Civic education is a central value of our country, our state, and our Legislature. Civics is important for students of every age as they learn to understand and appreciate their role in our government. By supporting legislators visiting schools and by creating
professional development opportunities for teachers, we're always working to bring the democratic process to life in the classroom.
If you're a teacher bringing a class to the Legislature or a lawmaker to class, or if you're a legislator reaching out to students and teachers in your community, the resources here will help you create a meaningful and engaging lesson.
The Civic Education Program is limited in the support we can provide to legislators during election years due to restrictions on the use of state resources for legislators running for office. Teachers are welcome to use these materials at any time and can contact the Civic Education Coordinators at firstname.lastname@example.org for support.
Class Visit Tips For Legislators:
Prepare ahead of time for your classroom visit. Send teachers a short biography, ask for information about their students, and plan the activities and topics you'll discuss. The activities and resources below have plenty of engaging, fun material for all grade levels, and there are even more ideas at NCSL's Legislators Back To School website.
Engage students in an informal, straightforward manner. Make your lesson personalized and interactive.
Talk about issues that kids care about, like texting and driving, school safety, video game restrictions, or school testing. Ask the teacher to collect some topics or questions from the class and send them to you before your visit.
Assessing information, communicating clearly, and finding ways to negotiate, prioritize, and compromise on complicated issues are skills that all students need to learn. When talking to young people, connect those ideas with your work as a legislator and with the role of citizens in a representative democracy. Emphasize that legislators care about constituents' needs and problems, and that the voice of every citizen is important.
Contact the House or Senate Civic Education Coordinator if you need resources or help planning a classroom visit!
Class Visit Tips For Teachers:
Find your district and contact information for your local legislators by entering your school's address in the District Finder app.
Invite a legislator to visit your class with at least 3-4 weeks advance notice. Legislators are in Olympia for session between January and April and many work at other jobs outside of session, so don't be discouraged if it takes a little time to connect, especially while the Legislature is in session. Session is also a great time to take a field trip to the Capitol!
Prepare ahead of time to have a great visit. Send the legislator some information about your students and any questions they have come up with ahead of time. Have a plan with the legislator about the activities or topics they'd like to cover. Before the visit, use the videos or resources below to orient students to the legislative process, and have them brainstorm questions to ask.
Share your work! Tell us what's going on in your civics class by sharing with us on Facebook or Twitter.
Classroom Activities Legislators Can Do With Students
1. A Day in the Life of a Legislator (all grades)
Bring in a copy of one day on your calendar during session. Have enough copies to hand out to the class, or put it on a PowerPoint slide to display. Talk through each event on your schedule, explaining committee hearings, meetings with lobbyists and constituents, helping people from the district solve problems, and communicating with constituents about the work you're doing. For an interactive version, bring in blank schedule pages and have students help you brainstorm a list of meetings and events, and fit them into the day.
2. State Symbols and Virtual Capitol Tour (all grades)
Use DES's online Virtual Tour or create your own slideshow of photos of the Capitol to share with students. Personalize it with pictures of your office or your desk on the floor, and share some of your favorite spots on campus. Highlight places where state symbols or historical items appear (rhododendrons on the carpet on the floor, George Washington and state seals, etc). Share the list of other State Symbols and have students create an art project suggesting ways they could be incorporated at the Capitol.
3. Who Gets to Vote? (all grades)
Divide the class into several groups (4-5 for older students, 2 for younger) and assign each group a different color or kind of candy bar. Pick a topic of interest to the students (anything from what to serve for lunch to a state policy issue). Come up with a proposal on that topic and hold a vote, but only allow members of one group to vote in the first round. Hold a series of votes, adding one group of students each time, until everyone is voting. Point out the comparison to groups of people who weren't able to vote earlier in our country's history, and lead a discussion about how it feels to be excluded from the decision-making process. Students may want to talk about the fact that people under 18 don't get to vote! Encourage students to recognize that even though they may not be able to vote yet, legislators still want to hear their voices and serve their interests, and there are many ways they can participate.Download a lesson plan for this activity.
4. Bill Writing (all grades)
Bring in a short bill on an interesting topic, or pull one up on the www.leg.wa.gov website. Walk through the "anatomy of a bill," showing the bill number, the sponsor, the committee referral, the title, and the body of the bill. Have the students write their own bills (individually or in pairs for older students, or as a whole class for younger students). If you like, bring in a box labeled the "Hopper" and have students "drop" their bills. Invite the sponsors to share their bills with the class, and decide which committees to refer them to.
5. Negotiation and Compromise (all grades)
Present a problem to the class (for example, a good destination for a class outing or the merits of a later start to the school day) and have them divide into stakeholder groups representing the various perspectives on the issue. Guide them through the process of civil debate and compromise as they negotiate on a class-wide agreement.
6. The Perfect Pizza (elementary school)
Lead students in a class discussion to decide on the recipe for a perfect pizza (or chocolate chip cookie, or some other treat to share). Should it be thin or thick crust? Have cheese or not? Lots of toppings or few? Encourage students to speak up about their preferences and try to persuade their classmates, and then vote on each item. Afterwards, explain that this is very similar to how legislators have to negotiate and make compromise decisions about issues affecting the whole state. Download a lesson plan for this activity.
7. Our District (elementary school)
Bring in a slide or handout with information about the district you represent, or watch a short video from TVW. Explain to students that different areas in Washington send their own representatives and senators to the Legislature, so that each community has their unique needs and perspectives represented. Have students brainstorm important things about their community, like special events, things you produce or grow locally, schools, businesses, and natural and cultural landmarks. Students can select a set of "district symbols," like ourWashington State symbols, or make a poster sharing what they're most proud of about the district.
8. Rules of Debate (elementary school)
Divide the class into two groups. Have an adult work with each group to write down ideas as the students brainstorm a list of rules for class discussions. Let students take the lead in generating ideas, but if necessary, guide them to think about questions like "How can we make sure everyone gets a fair turn to talk?" or "What will help people remember to be polite and respectful of others' views?" After about 20 minutes of brainstorming, have each group share their rules, and invite the other half of the class to give positive feedback. Combine the rules into a class list. Use this as a jumping off point to talk about the rules legislators follow in committee or on the floor, and how they help make sure that time is used efficiently, that people have a fair chance to speak, and that people are respectful of one another and the process. Compare House rules and Senate rules.
9. How Bills Become Law (middle/high school)
Describe the process of lawmaking in Washington State, highlighting how legislators get information from constituents, experts, and stakeholders and negotiate and compromise to come up with the best possible policy outcomes. Choose a topic that students care about (school testing, smoking, texting and driving, wages for teen workers, etc.) to illustrate the process. Sketch steps on the board or use the How Bills Become Law PowerPoint as a visual aid.
10. Budgeting and Priorities (middle/high school)
Propose an event for the class to plan (a party, school dance, etc.). For five minutes, lead students in brainstorming ideas to make it the best party ever, and encourage big thinking (bring in a favorite band! Unlimited ice cream sundae toppings! Rent the Space Needle!) Write down the ideas on the board in categories as they arise (entertainment, food, venue, decorations). After brainstorming, announce that the budget for the event is only $500, not enough to do everything. Help students estimate costs for their ideas and decide what categories they want to spend the most money on to come up with an event budget within the $500 limit. Make the comparison to the state budgeting process and discuss how legislators have to negotiate and prioritize the most important programs within limited resources.
11. Committee Hearing (middle/high school)
Select a policy proposal that the class is interested in (it could be a state policy topic, or something like "better school lunches"). Briefly (a few minutes) have students call out pros and cons of the proposal. Then, pick volunteers to become legislators hearing the bill in committee, and assign other students the role of stakeholders and lobbyists to testify for or against the proposal, while you act as chair. Encourage students to play the role of passionate stakeholders giving testimony, and model the kinds of questions you might ask as a committee member to get more information about their positions. At the end of the hearing, have the committee vote on whether or not to adopt the proposal.
12. Chutes and Lawmaking Game (all grades)
Bring a few copies of the Washington State Legislature Chutes & Lawmaking board game to the class visit. Give a short overview of the legislative process and talk about the many factors that can make it harder or easier for a bill to become law. Have students write down an idea for a bill (encourage them to write it in title form, like "An Act Relating To requiring pizza be served at all school lunches"), and then divide them into small groups to play the board game. You may need to set a time limit for game play, even if not everyone has finished the game - there are a lot of chutes! Afterwards, lead a discussion with students about what happened to their bills, helping them think about the roles that legislator relationships, cooperation, negotiation, and citizen opinion has in the legislative process, and the reasons that the process is designed to move slowly. Download a lesson plan for this activity.