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Lesson Idea: Tracing the Legislative Process

Overview: Students will use C-SPAN's Video Library to research and present to their peers legislation that has been enacted into public law. Students can share their presentations during class, or you may “flip the classroom” by assigning the student developed presentations for homework and following up with a class discussion.
Time Frame
Two 90 minute class periods or four 45 minute class periods
Students will
  • examine the steps in the legislative process
  • research key legislation and document the process by using video clips from the C-SPAN Video Library
  • identify and analyze more than one point of view about the legislation
  • create a presentation using video clips from C-SPAN's Video Library to teach the class about the key legislation

  • bill
  • Speaker of the House
  • majority leader
  • minority leader
  • majority whip
  • minority whip
  • committee chairs
  • standing committee
  • subcommittee
  • joint committee
  • select committee
  • conference committee
  • rules committee
  • roll call voting
  • electronic voting
1)    Set up: Divide students into groups of 3 or 4 and assign each group a different act to research. Some examples include the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990, Family and Medical Leave Act 1993, National Voter Registration Act 1993, Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act 1996, No Child Left Behind Act 2001, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act 2010. Explain to students that they are legislative staffers and their member of Congress wants a “brief” on the assigned legislation. The goal is for students to trace the legislative process including as many different points of view as possible to provide a complete picture of how the bill became a law.
Note: The C-SPAN Video Library includes footage dating back to 1987. 
2)    Background Information: Provide each group a large sheet of paper and tell them to draw a large circle and divide the circle into 5 sections. Explain to students that they will write a question based on the 5 Ws model (who, what, when, where, why) for each section on the circle about the act they have been assigned. Tell students to research and answer the student-generated questions on the large sheet of paper and write a summary of the historical context in which the legislation was proposed. Students can start their research by conducting an advanced search on the C-SPAN's Video Library website and watch a video(s) that provides information about the legislation. The teacher might look for a video(s) that shows the different perspectives on the legislation and assign the video to the group to answer their research questions.
3)    Assign Duties: After students have described the historical context, encourage them to assign duties for tracing the legislative process of the act and identifying 3-5 minute video clips to use for each step. Students can use the diagram in their textbooks for basic steps in the legislative process. For detailed information about the legislative process, students can visit How Laws are Made by John V. Sullivan, Parliamentarian, House of Representatives.
4)    Research: Provide students Tracing the Legislative Process graphic organizer to record notes and generate 2-3 discussion questions for each clip used in the presentation. Encourage students to visit the Library of Congress THOMAS website to skim the full text of the bill and record all congressional actions during the legislative process. You can also show students The Legislative Process: USA PATRIOT Act  PowerPoint created by C-SPAN Classroom as an example of a finished product.
Note: If for some reason video clips are not available for a step of the legislative process, students can refer to the THOMAS website and generate discussion questions based on the information found there.
5)    Presentation: Once groups have completed the research, they will put together the presentation with video clips to teach the rest of the class about the legislation.
Parameters for the presentation might include:
  • Two 3-5 minute video clips for each step of the legislative process
  • 3-5 video clips revealing legislative procedures
  • 2-3 discussion questions concerning for each clip
  • Presentation includes more than one point of view