America's Legislators Back to School Program

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High School Lesson Plan IV - "Why Compromise?"

The Importance of Compromise in a Representative Democracy

Rationale of the Lesson

In an ideal world, where everyone agreed on what needed to be done to resolve every possible problem, there would be no need for debate and compromise to make the important decisions of public life. In the real world, in a representative democracy such as ours, everyone's views must be heard and respected. In a nation as big and diverse as America is today, the only way public policy can be made is through the process of debate and compromise. That doesn't mean that policy makers must "sell out their principles" in order to make decisions or create laws. It does mean that policy makers and citizens alike must understand that there is almost always more than one reasonable, viable way to accomplish a desired goal, that working together necessarily requires the resolution of differences of opinion and that each proponent of a view must be able to bend a little to get things done. Our whole history of constitutional government is based on the successful compromises made at the constitutional convention in 1787. The goal in this lesson is to demonstrate to students that goals can be achieved, differences can be resolved effectively, through compromise. This will be accomplished by conducting a legislative debate in class.


At the conclusion of this Lesson, students should be able to.

  • understand that in a diverse society, such as ours, a wide range of views on important issues is normal and often helpful in giving us the best range of options from which we can make choices.

  • explain how the process of compromise works to aid in the legislative process. 

  • demonstrate the use of compromise to resolve differences of opinion on an important issue.

Background Preparation/Materials of the Teacher

Contact your America's Legislators Back to School Week state legislative coordinator as soon as possible to arrange for a visit from a legislator during the third week of September. As soon as a legislator's is arranged, write the legislator a note telling him or her:

name of the class, age of the students, size of the class, length of the class, topics to be addressed in the visit, include a copy of this lesson plan. Ask the legislator to be the Speaker of the House in your mock legislative debate.

Included with the directions to this lesson are a sample hill format to assist students in writing their bills, and a simplified parliamentary procedure chart to assist in the mock legislative debate.

THE LESSON PLAN - "Why Compromise? The Importance of Compromise in a Representative Democracy"

Time Requirement - one week for preparation and reproduction of bills and one class period to debate the bills

Part I - Assign students to write a bill to be debated in a mock legislative debate.

Use the simplified bill format following this lesson You might want to allow students to work in pairs to speed the process of bill writing and reduce the number of bills you will be dealing with for debate.

From the set of bills you get from the students, choose the best four to use during the mock legislative debate. Make copies of those bills for the class and the visiting legislator.

Possible bill topics [keep bills as simple as possible, stick to state issues]:

  • a list of issues follows Lesson I, "How do Teenagers Get a Voice" that could become subjects for bills

  • other topics: stem cell research [should state support funding?]

  • standardized testing of students in public schools/ grading of schools based on student scores

  • gun control

  • voting reform

  • violence prevention in public schools


  • With the visiting legislator as your presiding officer, conduct a mock legislative debate on the bills your students have written.

  • The authors of the bills being debated should be prepared to give an authorship speech in support of their bill.

  • Opponents of bills should also do some planning as to what they might argue in opposition to the bill under debate.

    Sequence of events for student legislature

    • Call House to order

    • Establish Orders of the Day [ie. by motion decide in what order the bills will be debated]

    • Call the first bill --House clerk reads the bill

    • Speaker calls for authorship speech - author gives short statement on why people should vote for the bill, ending with . . . "I move this bill be adopted."

    • Speaker calls for a 2nd [a motion + a second officially puts the bill on the floor for debate]

    • Speaker calls for Opponent Speech

    • Proponent Speech

    • Opponent Speech

    • [the debate should demonstrate differing points of view and how someone can propose a compromise between the opposing view points].

    • Continue debate until someone moves the Previous questions [a motion that asks that the debate stop and that a vote be taken on the bill]

    • Motions for amendments can be made in between speeches.

    Repeat process for each bill.

    Stop the process with about ten minutes left in the class period so that the legislator can make suggestions on how the students did and answer their questions.


    An interesting question for the legislator might be -- What would you do if your constituents want you to vote yes on a bill and your conscience tells you to vote no?

    For example:

    • Your constituents want to have marijuana available for medical use in your state, but you believe this is wrong. [disregarding federal issue involved]

    • Your constituents favor fetal stem cell research, you oppose it as a matter of ethical principle.

    If the legislator votes his conscience on these kinds of issues, the opposite of his constituents, how do the citizens who disagree get heard?



    Sponsored by _[Student(s) names]

    Committee Action:

    AN ACT TO [complete the title in all capital letters] Every law should embrace only one subject and that should be expressed in the title. Make the title as concise as possible, but broad enough to clearly indicate the scope of the bill.

    Be it enacted by the student model legislature of ______state________

    Section 1. Definitions In complete sentences, define any word or phrase used in your title which might be subject to confusion or result in unnecessary debate.

    Section 2. Purpose The purpose section simply states concisely why you think the bill should be enacted. The purpose section is optional.

    Section 3. Provisions This clause is the most important part of your bill. In complete sentences explain exactly what you want to happen and how. What you say here should say the same thing as your title only in much greater detail. The bill should be written in the present tense. If you want to require something to happen, use the word "shall" [eg. no person shall water their lawn more than three times a week during a drought]. Try to anticipate questions that people might have after reading your bill and address those questions in this section.

    Section 4. Penalty Clause This clause is necessary only if your bill makes something illegal. If you are designating some behavior a crime, you must specifically say if it will be considered a misdemeanor or felony. Check your state's criminal code to see what the penalties are for each level of misdemeanor or felony.

    Section 5. Appropriations Clause This clause is necessary only if your bill requires the expenditure of money. Indicate the amount of money to be spent and how that amount of money will be raised.

    Section 6. Enactment Clause This clause tells when the bill will become effective. Examples include: This bill will become effective upon the signature of the Governor or this bill will become effective 90 days after signature by the Governor.

    Section 7. Safetv Clause. The mock student legislature of the state of ______hereby finds, determines and declares that this ACT is necessary for the preservation of public health, peace and safety. [simply copy this statement.]

    [A safety clause is a legislative requirement to certify that the legislate has properly determined that the bill they propose to pass into law is legitimately necessary for a proper reason under the state and federal constitutions.]

    If you do not need a particular type of optional clause above, simply leave it out and move everything up a section.


    This project is supported by a Robert H. Michel Civic Education Grant sponsored by The Dirksen Congressional Center, Pekin, IL.

    Posted 9/10/01