Tips to Engage Students About the Concept of Congressional Committees

Author: Andrew Crocker (Instructor, Ozarks Technical Community College)

My opinion is that Congress is one the most important conversations our students have every year about American government.
It’s where all the political rubber hits. We take literally everything that we know about politics, civil rights, and interest groups. Congress has the power to change it all.
In this metaphorical cell of political activities, there is a veritable mitochondrion which takes policy input and produces tangible bills. These bills contain the final changes, additions, and subtractions to our laws. They are where the lawmaking work really gets done.
They have the ability to connect students to the world they were introduced to in any PLS 101 class. Here are some tips to get students interested in the topic of congressional committees.
Tip 1: Choose a committee.
Give your students a list of all the congressional committees within the United States Congress. They can choose any committee as long as it is a standing committee. They tend to be more standard.
Tip 2: Do your research.
Ask students to go to the website of their chosen committee. Each committee has its own website that contains all information you need about them.
If your student chooses to join the House Natural Resources committee, their website is a great place to start looking for information.
Tip 3: Write a summary of the Committee.
Ask your students to write a brief paper about their chosen committee. You can decide the format.
They can use the website to provide an accessible (and sometimes dense) rundown in that paper.
Questions to be considered:
What is the website of the committee saying about the specialties of the committee?
Who is the leader of the committee?
What pieces of legislation are the committee currently working on?
What subcommittees does the committee have, if any? And what are they specialized in?
Another resource is that all standing committees have social networking accounts. Ask your students to log in to these accounts and then report back.
All of these things serve a common purpose: to make congressional committees tangible, and therefore more immediate. The concept is easier to grasp for students when it is more relatable and less technical.
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