The Legislative Process
"All Legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."
( Article I, Section 1, of the United States Constitution)
Students will analyze documents created by Congress to identify steps in the legislative process.
This lesson uses congressional documents to explain the legislative process. Each document illustrates a specific step as a bill moves forward through Congress. By analyzing these historic records students will be able to understand and explain what happens as a bill becomes a law.
How are laws made?
18 document facsimiles large file or small file
Congress at Work: The Legislative Process chart
The Constitution of the United States
Recommended Grade Levels:
Grades 7 – 12
U.S. Government; Civics
Topics included in this lesson:
Preparing the Materials
- Print the following items before starting the lesson:
- 1 large version of the Legislative Process Game Board
- 1 set of the 18 Document Facsimiles
- 1 copy of the Process Cards (cut them out)
- 1 copy of the 18 Mini Document Facsimiles (cut them out)
- Print the following items for each group:
- 1 small version of the Legislative Process Game Board
- 1 copy of the Process Cards (do not cut out)
- 1 copy of Worksheet 1
Introduce the Legislative Process and Document Analysis
Review the basic steps of the legislative process with students using textbooks or the overview available from C-SPAN. Note: If students are not familiar with analyzing primary source documents, review this as well. For tips on working with primary source documents see the National Archives Educators' Toolbox.
Define the Steps of the Legislative Process
- Divide students into small groups of approximately 3 to 5 students, and distribute to each group one copy of the small Legislative Process Game Board, Process Cards, and Worksheet 1.
- Instruct the students to match the letter of each Process step to the appropriate step on the Game Board and record their answers on Worksheet 1.
- Place the large version of the Legislative Process Game Board on a flat surface in a visible place.
- Randomly distribute the cut out Process Cards among the groups in equal number.
- Instruct each group to place their assigned Process Cards in the appropriate places on the Game Board. Note: It is to be expected that the class will place more than one card on some spots and leave others empty.
- Instruct the class to discuss and revise the placements to end up with one card on each step.
- Review the placements with the class. Correct and explain any misplacements. Instruct students to revise (if necessary) their responses on Worksheet 1 to reflect the correct order of the legislative process steps.
3. Demonstrate the Legislative Process in Action
- Randomly distribute the 18 Document Facsimiles and their corresponding Mini versions among the groups in equal number.
- Instruct the students to analyze their documents and match each to the appropriate step of the Legislative Process Game Board. Instruct them to record their answers on Worksheet 1.
- When each group has finished, instruct the groups to place their Mini Document Facsimiles at the appropriate process step on the large version of the Game Board. Note: It is to be expected that the groups will place more than one document on some spots and leave others empty.
- Instruct the class to discuss and revise the placements to end up with one document on each step. Note: Share or project the full versions of any documents in question as groups explain their placements.
- Review the placements with the class. Correct and explain any misplacements. Instruct students to revise their responses on Worksheet 1 to reflect the correct placement of documents in the legislative process.
Conduct a class discussion about the nature of the legislative process. The discussion could include these questions:
- 3-6% of bills introduced in Congress become law. Is this passage rate good or bad? Why?
- Members of Congress know that a bill they introduce has a very small chance of passing. Why do they do it anyway? What purpose is served by introducing a bill?
- To what extent is each step of the process an opportunity for elected officials to represent the interests of their constituents?
- How does the legislative process enable the House and Senate to test ideas before they become law?
- How does the process by which legislation is made affect its outcome?
- What do the documents studied in this lesson show about how citizens can affect the legislative process?
- What do you think the public does not know but should learn about how Congress works?
- What features of the legislative process do you think should be preserved? What features should be changed?
- In what way does understanding the legislative process factor into voters' opinions in favor of or against incumbent candidates?
5. Extend the Lesson
To extend the lesson, have students explore the historical background of one of the documents used in this lesson. Students can investigate the historical context and events that led to the legislation being proposed or find out more about which part of the legislative action the document represents. Alternately, students can learn more about Congress as a representative institution by further researching the step of the process illustrated by the documents. Document Source Citations can be used to identify the documents used in this lesson.
NOTE: This lesson was revised in 2018. Download the original lesson.
Did you like this lesson? Educators who used this lesson also viewed:
- 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.
Legislative Process lesson in DocsTeach from the National Archives
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