Lesson Plan: The Iron Triangle

Iron triangle

Iron triangle


The iron triangle is a term used by political scientists to describe the policy-making relationship among the congressional committees, federal bureaucratic agencies and interest groups. The military-industrial complex is a prime example. This lesson is designed to give students insight into the policy-making process and think critically about the influence of non-elected officials.


  • Materials:

    1. Textbook.
    2. Computers (one per group).
    3. Projection screen.
    4. The Iron Triangle Handout (Google Doc)
  • STEP 1.

    Assign background reading from your textbook, or another appropriate source, for the previous night’s homework.

  • STEP 2.

    At the beginning of the class, view the following C-SPAN video clip and lead students in a lecture/discussion on the iron triangle.

    The Iron Triangle (0:59) High school government teachers Andrew Conneen and Daniel Larsen discuss the makeup of the Iron Triangle.

  • STEP 3.

    Show students the C-SPAN video clips below illustrating the iron triangle of the military-industrial complex.

  • STEP 4.

    Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 students each.

  • STEP 5.

    Model and distribute the Iron Triangle Handout to each group.

  • STEP 6.

    Instruct each group to research a specific iron triangle relationship using the C-SPAN Video Library. Some examples may include Social Security, Agriculture, Education, Gun Laws, and Banking Regulations.

  • STEP 7.

    Students will complete the handout and, using the guiding questions included below, present their findings to the class in the form of an oral presentation.

  • Culminating Questions:

    1. What is the iron triangle?
    2. What role does each part of the triangle play in the policy-making process?
    3. What does each side receive for participating in the iron triangle?
    4. What does each side give for participating in the iron triangle?

Additional Resource


  • Client Politics
  • Iron Triangle
  • Issue Network
  • Military-industrial Complex
  • Public Policy
  • Revolving Door
  • Rider(s)


Bureaucracy & RegulationInterest Groups & Lobbying


Middle SchoolHigh School