Contacting Your Representatives
A sample lesson plan for middle school through community college students
- Students will work together to communicate their opinion on an important issue with their senators and congressperson.
- Students will think and talk about congressional districts and how they come to exist.
- House of Representatives
- If students will not have access to research tools, ID local and state representatives and have their contact information ready to share.
- Using the US Census site, prepare to display your state or regions’ map of congressional districting lines.
- Decide how best to group students—preselected groups, self-chosen groups, etc. You might also choose to group students whom you know live in the same area (i.e., will have the same representatives).
- ID the roles that you’ll use with your students. Be mindful that students’ citizenship or immigration statuses could impact how comfortable they are taking certain roles or giving their names to representatives.
- Decide whether students will be contacting their representatives about issues of their own or whether the class will focus on one or two issues in particular.
- Come up with a method for calling or writing representatives that will work with your students. You might have them make calls during class time using a school phone, for example, or they may be responsible for emailing representatives out of class.
- Explain to students that in the US, each person has three representatives; two senators who represent the entire state in the Senate and one representative in the House of Representatives for their district. (Note: this is not the case in territories and Washington DC.) Senators serve six year terms, and representatives serve two year terms.
- Help students ID their representatives. Depending on where students live, they may have the same senators but different representatives.
- Ask students to look at the map of the districts in your state or region. Where is your school located? Where do students live?
- Brainstorm or discuss:
- What do you notice about these districts?
- What more do you want to know about this map?
- Why do you think it looks the way that it does?
- Why are districts important? What do you think they mean for the people who live in them?
- Explain that districts are drawn by the states after every census—so every ten years. The process for doing this varies by state, and the results have a big impact on representation. In recent decades, this process has become especially political.
- If time allows, this is a great place to encourage students to do further research.
- Let students know that they have the right to communicate with their representatives and let them know their opinions on how the government is doing. Explain that this is what they’ll be doing in this lesson.
- This is a good place to point out that representatives, according to the US Constitution, represent (and must listen to) all people in their district, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
- If you haven’t already, group students and have them choose roles.
- Possible roles include:
- Recorder: records the group members’ ideas as they brainstorm and decide what to say
- Speaker: makes the phone calls to their representatives (if you have decided to have students communicate in this way)
- Researcher: looks up important background information about the representative and/or the issues
- Presenter: shares the group’s comments and requests for the representative with the class at the end of the lesson
- Writer: helps the group create the final script for the phone call or the email/letter
- Possible roles include:
- Give students their assignment.
- They will:
- Discuss as a group what they’d like to communicate to their representatives
- Decide what the best way to communicate with them would be
- Write either a script for a phone call or the text of an email/letter
- Contact their representative! They may be in charge of finding contact information themselves or you may want to provide it.
- Report back to the class about how the process went and what response, if any, they received
- Be sure to let students know when you’d like them to check in with you. For example, if they will be choosing their own important issue, you may want to check in early on. Another easy place to check progress is to review their script or letter text before they reach out to their representatives.
- They will:
- Once groups have completed their assignments, help them share out with each other and discuss how the process went.
- Some possible points of discussion include sharing their opinions and how they phrased them to be most persuasive, responses they received (or did not receive), whether they contacted any of the same representatives and how these experiences compared, what they might do differently next time, questions they still have, and so on.
Expansions and Modifications:
- Provide either example phone scripts or letter templates for students to use as guides when writing
- Allow for individual work. Students may choose to research, write, or brainstorm on their own.
- Help students dig deeper into the history of how districts are drawn now and have been drawn in the past. In particular, examine the redistricting that happened after the 2010 census and how it impacted the elections that followed. You might also have them take a look at how different states create districts and why there is so much variation.
- Take a closer look at the demographics of your local districts. Are some districts more diverse than others? What impact could this have on how representatives do their jobs and how well their constituents are represented?
- Printable maps via USGS: Congressional Districts 113th Congress
- Find Your Representative
- State-by-State Redistricting Procedures
- ACLU: Redistricting Q&A (brief overview)
- ACLU: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Redistricting (but were afraid to ask) (in-depth publication)