AP US Government~ Congress

Idea #1 Holding a Brief Discussion based on clips from the most recent Court Confirmation Hearings on Elena Kagan’s nomination will help students realize that the Senate has a number of extra responsibilities.

http://www.cspanclassroom.org/Video/701/Opening+Statements+of+Elena+Kagans+Confirmation+Hearings.aspx The same section of the Youth Leadership Initiative out of the University of Virginia is also excellent. (See websites)

Idea #2 : PowerPoint:  An overall look at Congress, Major differences between the two bodies; the legislative process.  Use the PowerPoint Found How Congress Works Part 1: Structure and Organization.  Found at the Youth Leadership Initiative website


(Useful background on Congress


Idea #3 Lecture with prompts: How is a Congressional system different from a Parliamentary system?

A. Begin by showing a clip from Prime Minister’s Question Time


B. Compare with a clip of the most recent State of the Union speech (available from C-SPAN)

Here are additional Videos designed to show some of the differences between the House and the Senate shows students House debate from the House from C-SPAN


To show something of the Senate: voting on the Financial Bill

http://www.c-spanclassroom.org/Video/714/Lawmakers+pass+Financial+Bill+President+to+sign+next+week.aspx also from C-SPAN

Idea  #4  Warm up or concluding activity:

Show Students ever-popular School House Rock “I’m just a Bill” and ask students to discuss its accuracy now that they’ve learned more.


If you prefer to use this as a concluding activity, show the PowerPoint first, then the School House Rock video, Put students into groups of three or four. Ask them to Imagine that they are working for the company who produced School House Rock, and have been charged with updating the video. What changes would they suggest?   Let each group present their ideas, or have students write up their ideas for homework.


Idea #5 Students use computer lab to work with  “14 Units to learn how a Bill becomes a law”.  http://www.congresslink.org/Frantzich/index.htm[M2] 

Show these clips to give students a sense of how the process actually looks

http://www.c-spanclassroom.org/Video/696/Conferees+Approve+Financial+Regulation+Bill+2716.aspx   (This is long, so find a clip)

And/or this interesting clip on conditions at Walter Reed Medical Hospital:


Idea #6 Students Explore “Thomas”, the Library of Congress website that is the best place to begin tracking legislation.


Choose some bills that are current and have students see where they have been and what’s happening to them.      Students might also find it interesting to look at the House legislative website: http://www.house.gov/


Idea #7 Interactive- Lecture—the Incumbency Advantage

Using this useful piece by Jeffrey Bernstein, a political scientist at Eastern Michigan University.


B. End the lecture by showing

Show these financial figures from OpenSecrets.org


The amounts of money involved will surprise the most cynical student.

Idea #8 Discussion with Prompts:  Is Congress the “Broken Branch”?

Students should have read this article for homework:


Show this video to get discussion moving: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/23/carl-bernstein-us-congres_n_402331.html?page=10&show_comment_id=36904049#comment_36904049 (

(Brief commercial at the beginning!)

Idea #9 Hold a Student debate on Redistricting

“Should partisan Gerrymandering be abolished”?

See Chapter 6 for debate format

(In Patterson, the stem of this debate is on Page 281 currently)



http://www.economist.com/node/1099030  (Excellent Economist Article on the Redistricting process)

 Idea #10 Students write letters to members of Congress.

Have each student write to his or her own Congressman/woman or one of his or her Senators about an issue of importance to the student> Share the topics of the letters in class, and see who gets the best response later on.   (Email works here, too, but a formal letter is usually easier to grade, and to track as well.)


will help students identify their member of Congress



Useful Ideas on the WEB

The Youth Leadership Initiative has a number of excellent lesson plans on many aspects of government that you may want to take a look at.   You will need to sign up and get a password, and it’s free, but the process takes a couple of days, so teachers are advised to do that ahead of time.http://www.youthleadership.net/index.jsp


CQ’s Politics in America; or National Journal’s Almanac of American Politics, –available if your library subscribes to National Journal.  Are especially useful. Both are online at many libraries. (If your library does not have either of these, you may get a free trial of CQ’s politics in America at http://library.cqpress.com/static.php?page=freetrial

Guides to Congress


Guide to Newspapers


This fun site that allows students to look at Members of Congress from all over the country—just find the district on the map, click and see him or her speaking in the House


And the Senate has one a well:


Facts on Congress are little segments, really meant for younger students, but they are cute and so one or two might work as a bit of leaven for a class.


Recent articles discussing dysfunction in Congress from the New Yorker, and David Broder:



Students might enjoy or find it useful to visit the site of RollCall, the paper of Capitol Hill.  It’s not all available for free, but some of it is.

http://www.rollcall.com/ a

Congress.org /and Politico are quite interesting as well




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