Legislative Branch

Lesson Plans

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.
  • Congress and Civility by Design
    Students study the congressional process and analyze the rules of debate from the First Congress to shows how civility played a central role in its actions.

Congress in History

The Constitution through the Civil War (1789 - 1864)

  • Inside the First Congress: Debating the Bill of Rights
    Students contrast selected proposals from state ratifying conventions with amendments as proposed in the House by James Madison and with amendments as sent to the states for ratification to better understand the Bill of Rights and the debate that shaped it.
  • Petitions to Congress: Grassroots Democracy, 1800–1850
    Students analyze 19th-century petitions to Congress to identify the issues that people petitioned about, place the petitions in the context of their time, and understand how everyday people lobbied Congress to influence action by the government and shape the course of history.
  • In Their Own Words: Women's Petitions to Congress (1830 - 1971)
    Students analyze women's petitions to Congress from five different eras to identify the issues women petitioned about, place the petitions in the context of their time, and understand how women have used the First Amendment right to petition to make their voices heard.

Reconstruction through the Great Depression (1864 - 1933)

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Congress and the Money Trust
    Students study key evidence from the Progressive Era's Pujo Committee investigation of the Money Trust that led Congress to pass the Clayton Anti-trust Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, and the Federal Reserve Act.

The New Deal to Today (1933 - Present)

  • The Cold War in Political Cartoons, 1946 - 1963
    Students analyze political cartoons from the Cold War Era to learn about five important issues and to understand the relationship of the United States to the world in this era of fundamental changes in foreign policy.
  • 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 Legislative Race
    Students explore a simplified version of the legislative process in the U.S. Congress

Visit the National Archives without leaving your classroom! Our free, interactive programs feature primary sources from our holdings. Each program aligns with National Social Studies Standards and Common Core State Standards. We also provide teacher guides with pre- and post-program lessons.

We Rule: Civics for All of US is a new education initiative from the National Archives that promotes civic literacy and engagement. Learn more about these K-5 civics distance learning programs available by request.