Each year students across the United States learn about their states, and the governments that are responsible for managing the laws and safety of their people. Our governing bodies which in almost all states are bicameral, except one. ( Whats up Nebraska?) Most of us study government around the first of the year. Many legislatures convene then and are in session just after. This year because of scheduling, we didn’t tackle state government until the end of this year. So, this week I want to share a lesson that I originally snagged from the Washington State Legislature on the process of creating a Bill. It is called The Perfect Pizza, and is a wonderful way for students to experience major concepts of government. I pick up the lesson after having gone through the system of checks and balances and discussed creation of Bills and passage into law(School House Rock remains the BEST way to teach this to students.)
This is how I would teach it:
Today we are going to explore the process for creating a Bill in our state.
Turn and talk to a partner about how you think a Bill becomes a law.
Ok great. Now grab a sticky note and write down one thing involved with Bills becoming a law.
While they do that I write the following on the board:
- The People
Okay. Now place your stickies under the word you feel like it most relates to.
Based on what you have taught this far responses could be:
- written by a citizen
- introduced by senator/house member
- sent to committee
- never leaves committee
- amendments are added
- governor signs
- governor vetoes
- debate happens
- Bill is read
- Bill is debated
- Bill is changed
This is pretty representative of most state’s law making process.
After the review I place the students in small groups. At first they are going to simulate working on writing a law. They have been submitted a basic idea (by many different citizen groups) for a state pizza. They will work in the group to create a single bill and will have criteria to do so.
Each group gets a summary card with a run down on all the requests from citizens for a state pizza.
a sample card could say:
Walla- Walla Onions, Salmon, Lavender oil, apples, strawberries, Geoduck, sausage,
Thick, thin, hand tossed, gluten-free, whole wheat
43 slices, 49 slices. In squares, in triangles.
Students are then given one of these handouts.
They are then tasked with, as a group, creating a law that best represents the wishes of the citizens.
In this process your students will argue and debate. I circulate and let them go for a while. Most groups have some trouble getting started and I ask:
Q: When we are in groups, what helps us stay organized and have good conversations?
A: We usually decide group roles including a facilitator.
I let them arrange roles. I suggest they get a recorder, and a reader and they fall into their roles. The handout provides a template bill that describes the pizza and mimics the language of a Bill.
The kids engage in the civic practices of:
- discussing and debating ideas that apply to larger groups
- considering other opinions other than yours
- Tackling the idea of creating rules or laws that will affect many, even those that do not agree with it.
Take look at this student example
Students also have to come up with a statement with three supporting reasons to share with a mock legislature meeting.
I have kids create posters to represent their proposed bill. I then let them present to the whole class. From here you can do many things:
- Allow Bills to be amended.
- Turn kids loose to try to get together and develop compromises with other groups to create pass their bills.
- Create blocks to prevent passage of some pizzas.
But I would keep it simple: let the kids do a silent vote on the best pizza. It keeps from the real nastiness of politics being played out in the classroom. Not that you don’t want to teach them that as well, but that’s for another lesson!
This process is not so much mimicking the exact progress of Bill to law. I am really looking for students just to appreciate the difficult task of being both a citizen and an elected official. It provides a lot of opportunity for discussion and reflection on the overall process. I didn’t even get into the veto process, which in our state, includes line items. But you can adapt it to a host of teaching points.