Lesson Plan: The Powers of Congress

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.

Representative King discussed Article I, Section I of the U.S. Constitution.


The legislative branch was created by Article I of the U.S. Constitution and consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Constitution granted the legislative branch many specific, or enumerated powers, such as enacting laws. In addition, throughout history, the powers of the legislative branch have increased with implied powers through the necessary and proper clause. In this lesson, students will learn about the powers of Congress, how they have evolved throughout history, and their impact on public policy.



    As a class, view the following video clips and then discuss the questions below.

    Video Clip: Creation of Congress (0:46)

    Video Clip: Differences between the House and Senate (3:43)

    • Where in the Constitution is the creation and powers of Congress found? Why is this significant?

    • According to Senator Mitch McConnell, what is the essential difference between the House and Senate?

    • Explain the effect of divided government on the work and relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches.

    Break students up into groups and have each group view the following video clips. Students should take notes using the handout provided, and then share their findings with the rest of the class.

    HANDOUT: The Powers of Congress Handout (Google Doc)

  • Video Clip: Powers of Congress (1:04)

    Senator Mike Lee discussed the powers of Congress, including enumerated and implied powers.

  • Video Clip: Enumerated and Implied Powers (2:00)

    Peter Sagal discussed the difference between enumerated and implied powers.

  • Video Clip: Congress and the Power of the Purse (0:52)

    Lee Casey discussed the concept of the "Power of the Purse" and the powers of the Congress.

  • Video Clip: Congressional War Powers (6:03)

    Senator Mike Lee explained the war powers that are given to Congress and the President. He discussed the issue of the war powers of the President and how much oversight Congress should have over Presidential war powers.

  • Video Clip: Congressional Earmarks (2:08)

    Stephen Dinan talked about the history of earmarks and how members of Congress use and negotiate special federal spending for their pet projects.

  • Video Clip: Checks and Balances Powers (1:49)

    Author Harlow Giles Unger discussed the importance of the system of checks and balances in the United States.


    After the students have watched each video and completed the chart, they should go to the C-SPAN Classroom Constitution Clips webpage here:

    Website: Constitution Clips

    Using the last page of the The Powers of Congress Handout, each group should find two examples of a congressional power in action. One should be an example of an enumerated power and the other an example of a power Congress uses as a check on another branch. Students should be prepared to share with the class how their chosen clip illustrates a power being carried out and its impact on public policy.


    As a class, view the following video clip and discuss the questions below.

    Video Clip: Improving Congressional Effectiveness (7:06)

    John Fortier talked about a Bipartisan Policy Center report on ways to improve congressional effectiveness. He discussed the number of days members of Congress actually spend in Washington, the legislative process, and the need for more bipartisan meetings.

    *Explain the three main recommendations of the Bipartisan Policy Center for improving congressional effectiveness.

    *Describe the shift to more centralized leadership in Congress.

    *Explain the increased role of committees in Congress and why the Bipartisan Policy Center believes it will improve congressional effectiveness.


    After viewing the video clips and reporting out to the entire class, have students write an essay (or similar culminating activity) that includes the following information. Students should cite specific examples from the videos and class discussion.

    • The powers and functions of Congress, including how enumerated and implied powers impact their lawmaking ability

    • Comparing the different powers of the House and Senate

    • How Congress can use its power to check other branches, as well as how other branches can check the powers of Congress

    • How the powers of Congress impact its effectiveness


  • Branches Of Government
  • Constitution
  • Enumerated Powers
  • House Of Representatives
  • Implied Powers
  • Necessary And Proper Clause
  • Pork Barrel Spending
  • Power Of The Purse
  • Senate
  • Separation Of Powers


Constitutional FoundationLegislative Branch


Middle SchoolHigh School