Teaching the Legislative Process with Primary Sources Using Congress.gov

This post is by Jen Reidel, the 2019-2020 Library of Congress Civics Teacher in Residence.

As a Civics teacher, I know the value of understanding the legislative process, but when I facilitate a bill-making simulation in my Civics and Law classes, I notice that students often find the process of how a bill becomes a law removed from, and irrelevant to, their lives.

One tool to make the process more engaging is to use the Library of Congress’ official site for federal legislative information, Congress.gov. The website offers a variety of information to support student learning. The Legislative Process section provides nine short videos detailing specific aspects of how a bill becomes law. Teachers might consider showing all or selected videos to acquaint students with the legislative process, using a graphic organizer for students to record key information from each video.

In conjunction with watching videos on Congress.gov, students can explore the status of current and recent legislation. Direct students to the main page. There, they can apply the knowledge highlighted in the Legislative Process videos to research specific legislation.

Before students individually research current bills, consider brainstorming with students possible topics of bills. In addition, to determine what topics are currently on the radar of legislators and fellow Americans, students can review the “Most-Viewed Bills/Top 10.”

Using the class brainstormed list, students can type a topic in the search bar to evaluate bills or laws relating to that issue. Students can also locate bills based on their number, chamber of origin, or subject. For example, if a student searched for bills relating to STEM education, they would find that the first bill listed in the search became law (S.737)-Building Blocks of STEM Act. By linking to additional information regarding S.737, students can read its summary, text, actions, titles, amendments, cosponsors, committees, and related bills. Teachers might ask students to evaluate the summary and wording of the bill to determine what it allows and prohibits, and to list questions they have about the legislation including its cost, necessity, and clarity. In addition, students could also predict what groups might oppose or support the law.

Educators could facilitate a class discussion after students have researched to share out their findings and learnings regarding new and proposed legislation. Furthermore, after analyzing the content of the law, students could use its format as a guide for bills they create to discuss in their law making simulation.  As an extension activity, students could locate contact information on Congress.gov and write their Senator or Representative a letter outlining the student’s views relating to specific legislation. Congress.gov can be used many ways to support learning about Congress and the functions of the legislative branch. Let us know if you use any of the activities mentioned or some variation with your students.

 

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