Stepping Inside the Flowchart: How Does a Bill Become a Law?

Sylvia Kniest
Edited by Rachel Hughes and Stephanie Nardei

Time: 4 class periods
create cards on steps in the lawmaking process and copy the first 2-3 pages of any energy bill from http://thomas.loc.gov/
Materials: cards on steps in the lawmaking process
energy bill on energy policy
“ Government 101: How a Bill Becomes a Law” from website listed in resource website list.
Internet access


Students explore the steps a bill must pass through to become a law and gain greater understanding of the complexities. This lesson guides students step-by-step on how a bill becomes a law by discussing its’ parts, and then lecturing on the powers and duties of the floor leaders and committee chairs.
Parts 1and 2 on “How a Bill Becomes a Law” will take two class periods.
Part 3 requires one class period in the computer lab.

Students will be able to:
1. List the steps of how a bill becomes a law.
2. Explain why most bills never get passed.
3. Identify the individuals who participate in the lawmaking process.
4. Identify the main components of a bill.

National Social Studies Standard
IIII-E. How does the American political system provide for choice and opportunities for participation?
III-B. How is the national government organized and what does it do?

Teacher Background
The websites listed below will provide background information for the lectures and discussions. Teacher will work with class in lesson 1 to create a flowchart on the board or overhead that lists the steps in how a bill becomes a law.

Resource Websites
http://www.kannerandassoc.com/108th%20Congress%20Senate/S366.html: for copy of an energy bill
http://thomas.loc.gov/: Congress website for bills and committees for lessons 1 and 3
http://www.senate.gov/ for research on committees-lesson3
http://www.opensecrets.org/cmteprofiles/index.asp: Congress committee profiles lesson 3
http://www.vote-smart.org/resource_govt101_02.php: handout, “How a Bill Becomes a Law”-lesson 1
http://www.congresslink.org/leadershipbasics.htm: for lecture notes on Congressional leadership



Before class
Create a stack of “How a bill becomes a law” cards; 1 set for each team that includes a card for each of the following steps:

  • SENT TO RULES COMMITTEE (House groups only)

Day 1
1. Give each student a copy of: Government 101: How a Bill Becomes a Law located at

2. Have students read the article.

3. Divide the class into two groups--House and Senate. Put each group into teams of 9 for House Group and 8 for Senate Group; depending on the size of your class, you may want to have an extra team. Give each team a stack of cards on “How a Bill becomes a law”

4. Teams will give one card to each student and then students must arrange themselves in the correct order of how a bill becomes a law.

5. One spokesperson from each group will tell the rest of the class how a bill becomes a law.

6. The class will help the teacher create a flowchart, “How a bill becomes a law”. A student volunteer can write the steps on the board or overhead as the class names the steps.

Follow-up questions:
1. What extra step occurs in the House? Why do you think this step is needed?

2. Where does most of the work seem to take place? Why do you think this is?

3. Why do you think less than 10% of bills which are introduced actually become a law?

Day 2
1. Hand out a bill - the first two pages of any bill dealing with energy policy or the model bill from the website: http://www.kannerandassoc.com/108th%20Congress%20Senate/S366.html

2. Discuss the parts of a bill that are shown on the first page.
a. Identify/define the bills sponsors
b. What does the number S.366 signify?
c. Possible sources of the bill: Stress that any citizen or group may write a bill, however the bill must be introduced by a senator or representative.
d. What does the subheading tell us about the bill?

3. Use the class created flowchart from Day 1 “How a Bill Becomes a Law” to trace the steps the bill will go through.

Day 3
Introduce the lesson by lecturing on the types of congressional committees and their role in the lawmaking process. Also lecture on the power and duties of the floor leaders in the house and senate:

Have students explore the following websites to answer the questions listed below:

1. What is the role of committees in the lawmaking process?

2. Which Senate committees would deal with energy policy and its impact on the environment?

3. What are the major issues that these committees have dealt with recently that relate to energy and the environment.

4. What committee hearings, if any, are scheduled for the next week?

5. What committees are they?

6. List any topics dealing with energy or the environment that are listed and the name of the committees that will be discussing the issues.

7. Identify the following floor leaders for the current congress:


8. Identify your Senators and the committees that they serve:

  • What is their party affiliation?
  • Are they a chair or co-chair of their committee or subcommittee?

9. Identify the jurisdiction of the committee:

  • What is their party affiliation?
  • Who are the chair and ranking minority person?

10. Identify the ratio/proportion of Democrats to Republicans on the committee.

Students will share their findings from their lab research and respond to the following statements:
Do you agree or disagree?

1. The lawmaking process is too complex.
2. Committee chairs and floor leaders have too much power over the bill process.
3. It takes too long for a bill to become a law.

Students must find 3-4 other students who feel the same way on all three questions then sit together and discuss reasons. They must defend their positions to the class.

Students must find an article on energy policy and the lawmaking process. Students will write a brief summary of the article and address the following questions:

  • Which step of the lawmaking process is illustrated?
  • Who, in addition to Congress members, is mentioned in the article?
  • What is their interest or role with the issue?
  • Identify any bias examples in the article (is the article slanted towards any particular interest?)
  • Include the following of the article:
    • source
    • author
    • date

The homework assignment is due at the end of Day 4.

Embedded Assessment
Student flowcharts should show an understanding of the steps in a bill process. Answers to the computer research questions will be assessed for understanding and accuracy of how the legislative process works.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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Web Master: Travis Biazo