Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover both questions 19 and 20
Q19: What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
A. The Supreme Court and the President
B. The President and the Senate
C. The Senate and the House of Representatives
D. The Supreme Court and the House of Representatives
Q20: Which is not a power of the U.S. Congress?
A. Write laws
B. Declare war
C. Choose state governors
D. Make the federal budget
According to Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language  the legislature is as “[t]he body…. in a state or kingdom, invested with power to make and repeal laws, [which in] the legislatures of most of the states in America . . . consist of two houses or branches.”
The legislative branch of the United States was established by Article I of the Constitution. Like other legislatures, its power and design follow from the nature of the society it governs. In the United States, the legislature is divided into two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives.
This is called a bicameral legislature, meaning that there are two houses within it. (Having only one house, as some states have done in history, is called a unicameral legislature). The creation of two houses ensured that any bill must be approved by two separate groups of elected officials examining it before it can become law. It also allowed the framers to design the characteristics of the two houses in different ways, so that the two houses would have different features and be more likely to produce good government together—with the Senate a more stable, deliberative, and knowledgeable body, and the House a more responsive one.
The Constitution’s bicameral system further represented a compromise between those who argued federal representation should be based solely on population and those who feared this would erode the power and sovereignty of the states, with a few large states dominating the rest.
As James Madison explained in Federalist 39, the compromise recognized the mixed nature of the Union as both semi-federal and semi-national. The Senate is made of two senators from each state, giving each state an equal voice in one house. This serves to protect federalism, protecting the rights of the states (and the people, in limiting federal authority and leaving most power with the states). The other chamber, the House of Representatives, would more directly represent the people and, by virtue of their shorter terms, popular opinion.
Although there are several distinct responsibilities for each house of Congress, together they wield some of the most important powers in government: they write laws, make the federal budget (meaning both taxing and spending), and declare war.
It’s sometimes easy to assume that we know all that Congress does. The truth is, however, that the responsibilities involved go beyond what we hear about in the daily news. This activity will give the students a chance to think about and discuss the tasks that face everyone who is elected to Congress.
- Provide each student/pair with a copy of Writing Job Descriptions.
- Provide each student/pair with a copy of The Legislative Branch.
- Print a copy of the answer key.
- Provide each student/pair with a blank piece of paper, either an 8x10 or an 8x14.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes an answer key.
- Assign the students to work individually or in pairs.
- If assigning pairs: group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair students who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Explain to the students that they are going to create a job description for congressional representatives.
- Provide the students with the necessary materials.
- Use your discretion when determining the size of the paper. An 8x10 works as well as an 8x14. It depends on whether or not you want the students to present their work or if you wish to hang it up for display.
- Circulate throughout the room to assist the students as they work.
- If you wish, invite students to share their job descriptions and why they listed the responsibilities that they did. Use this as an opportunity to talk about the different responsibilities of congressional representatives.
Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting.
- The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
- The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events, and historical events.
The Founding Fathers created a bicameral legislature in their quest to represent both the people and the states as fairly as possible. The Constitution assigns different responsibilities to each house.
Think about what you already know in terms of the legislative branch. What are the responsibilities of those we elect to the House and to the Senate? What do you know from your own experience with your representatives? How do they get involved with the people they represent?
What if there was just one house within the legislative branch rather than two? How would this affect the way that decisions are made? How would it affect the way the government operates? Think about current events relating to the law, how would these events change if we had a unicameral legislature?