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Teaching Guide

Teaching the Legislative Branch (Congress)

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The Legislative Branch, also known as Congress, is Latin for "most dysfunctional branch of the government." If your classroom is turning into a typical Congressional session, we can help you bring order to the floor.

In this guide you will find

  • lessons on interpreting the congressional membership profile and re-election rates.
  • activities analyzing political cartoons.
  • resources on the other branches of the government that Congress is supposed to work with: the executive and the judicial branch.

Unlike Congress, our teaching guide really works.

What's Inside Shmoop's Civics Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring civics to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 4-10 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

One theory of representation argues that Congress should be a mirror of the people—the membership of the House, in particular, should be a microcosm of the American public. Is it? In this exercise your students will answer this question by examining the profile of the 111th Congress.

  1. After introducing this theory of representation, work with your students to define the criteria that would measure the “mirror” like quality of Congress (age, gender, race, educational level, etc.). You might also want to develop some hypotheses over the composition of Congress and the extent to which it reflects the public.
  2. Next direct your students to this congressional membership profile prepared by the Congressional Research Office. Have them select and compile the most relevant data
  3. Next ask your students to compare their data on Congressional membership with data drawn from the United States Statistical Abstract. 
  4. Have them summarize their findings in a report. You can work with them to define the structure and content of this report. But the report should include some observations on under- and over-representation—that is which groups (defined by age, race, education-level, religion, etc.) are either over-represented or under-represented in Congress.

(Lesson aligned with CA 12th grade American government standards 12.6)

Instructions for Your Students

Many of the Constitution’s framers argued that the House of Representatives should be a mirror of the people—a sampling of the public that could reflect the views and experiences of the public at large. Is it? You will examine some statistics on Congressional membership and the American people in order to answer this question.

What do you expect to find? What sorts of people will be under-represented? What sorts will be over-represented?


Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

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