House of Representatives
Ray Smock, former historian of the U.S. House, singles out 12 factors key to understanding the so-called lower chamber. They range from the House as the “embodiment of representative democracy” to “the virtue of inefficiency.”
The Voices of Your Classroom are the Voices of Our Future
Writing in The Instructor (March 1967), Dirksen told America’s teachers: “Our challenge and responsibility are clear. If we would desire good citizenship, love of country, respect for heritage among our young, then we must teach them. And we must do so actively, consistently, and most of all early. It is essential that we provide children with an environment conducive to the learning about, practicing of, and valuing of good citizenship and responsible involvement in national life.”
What Do Students See When They Look at Congress?
Professor Jeffrey L. Bernstein presents a video report on his “think-aloud” methodology to explore what students see when they look at Congress. His research reveals the importance of understanding (1) the tension between majority rule and minority rights and (2) the essentially conflictual nature of legislative activity. When students have a low comfort level with these ideas, their ability to understand the work of the legislative branch suffers dramatically. He concludes this lecture by discussing how his findings can inform classroom teaching.
What Every Student Should Know about Congress
Congressional scholar Charles O. Jones responds to this question: “Suppose you had 15 minutes to describe the ten most important features of the U.S. Congress—what would they be?”
What High School Government Teachers Should Know about Congressional Elections
Jeffrey Bernstein, a political scientist at Eastern Michigan University, describes the central fact about congressional elections: incumbents are re-elected in overwhelming numbers. He also reviews how political scientists have explained this phenomenon and suggests ways for high school and college teachers to teach their students about incumbency.
What I Wish Political Scientists Would Teach about Congress
Former Congressman Lee Hamilton offers ten basic lessons about Congress ranging from “the legislative process is dynamic and complex” to “the country needs more politicians.”
A classification of six “learning categories” to guide educators in teaching their students.
A glossary of congressional terms.
Notes on congressional events and procedures.
Teaching About Congress
Understanding Congressional Decisions through Vectors
This 81-slide simulation uses vectors as depicted in a game of billiards to understand the complexity of decision-making in Congress.
U.S. House of Representatives Floor Debate Simulation
This simulation seeks to teach lessons about the various issues that factor into the decision-making process of a member of Congress. Some of the factors woven into the simulation include parliamentary rules and procedures, the role of constituents, competing demands for time, competing policy interests, the role of the press, and political concerns and institutional concerns. The materials include four different established public policy scenarios as well as resources to create a more customized case-study.
Winning the Seat: A Congressional Election Simulation
By using this simulation, students will gain a solid understanding of how congressional elections are conducted and of what determines who wins and loses these contests. By "playing along" with the election, they will learn to choose among different strategic options for the campaigns. And, because this is an active learning technique, students will learn the material better than if they were passively receiving this information in a lecture.