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Congress in the 20th and 21st Centuries

125 min


  • Students will analyze twentieth and twenty-first century reforms of Congress.
  • Students will analyze the difference between constitutional reforms and the reforming of congressional rules.
  • Students will assess the arguments for and against congressional reforms.
  • Students will analyze the effects and significance of these reforms on Congress.

  • Reform
  • Progressivism
  • Vetting
  • Revolt
  • Transformative
  • Reins
  • Seniority
  • Deliberative
  • Interpose
  • Impetuous
  • Impartial
  • Coopted
  • Privileged
  • Coincide
  • Democratize
  • Electoral
  • Filibuster
  • Procedural
  • Coalition
  • Contemptible
  • Cloture
  • “Lame duck”
  • Antiquated

  1. When students arrive in class, pass out Handout B: Critical Reading Graphic Organizer.
  2. Have students complete the handout individually or in groups. Then discuss the answers as a class.

Activity I » 50 minutes

  1. Divide the class in half.
  2. Distribute Handout C: The Indirectly Elected Senate, to one half of the class. Have them read the quotes and answer the questions at the bottom of the page.
  3. Distribute Handout D: The Directly Elected Senate, to the other half of the class. Have them read the quotes and answer questions at the bottom of the page.
  4. Now, switch the sides. Have those who first completed Handout C read Handout D and have those who read Handout D complete Handout C, and answer the questions at the bottom of the page.
  5. Once both sides have completed the handouts, pass out Handout E: The Seventeenth Amendment Class Discussion, and conduct a Socratic discussion with your class.

Activity II » 30 minutes in class, 30 minutes homework

  1. Distribute Handout F: Filibuster to the class.
  2. Distribute the two articles on Handout F or read them together as a class.
  3. Have your students complete the critical reading questions.
  4. As a class, discuss how political views on filibusters change over time.
  5. Have students write letters to the editor outlining their positions regarding a hypothetical controversy explained on Handout F.

  1. Distribute Handout G: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
  2. Have your students watch the filibuster clip from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. ( and lead your class in a discussion about the themes in the clip.
  3. After the discussion, have students reassess the letters to the editor that they wrote at the end of Handout F. Did their position change or did it stay the same? Take a class vote to determine the outcomes.

Student Handouts

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