Lesson Plan: Introduction to Congressional Committees

Congressional Committees

High school government teachers Andrew Conneen and Daniel Larsen discuss committees in the House and Senate, including those unique to each chamber, as well as the difference between standing and conference committees.

Description

Congressional Committees play an important role in the legislative process. It is where hearings are conducted to consider issues that are affecting the country and laws that impact us are shaped. Members of Congress are instrumental in serving on these committees. After each Congressional election, new members are assigned to committees by their related parties. In this lesson, students will be introduced to committees in Congress.

Procedures

  • SET-UP:

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos and websites in the lesson, along with the related handout, and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google document for students to complete through this lesson:

    HANDOUT: Congressional Committees

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.

  • WARM-UP:

    As a class, have students brainstorm their ideas of what the term "committee" means. Some questions to consider are:

    • What is a committee?

    • How are they formed?

    • Who serves on a committee?

    • What is the purpose of a committee?

    • Students can share their thoughts through in-person or video discussion, or in a chat feature online.
  • Next, have students click on the link below and look up the following terms related to committees in the U.S. Congress. They should complete the accompanying chart on their handout with the definitions. Discuss the meanings of the terms as a class to clear up any misconceptions.

    Glossary (U.S. Senate)

    • Conference Committee

    • Joint Committee

    • Select Committee

    • Standing Committee
  • INTRODUCTION:

    Ask students to view the following two video clips and respond to the questions on their handout for additional information on committees.

    Video Clip 1: Congressional Committees (1:12)

    • Explain the difference between a standing committee and a conference committee.

    • Define the role of the Rules Committee.

    • Define the role of the Ways and Means Committee.
  • Video Clip 2: History of Congressional Select Committees (5:47)

    • Explain the roles and differences between a standing committee and a select committee.

    • Describe how select committees are created and funded.

    • How much authority do select committees have? Explain the authority of the select committee on Benghazi as an example.

    • What happens if one party decides not to participate in a select committee? Explain the importance of participation based on the examples cited.

    • What is the party makeup of the Benghazi select committee? Describe the historic makeup of the different types of congressional committees. Do you agree with this structure? Explain.
  • EXPLORATION:

    Have students use the link below to compare committees in both chambers. They should complete the chart on the handout to detail the committees in each chamber and respond to the related questions.

    Congressional Committees (Congress.gov)

    • Evaluate the list of committees in both chambers.

    • Discuss the similarities and differences.

    • Why do you think the joint committees are designed to have members from each body?
  • Next, have students choose a committee they would like to explore either in the Senate or House of Representatives using the resources below to complete the chart on their handout.

    SENATE:

    Using the website below, students will choose a committee, click on it, go to the “About” page and read about it. Then, have them respond to the question on their handout, "What is the purpose of this committee?"

    Senate Committees Website

    Next, they will click on the following link to access committee hearings.

    C-SPAN's Congressional Chronicle: Senate Committees

    • From the list, students will click on the committee they have selected to go to the related page. Then, choose a topic that interests them and click on the video.

    • They can use the POINTS OF INTEREST gold star symbol if it is available to take them to a particular point in the hearing. Click on the gold star and listen to that portion of the hearing. Summarize what was discussed.

    • They can also use the "filter by speaker" search under the video by clicking on the drop-down arrow and selecting a particular member of Congress to search for their remarks. Click on the arrow to view the related video. Summarize what was discussed.
  • HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:

    Using the website below, students will choose a committee, click on it, go to the “About” page and read about it. Then, have them respond to the question on their handout, "What is the purpose of this committee?"

    House of Representatives Committees Website

    Next, they will click on the following link to access committee hearings.

    C-SPAN's Congressional Chronicle: House of Representatives Committees

    • From the list, students will click on the committee they have selected to go to the related page. Then, choose a topic that interests them and click on the video.

    • They can use the POINTS OF INTEREST gold star symbol if it is available to take them to a particular point in the hearing. Click on the gold star and listen to that portion of the hearing. Summarize what was discussed.

    • They can also use the "filter by speaker" search under the video by clicking on the drop-down arrow and selecting a particular member of Congress to search for their remarks. Click on the arrow to view the related video. Summarize what was discussed.
  • EVALUATION:

    Students should save and submit their work to you when they have completed it.

    Engage in class discussion. Students can share:

    • What is the purpose of the committee they chose?

    • What issue was discussed in the hearing they viewed?

    • How is that issue affecting the country?

    • What is their position on the issue?

    • What action would they like to see Congress take regarding this issue?
  • EXTENSION ACTIVITIES:

    Students can take different sides on a issue, view videos from the related committees and present their positions on it.

    Congressional Chronicle: Senate Committees

    Congressional Chronicle: House of Representatives Committees

  • Students can research the committees on which their members of Congress serve:

    C-SPAN's Congressional Chronicle: Senate

    • From the drop-down arrow, they select their state to view their senators.

    • They can click on the senator they would like to learn about to go to their respective page.

    • Then scroll down to the “Committees” section. Students can select a committee that is listed, click on the blue highlighted text and choose a hearing they would like to view, select that person from the drop-down search tab to get their senator's perspective on it.

    • They can then submit a response to you expressing their opinion on whether they agree or disagree.
  • C-SPAN's Congressional Chronicle: House of Representatives

    • From the drop-down arrow, they select their state to view their representatives.

    • They can click on the member they would like to learn about to go to their respective page.

    • Then scroll down to the “Committees” section. Students can select a committee that is listed, click on the blue highlighted text and choose a hearing they would like to view, select that person from the drop-down search tab to get their member's perspective on it.

    • They can then submit a response to you expressing their opinion on whether they agree or disagree.

Additional Resources

Vocabulary

  • Agenda
  • Floor Debates
  • Legislative Process
  • Polarization
  • Resolution
  • Subpoena
  • Unprecedented

Topics

Legislative Branch

Grades

High SchoolUniversity