The Center for Legislative Archives—part of the National Archives—maintains some of the most historically valuable documents created by the federal government: the records of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Educators can us these historical documents to teach about representative democracy, how Congress works, and the important role Congress has played throughout American history.
eBooks and Mobile Apps
These digital tools have been created to compliment our lesson material, and can be used both inside and outside of the classroom.
- America and the World: Foreign Affairs in Political Cartoons, 1898–1940
This draft version of
America and the Worldis designed to teach students about United States history through the analysis of political cartoons.
- Congress Creates the Bill of Rights
Congress Creates the Bill of Rights consists of three elements: an eBook, a mobile app for tablets, and online resources for teachers and students. Each provides a distinct way of exploring how the First Congress proposed amendments to the Constitution in 1789.
- Representing Congress: Clifford K. Berryman's Political Cartoons
Representing Congress is an eBook which presents a selection of political cartoons and learning resources to engage students in a discussion of what Congress is, how it works, and what it does. Use the eBook in your classroom with our lesson, Congress Represented in Political Cartoons.
DocsTeach: Teaching with the Records of Congress
DocsTeach is the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives. The Centers's special DocsTeach page will help students learn about Congress and its role in American history.
These lesson plans are designed to assist teachers with using primary source materials to integrate Congress into history, government and civics classes. They are suitable for junior high and high school students.
Fundamental Principles of Government
- Teaching Six Big Ideas in the Constitution
Students engage in a study of the U.S. Constitution and the significance of six big ideas contained in it: limited government; republicanism; checks and balances; federalism; separation of powers; and popular sovereignty.
- Constitution Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons
Students analyze political cartoons to learn about the outline and structure of the Constitution, as well as the content of many of its clauses.
- Congress Creates the Bill of Rights: Completing the Constitution
These activities present questions, lesson ideas, and supporting resources selected to facilitate learning with the app and eBook, Congress Creates the Bill of Rights.
- Congress and the Bill of Rights in History and Today
Students use primary sources to learn how the First Congress created the Bill of Rights, and the essential role James Madison played in that process.
- Congress, the President, and the War Powers
Students explore the implementation of the war-making power from the first declared war under the Constitution—the War of 1812—to the Iraq War.
- Understanding Federalism
Students explore five aspects of federalism by completing the activities in this lesson.
Congress in History
- 1812: Congress's First Declaration of War Under the Constitution
Students examine primary sources to analyze the reasons in support of and opposed to going to war against Great Britain in 1812.
- Congress Debates the Fate of the Nation: Analyzing the Wilmot Proviso & President Polk's 1848 Map
Students will study the issue of sectionalism after the war with Mexico by studying primary sources.
- Was Reconstruction a Revolution?
Students examine primary sources from the Reconstruction era to determine whether the Reconstruction period of American history should or should not be viewed as a revolution.
- Congress and Harriet Tubman's Claim for a Pension
Students explore records from the U.S. House of Representatives to discover the story of Harriet Tubman’s Civil War service to the government and her petition to Congress for compensation.
- Congress Celebrates the Industrial Revolution
Students will study the impact of the Industrial Revolution by analyzing nineteenth-century depictions of technological innovation.
- Exploring the Western Frontier with the Records of Congress
Students use primary sources to investigate whether the frontier shaped America or if America—through Congress—shaped the Western frontier.
- Hetch Hetchy: Congress and the Environment
Students use primary sources to study the Hetch Hetchy Valley environmental debate in Congress, and analyze how those positions inform today’s environmental debates.
- Kids at Work: Congress and Child Labor
Students analyze petitions and letters sent to Congress to discuss whether Congress should change regulating child labor from a state to a Federal responsibility.
- Woman’s Place in America: Congress and Woman Suffrage
Students explore petitions, correspondence, and legislative records sent to Congress as it debated suffrage prior to passage of the 19th Amendment.
- Congress Protects the Right to Vote: The Voting Rights Act of 1965
Students uses primary sources from the House Committee on the Judiciary to explore the constitutional issues that the committee encountered as it deliberated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Congress, the Great Society, and Today
Students use primary sources from an online exhibit to study legislation passed in response to President Lyndon Baines Johnson's call for America to become a "Great Society."
How Congress Works
- The Presidential Veto and Congressional Veto Override Process
Students use primary sources to illustrate the veto and veto override process.
- The Legislative Process
Students analyze primary sources to learn the process of a bill becoming a law.
- The Legislative Race
Students explore a simplified version of the legislative process in the U.S. Congress
- What Congress Does and Why it Matters
Students use primary sources to learn the concepts of representation, separation of powers, and the constitutional role of Congress.
- Congress Represented in Political Cartoons
Students analyze political cartoons drawn between 1898 and 1948 to learn about Congress and its constitutional role in government.