There’s a ton of great content on C-SPAN, allowing government and U.S. history teachers
to show students how the dry stuff of textbooks is actually real and relevant in the present day. It’s one thing to read about the rules of filibusters, after all, and
quite another to tune into live Senate proceedings and show students a filibuster in progress. Well, a speaking one at least. I know that lately the traditional speaking filibuster isn’t the most common format. But that’s another discussion entirely.
If your students are remotely like mine, however, you’ll find that it’s a bit hard for them to keep their focus when watching Senate or House proceedings on C-SPAN. The coverage is educational, no doubt about it, but that fact alone won’t stop their eyes from glazing over after about five minutes. That’s why I always like to have students doing some thinking as they watch, with a worksheet to hold them accountable.
This last week has been a treasure trove on C-SPAN, with live Senate coverage of confirmation hearings for the president-elect’s proposed cabinet officers. Thinking we’d spend at least one class period watching and discussing the proceedings, I dashed off a quick worksheet to help students track and analyze what they were seeing. It’s nothing terribly fancy, but I imagine it could help other teachers with both learning and classroom management issues while watching Senate coverage that includes these or any other confirmation hearings.
About this Senate Confirmation Worksheet
- It’s designed to be highly flexible. Students fill in the date of the hearing, the nominee being considered, and the position to which the nominee aspires. This means you can use the worksheet not just in the next couple of weeks for President-Elect Trump’s cabinet nominees, but for any nominee moving forward — including the inevitable judicial nominee that will at some point be put forth to fill the late Justice Scalia’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court
- It doesn’t require any teacher prep other than making copies.
- It can be used not just with C-SPAN live coverage via their website, but also with recorded versions of Senate confirmation hearings. C-SPAN often has a way for you to “watch from the beginning” of the hearing. Look for this on their website if the hearing is not at a convenient place to show live in class. I was planning to show live coverage one day this week, only to find out that the Senate had taken a break during my government class period! Thankfully, my lesson plan still worked out fine; I just clicked on the “Watch from beginning” button and moved the slider on the video feed over about 45 minutes so that we wouldn’t be bogged down with several lengthy opening statements.
- It’s best suited to the Q&A portion of a confirmation hearing. The worksheet isn’t set up to help students deal with opening statements or nominee introductions. It’s designed to go with the portion of a confirmation hearing when nominees are being interviewed / quizzed on their view by senators.
- It can also work in U.S. history classes. The most obvious use of the worksheet is in government and current events classes. However, if you can find historical footage on YouTube or other services that shows a past confirmation hearing, the worksheet will also work perfectly. This would let you and your class dive straight into primary source footage of historical events. So when you and your class read about the 1980s and Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court — a nomination that would ultimately fail — you can show students a part of the hearing and let them analyze it using the worksheet.
- Students are asked to fill out the nominee, the position sought, the hearing context (full Senate? Specific committee instead?) and the date of the hearing.
- Students wait for a question, then summarize it briefly.
- Students determine if the question is fair to the nominee, and also if it is a valid question — one which is appropriate to ask. They simply check off yes or no to this issue, since minimal writing means more attention can be paid to listening to the video feed.
- Students listen to the nominee’s answer and decide if they think the nominee should or should not be confirmed based on that single answer.
- Students write comments as needed to explain their perspectives about questions or answers.
That’s all there is to it! You can probably work up an activity page of your own along those lines in nothing flat, but why bother when you can download my version for free? 🙂
A Class Lesson Plan for Watching a Confirmation Hearing
My own usage of the worksheet looks approximately like this:
- Briefly orient students to activity. Pass out worksheets.
- Watch approx. 30 minutes of a confirmation hearing while students view with me and fill out their worksheets.
- During the 30 minutes, hit pause or mute on the hearing as needed to clarify points for the class or ask them for feedback. After an interesting Q&A (typically 8 or 10 minutes of coverage), I might debrief with the class before resuming. On the other hand, I might wait until the 30 minutes are over and then debrief the students.
- To debrief, I ask questions like this: Who thought the question wasn’t fair or valid? Explain why you think that…. Who would confirm the nominee based on the last answer? Why? Who would refuse to confirm? Why?
- I’ve found in my years of teaching that students in government really want to discuss issues and put forth their own views. When we debrief a confirmation hearing, I usually get a lot of participation and engagement, sometimes even from students who don’t usually volunteer to speak in class!
Enjoy the Freebie!!
Elise Parker / Great History Teaching
Looking for more ways to engage your students’ interest in government and civics topics?