Congressional Lawmaking

Activity Overview: 

This activity is a simulation of the process of writing a bill in a committee. One U.S. Government class is the House, while the other is the Senate. Students use the Internet to research information about their topic of the minimum wage. They then act out their parts in the House and Senate.

Students will experience part of the process of lawmaking.
Students will increase their knowledge of Congress, lawmaking, and the skills needed to be a member of Congress.  Students will practice their research skills using the Internet.
Students will improve several skills necessary for participating in a democracy.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION: This activity is a simulation of the process of writing a bill in Committee.  I typically have two U. S. Government classes. One will simulate the House and the other the Senate.  I have also done this with a third class playing the role of the executive branch.  If classes are large both houses could be played in one class.


(Note:  This is a unit plan that may cover several days to several weeks. Not all of the following activities/standards will appear in the video clips used.)


You must have a good understanding of the issue being studied. This will aid you in picking general and specific Web sites in advance. If possible, you should have a listing of Web sites. Our computer lab has a television, which shows the computer screen and can be used to demonstrate. A printed sheet is also good. You also need to be very comfortable finding information on the Library of Congress Web site, Thomas. ( This site has specific information on committees and current bills. You also need to determine what committee might be assigned a bill on this subject. The students enjoy taking on the role of a particular Senator or Representative. If it includes a local member of Congress, all the better. It is useful to have some kind of standard printed form, which has a format for writing bills. Many government books have such forms. You can also develop one using an actual bill listed on the Thomas Web site. Videotape footage showing an actual committee hearing is an important part of the introductory stage. It is helpful, if you can obtain a hearing with a topic of interest to the students. A large part of the work of Congress takes place in committees. It lends great credibility to the activity, if you have information about the importance of committees. Most texts have material on this subject, and there is also information on some Web sites. 


Curriculum Standards

National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Performance Indicators

Information about the activity and the role of committees is explained in the first session.Together the classes decide to study an issue of interest to them (an important factor). 

Civics: grades 9-12, III B


They next begin research on the subject for the purpose of gathering general information on the subject in one 45-minute period. In this period time is spent teaching basic search techniques, a necessity even for high school seniors. I also introduce them to several Web sites. They are assigned roles after the first period of research so their study will not be too specific.

At the end of each session in the computer lab the students spend about 10 minutes writing in a journal about their activity for the day. This is saved to the server and continued after each of about 5 sessions. At the end of the activity the students write a more extensive journal entry detailing their participation in the activity. The complete journal is handed in at the end of the activity and is a graded assignment.

Civics: grades 9-12, III B

Grades 9-12: 5, 7, 8
Next, the following roles are assigned: U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, various media reporters, pollster and hearing “witnesses,” which would vary according to the issue. For the minimum wage issue these “witnesses” include economist, student, small business owner, labor union representative, and welfare recipient. 

Civics: grades 9-12, III B

Specific research now begins and students look for information that aids them in their assigned role.

Civics: grades 9-12, III B

Grades 9-12: 5, 7
More research time may be necessary as students now write statements that detail their views. These statements will be used in the committee hearings.   Grades 9-12: 5, 7, 10
Committee hearings are held. Committee members read their statements. Witnesses testify, reading their statements. Committee members ask questions of the witnesses and they respond, with each side playing the assigned role. These hearings are videotaped, in order to add pressure, and make it a more real situation. Students will be given the opportunity to watch the videotape.

Civics: grades 9-12, III B

Grades 9-12: 9, 10
Committee presents bill, if they can agree on one.

Civics: grades 9-12, III B

Grades 9-12: 9, 10
The Committee conducts a press conference. The news media question and the committee responds.

Civics: grades 9-12, III B

Grades 9-12: 9, 10
If you have both Houses of Congress writing bills, you can work out a procedure for arriving at a bill. If it is not possible to have a Conference Committee meet, you could arrange for one or two representatives to meet with the opposite house.

Civics: grades 9-12, III B

Grades 9-12:  9
Have students write their final Journal entries in the computer lab and hand in all written work.   Grades 9-12: 10
Conclude the activity by leading discussion to summarize major points learned.

Civics: grades 9-12, III B




Mc Clenaghan, W. A., (1999) Magruder's American Government. Needham, Massachusetts: Prentice Hall.

World Wide Web Source:

U.S. Government Web Site. Available:

THOMAS -- U.S. Congress on the Internet. Available:

C-SPAN: 106th Congress. Available:

Infotrac. Available: (by subscription only)


“Capitol Hill,” (1993).  Amazing Media. Novato, California


“Powers of the Congress,” ABC News Interactive (1991) American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.


I grade written work the students write in preparing for their roles, their individual participation, and their journals. I also will administer a short written test.


John Gambs, Red Oak High School, Red Oak, Iowa


This activity is actually my unit on Congress. I spend a significant amount of time on each of the three branches of government and this activity comprises my Congressional unit. The activity will take approximately 2 weeks. Certain parts of the activity are reenacted. It should be fairly obvious where they fit in when you read the summary of the activity.


This is the second year I have used the activity. The most intriguing factor relates to student participation. Some of your best students don’t always perform as expected, while other students who don’t do as well on traditional tests, often perform very well.

I have also been surprised by the lack of computer skills by many of our high school seniors. Some of our students are experienced and extremely capable in all areas. Many, however, have not developed skills that most are all of them will find useful in the future. It shows that all curricular areas must take responsibility for teaching those skills.

Technology Resources:

I picked technology resources that served the purpose of the activity. You don’t need all of the resources to use the activity, but I believe they all enhance it. A computer lab is especially important, because all of the students have an opportunity to further develop research skills. There is also a great deal more information available on the Internet, than there would be in a high school library. The technology is an integral part of the activity, because it provides necessary information and because most students enjoy using it. The students also develop skills that most or all of them will find useful in the future. I chose to use our computer lab for journaling and researching over the Internet, video recorder, videotapes of a Congressional committee meeting, material from the student textbook, and a reading on the role of committees. This material was specifically chosen to meet the objectives mentioned above. The video recorder is used to increase the “reality” of the activity.  When they know they are being videotaped, the students feel more like real Senators and Representatives, and they try to make certain they do a credible job. We do all our research on the Internet. The other materials are designed to show the students how a real committee operates, and the importance of the committee process. I also use other materials, to supplement this activity. They can be used before or after the “committee activity” and include the CD-ROM “Capitol Hill”, textbook material, a PowerPoint presentation, and videotape of our Congressman in action. These latter materials take time beyond the 2 weeks mentioned above.  These materials deal with other aspects of Congress.

School Background Information:
Red Oak is a county seat town of about 6000 people. We have a number of small and medium sized factories and a large number of blue-collar workers. We have a mix of professional, retail, farm and factory workers, with significant numbers of families in all categories. Our 4-grade high school has approximately 400 students.  I use this activity with seniors and typically have 5 sections a year. We have 1-2% students with limited English proficiency.

Teaching Strategy:

I wanted an activity in which the students were active learners as much as possible. Most of the time the students are doing something, as opposed to more passive activities such as listening to a video or the teacher. We need to teach students to use technology in a variety of settings and for a variety of purposes. This activity requires students to use technology in a several ways (researching, writing, and journaling) that are in no sense artificial and that will be useful to them in the future. 

Technology as Facilitator of Quality Education Model Components Highlighted in This Activity

(Note: This is a unit plan that may cover several days to several weeks. Not all of the elements from the Technology as Facilitator of Quality Education Model that are described below will appear in the video clips used.)

The Principles of Learning are especially highlighted in the video. The video included the committee hearings and the press conferences. These particular activities were specifically chosen to fit in with the principles of Active InvolvementDirect ExperienceEnjoyable Setting, and Compelling Situation. It seems to me that the learning experience clearly declines in quality when any one of these components is not present. The video showed that the students considered it to be a Compelling Situation. This is partly explained by the fact that they were being videotaped as part of the activity, and that they and their peers in the other class would be looking at the tape later. The issue I used was minimum wage increase and students have no trouble immersing themselves in that issue, because they see its direct impact on them and on people they know. If students are actively involved they learn more. They had to find the information, and they had to process it. They had to arrive at a position on the issue, and they had to explain it to others. Many of them also had to defend their position on the issue. 

It became a Direct Experience, even though it’s impossible to replicate the situation of being a member of Congress. They found that the pressure of working under the watchful eye of the camera made it somewhat stressful, but they enjoyed the process.

The previous paragraphs are also describing certain aspects of Information Processing. This is certainly an important part of being a participant in a democracy and we can’t practice it too much. It is difficult to make voting choices, if you are incapable of absorbing and processing the information you receive. Most of the class had to demonstrate their Interpretation of the materials by communicating their position on the minimum wage issue. The video clips showing Presearch and Search are somewhat limited, but these two phases of the activity were important to the whole process. Once the students received their role in the activity, they seriously looked for information that would be useful to “Senator Harkin” or a low-income welfare recipient. The skills they develop during these phases are definitely life-long skills. Journaling is an important part of the process, because it helps students think about what they are doing and what they are learning. They also write a final journal, which summarizes their learning experience, and gives me a student perspective on the entire activity.

Student Characteristics:

All of the students that I have can participate in various ways. Some need more help than others in developing their positions and statements, but the some of the best thoughts have come from unexpected students. One of my students with some learning disabilities exhibited some very mature thinking as a member of the House of Representatives during the most recent class.

Evolution of the Activity:
This activity has not evolved as much as it has simply changed back and forth depending on the abilities and interests of the classes. The activity will be shaped in different ways from semester to semester by students and by the resources you discover. The talents and interests of your students change the activity each time.

(Learning activity format adapted from National Educational Technology Standards for Students Connecting Curriculum & Technology