How to Write a Bill

Author: Sylvia Kniest
Edited by Rachel Hughes and Stephanie Nardei

Time: 1-2 Days to show and discuss “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.
2-3 days to research a committee and write a bill
2-3 days for mark-up sessions and wrap-up discussion
cue the video “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
prepare hand-outs and assign students to committees
Materials: Video: “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
Computer lab
Hand-outs for video guide and Bill Outline Worksheet


Students will learn how to write a bill and explore what happens following submission to a committee by participating in a mark-up committee.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify the key components of a bill.
2. Write a bill dealing with energy policy.
3. Compare the debate process in the House and Senate.
4. Identify the major obstacles in getting a bill passed by the House or Senate Chamber.

National Social Studies Standard
III-A. How are power and responsibility distributed, shared, and limited in the government established by the United States Constitution?
III- B. How is the national government organized and what does it do?

Teacher Background
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is a classic movie is available at most video stores and public libraries.

Resource Websites
For bill research on days 3-5:



Days 1-2
1. Hand out the video guide for “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” instructing students to fill it out as they watch the video excerpt. (See Hand out A).

2. Show video, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” at the point where Saunders, Senator Smith’s secretary, is telling Senator Smith how to write a bill. Continue showing the rest of the video.

3. Have students share their responses from the video guide in order to hold a class discussion on how to write a bill. Give students the “Bill Outline” worksheet they will use for writing a rough draft of a bill.

Days 3-5
1. Divide the class into two Senate committees:

  • Energy and Natural Resources and
  • Environment & Public Works.

2. Students will research in the computer lab their assigned committee and describe at least three types of legislation that the committee deals with using the following websites:

3. Students will write a bill about an issue appropriate for their assigned committee. The teacher may want to assign homework to complete the final draft of their bill.

4. On the due date students will read the main sections to the class, introducing the bill.

Days 6-7
1. The teacher should break the committees into subcommittees, each having five students.

2. Divide the students’ bills evenly among the subcommittees so that they are not in the same committee their bill is in.

3. Students will participate in a mark-up session where they will read and evaluate the bills that have been sent to their committee. Handout the Committee Instructions (Handout C) to each subcommittee.

Day 8: Follow-up discussion (see closure)

Hold a class discussion:
1. What was most difficult about the process?
2. What did you like about the process?
3. What bills did you recommend for passage?
4. What would be the next steps in the process?
5. Who, other than Senators or Representatives, should be involved in the process

Students will write a bill dealing with energy policy following the model worksheet.

Embedded Assessment
The bills that the students have written should reflect their understanding of the main components of a bill.

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

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: November 10, 2009
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo