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CongressLink Lesson Plan: 
How a Bill Becomes Law:  The Case of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Subjects:  American Government, American History, Civics
Grade Levels: 9-12
Time Frame: Flexible
Lesson Objectives/Skills How a Bill Becomes a Law: The Case of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a student guide through the legislative process.  The general purpose of this unit is to demonstrate to students the step-by-step procedure of a bill becoming a law using the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a case study.  Students will understand how Congress makes laws and the role of congressional committees in this process. This will help them understand key concepts associated with the legislative process such as filibuster, cloture, bipartisan, petition, and lobbying.  Additionally, they will also see how controversial social issues, such as civil rights, greatly affect the process.  More specific instructional objectives to follow.
Basic Reference Resource: The CongressLink online narrative of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the related historical documents.
Procedures/Sequences: (Suggested Time Frame)
Learning Category 
(click here for detailed information about this taxonomy)
Task Activity
Knowledge State the steps a bill takes in becoming a law. 

List the primary political leaders involved in the debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  What political party did they belong to?  What area of the country were they from? 

Name key civil rights leaders of the 1960s. 

Define such terms as bipartisan, cloture, lobby, filibuster, petition, committee, mark-up, quorum, draft, sponsor, ordering a bill reported.


Create a chart detailing the people and 
categories specified. 

Listing activity 

Matching activity

Diagram the process of a bill becoming a law. 

Categorize the responsibilities of the House of 
Representatives, the Senate, and the President in the
process of a bill becoming a law. 

Compare the different steps the Civil Rights Act of 1964 took between the House of Representatives and Senate. 

Summarize the positions of the groups involved in the development of the bill and relate these positions to the major politicians involved. 

Relate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to any applicable constitutional amendments.

Create a flow chart showing the process of 
a bill becoming a law. 

Create a table placing 
responsibilities in table cells. 

Create a separate chart 
for each house of Congress. 

Divide students into groups and assign each 
group a different 
political position.  The 
students must find politicians associated 
with their position and 
report back to the class. 

Find any Constitutional 
amendments that could 
be related to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 
explain why they are related.

Application Students will recognize the importance of Everett 
Dirksen’s An Idea Whose Time Has Come speech.
Students will examine  
Dirksen’s speech and determine what 
elements of time,  circumstance, and content made this a key speech using the document analysis 
Analysis Determine what events influenced John F. Kennedy to introduce this bill to Congress. 

Examine how Representative Howard Smith influenced the fate of the civil rights bill.

Have students 
investigate the Civil Rights Timeline       
and discuss  
which events they consider most important and why. 

Students should refer to the civil rights narrative .

Synthesis Students will apply the dynamics of the legislative process of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to a contemporary scenario. 

Formulate an opinion about why southern Democrats opposed the bill's passage.

Using the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a model, draft a civil rights bill for gay & lesbian (or reasonable facsimile) 

Hypothesize its progress through today’s Congress. 

Which parties would tend to support/oppose it?  What social groups or organizations would lobby for or against it? 

Students will prepare a speech against the Civil 
Rights Act of 1964 based on the position of a southern Democrat.

Evaluation Students will select the one member of Congress they think was the most influential in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed and justify their answer. 

Students will select one governmental organization, individual, or event they believe was the most critical in the drafting and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed and justify their answer.

Student discussion and debate. 

Students will prepare a stand-up display project, 
performance, or multi-media presentation 
showing the importance 
of individual 
organization in the turning points of history.  See National 
History Day

Students will write a research paper using primary sources.

National Standards Addressed by Lesson (based on National Standards for Civics and Government, Center for Civic Education, 1994.  Citation based on section, subsection, standard 
of the document.) 

 Standard II.B. 4    Diversity in American Society 
 Standard II.B. 2    Character of American Political conflict 
 Standard II D. 3.   Fundamental values and principals 
 Standard II D. 4.   Conflicts among values and principals in American political and social life 
 Standard III B. 1   How institutions of the national government are organized  (legislative and executive branch) 

Adaptation (optional):
Curriculum Integration (optional):
Evaluation/Assessment:  See
David Rider 
Bellows Free Academy 
71 S. Main Street 
St. Albans, VT  05478 

Dennis Simonson 
Christ’s Household of Faith School 
355 Marshall Avenue, #301 
St. Paul, MN 55102 

Marie Mitchell 
Jones High School 
801 South Rio Grande Avenue 
Orlando, FL 32801


See for “Whitewashing” History
Exploring Topics of Civil Rights from 1948-1964,
a related lesson plan.

The Dirksen Center About Government Congress for Kids Communicator