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A lesson plan called Congress in the Classroom
6, 5, 4
Congress In The Classroom!
By Andrea Ginos
Grade Level: 4th – 6th
Length: 45-50 minutes
The students will simulate the workings of Congress by bringing the lawmaking process into their own classroom. Students will role-play congressmen and women attempting to pass a bill into a law through the appropriate steps.
One 4 -5Ó feather for each student
Introduction- After a unit on the American government, making sure you adequately cover the Congress and their law making process, tell the students they are going to try and pass a law for the classroom. Each student will receive a piece of parchment paper and a feather. Have the students tape the feather to their writing utensil so that it looks like an ink well feather pen of the 1800Õs. Have the students individually, and silently if possible, write a bill to be passed into a law for the classroom. Explain to them that you, the teacher, are going to act like the president, and have the right to veto any law that is inappropriate, so to write their bills accordingly. Also explain to them that the wording of their bill is important. Bad wording can lead to a bill being thrown out. Read an example of a badly worded bill, such as, ÒMiss GinosÕs class will watch movies on Fridays.Ó Have students discuss how this is not detailed enough and could possibly be manipulated later. ÒStudents in Miss GinosÕs class will be able to watch a movie of Miss GinosÕs choice every other Friday instead of afternoon recessÓ is a much better wording of the same bill. (Have students also write their names on the back of the bill as well to prevent any favoritism in later selection.)
Development- After the children have written their bills, divide the class into two equal sections. One section is the House of Representatives and the other is the Senate. Within each group, either have the students elect a Ôbill selection committeeÕ, or pick one out yourself if this poses a problem. About half of the students should serve on the bill committee. Collect all of the bills within each group. Redistribute the bills to different students so that no one has their own and have each student read a bill to their group. At this time, all of the bills go to the committee where they discuss which bill has the potential of getting passed in the classroom. Explain to the students in the selection committee that many bills might look the same, but to examine the wording of the bill to decide which to pick. Which bill is clear, concise and to the point? The students not in the selection committee should be given a topic-related movie to watch, such as ÒThe Making of a BillÓ or be allowed to watch and listen to the selection process of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, quietly.
The selection committee then goes back to their respective groups and presents the bill they have chosen. Tell the students to vote either yes or no for the bill their committee is presenting. (The committee has no vote.) If the vote is yes, the bill goes to the other branch of Congress. If the vote is no, it has been killed and they do not have a bill anymore. Do not explain the outcome of their vote until after the vote has been taken.
If a vote of yes was obtained by the students, the traditional pattern of Congress is followed giving the bill to the Senate if it came from the House, and vice versa. If and when a unanimous vote of yes in finally achieved, the ÔpresidentÕ can then sign the bill making a new classroom law.
Note: This can be a lengthy process in real life, as it may be in your classroom. The reason you let the students pass or kill a bill without interfering is to create the feelings of a real life Congress. A studentÕs personal vote of ÔnoÕ simply because it wasnÕt their bill they heard read is a scaled down reality in Congress. If no bill becomes a law, then the frustration of law makers in congress will become a reality to the children through their own practice.
Closure- After the class has either passed a law or killed their bills in committees, discuss the frustrations either the students in the committees felt about pleasing the rest of their group with one bill choice, the hardships of rewording a bill if that was done, what they looked at in each billÕs wording to select one to vote on, or the frustrations the students not in the committee felt of possibly being misrepresented by their committee. Did they feel cheated that the bill chosen wasnÕt theirs? If a bill was killed quickly, do the students regret their hastiness perhaps? These are all excellent discussion questions to go over. The students just experienced one of the most frustrating jobs of a Congress person. Talk about the laws in the community. There are always groups of people that donÕt want a law passed. What efforts have they noticed by members of the community to influence the way we think or vote?
Informal assessment should be used to check students comprehension of this activity. Since this is a role playing situation, check to see if students are involving themselves in the process. The objective is to simulate not only the law making process, but also the emotions that lawmakers may feel. Students could do a self assessment in a journal, explaining the pathway that their bill traveled. Have them include any emotions that they felt throughout the process pertaining to their role in Congress, what happened to their personal bill, or about the process of passing a law in general.
This should be a wonderful activity for the behavioral disorder child. There is a lot of participation and discussion. You might want to make sure that the BD child is definitely included in the selection committee so that there is as little lag time as possible where there is no activity. As usual, be sure to pair any student that might need assistance with another child in the classroom.
David Croft, teacher at Harry S. Truman Elementary School, Rolla, Mo 65401 (1984-85)