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.
- Reviewing the Preamble with Primary Sources
Students review the Preamble of the United States Constitution by defining its phrases and matching them to primary source documents.
- Studying the Constitution using Primary Sources
Students use primary sources to analyze the plan for the structure and powers of government embodied in the Constitution.
- Reviewing the Constitution’s Big Ideas with Primary Sources
Students analyze clauses from the Constitution of the United States and analyze political cartoons to reinforce their understanding of the major principles of government embodied in the Constitution.
- 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.
- Inaugurating the Republic: Congress and George Washington's First Inaugural Address
Students analyze excerpts from President George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, translate them into modern speech, and derive lessons from them about civic life in a republic.
- 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 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.
- Discussing Equality: Who is Included within the Phrase “We the People”
Students analyze primary sources to identify groups of Americans granted or denied equal rights and equal status in society at various points in history.
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.
- Congress Creates the Federal Court System
Students analyze the Judiciary Act of 1789 to learn the origin of the Federal court system.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Rise of the Two-Party System: A Revolution in American Politics, 1824-1840
Students study the emergence of the two-party system in the United States between 1824 and 1840.
- Congress Debates the Fate of the Nation: Analyzing the Wilmot Proviso and President Polk's 1848 Map
Students study the issue of sectionalism after the war with Mexico by studying primary sources.
- 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)
- Reviewing the Civil War and Reconstruction
Students analyze primary sources to review major issues related to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights.
- 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 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.
- Studying U.S. Foreign Policy through Political Cartoons, 1898 - 1940
Students analyze political cartoons drawn by Clifford K. Berryman between 1898 and 1948 to learn about topics and major events in U.S. foreign policy.
- Studying 4 Major Issues of the Post-World War I and 1920s Era with Primary Sources
Students analyze primary source documents from the National Archives and political cartoons drawn by Clifford K. Berryman to learn about topics and major events in U.S. History from 1919 - 1930.
- 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.
- Congress Investigates: The Senate Investigation of the Stock Exchange during the Great Depression (Pecora Investigation)
Students learn about Congress’ power to investigate by reading a brief summary of the Pecora Investigation. They will also learn about Great-Depression-era public opinion of Wall Street abuses and increased government regulation by analyzing examples of correspondence received by the Committee.
The New Deal to Today (1933 - Present)
- Seeing the Big Picture: U.S. Foreign Policy 1920-2020
Students analyze primary source documents and a timeline of foreign affairs and domestic events to understand the role of U.S. foreign policy in world events and its impact on events in the U.S.
- Launching the New Deal: FDR and Congress Respond to the Great Depression
Students use primary sources to examining how President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress responded to the Great Depression, and how the role of the Federal government changed as a result of the New Deal.
- Reviewing Major Topics in U.S. History from 1940 – 1963 with Political Cartoons
Students analyze political cartoons by Clifford and Jim Berryman to review seven major topics in U.S. History from 1940 to 1963.
- The Impact of Racial Discrimination on Black American Lives in the Jim Crow Era (1944 – 1960)
Students analyze primary source documents to assess the impact of legalized racial segregation on the lives of Black Americans from 1944 – 1960.
- 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.
- From the Cold War to Camp David: Reviewing U.S. Foreign Policy in Post-World War II Era (1948 – 1979)
Students analyze primary source documents to review four major topics in U.S. History from 1948 - 1979.
- Congress Investigates: The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency Investigates Comic Books in the 1950s
Students learn about 1950s fears of juvenile delinquency and Congress’s power to investigate by reviewing evidence considered by the subcommittee and analyzing a summary of the investigation.
- Congress Protects the Right to Vote: The Voting Rights Act of 1965
Students use 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.
- The Great Society: Extending the New Deal?
Students analyze historical information to compare and contrast the New Deal and the Great Society.
- 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.
- Reviewing Big Civics Ideas through Political Cartoons
Students analyze political cartoons drawn by Clifford K. Berryman between 1898 and 1948 to learn about the Constitution and constitutional institutions of government and politics.
- Studying U.S. Elections with Political Cartoons
Students analyze historic political cartoons to learn about timeless features of elections within the two-party system.
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.