If you attended my session at NJCSS – Using C-SPAN Footage in the High School Social Studies Classroom – this post serves as a companion. Nothing new here, just a place to collect the various links and videos that were mentioned or used in the session. And if you missed the session, well, now you can play along at home.

I plan on updating this page with some more information tonight after the conference… but in the meantime, here’s a link to the Google Presentation.

Session Objectives and Goals

Throughout the course of the session, I had four key goals:

  • Expose participants to the breadth and variety of C-SPAN programming
  • Model ways that C-SPAN programing can be incorporated into a social studies class
  • Demonstrate how to “clip” a video from the C-SPAN video library
  • Highlight further opportunities for teachers to engage with C-SPAN

There’s only so much that you can do in an hour. But, hopefully, people were exposed to some new material, excited about what they saw, and primed to explore the C-SPAN Classroom website and/or C-SPAN Video Library on their own.

What Is C-SPAN?

Ask the average uninitiated person what they know about C-SPAN, and you’ll likely either get a blank stare or hear something about boring videos of the House floor proceedings. It’s one of those channels that people often skip over, unless they know what they’re looking for.

True, the company started out in 1979 by airing gavel to gavel proceedings of the House of Representatives. And no, it’s not all riveting television.

But that’s not the point.

This is our government in action, and it’s a public service to make that available to the general public. Before C-SPAN there were two ways to find out what was happening in Washington – travel there yourself or read what a journalist wrote about it in the paper. Travel, for a lot of people, is prohibitively expensive, and reading the newspaper means that you’re getting a filtered view of what’s happening.

So enter C-SPAN. Now, everyone can watch and see for themselves. By the mid-80’s, the Senate joined the fray and also allowed its proceedings to be aired on C-SPAN 2. The network later continued to expand and offered coverage of other public policy events in and around the District – conferences, lectures, press conferences, etc.

It’s mission is a truly democratic one – to give the people unfiltered access to government, to give public officials an unfiltered way to speak to the people, and to allow people a direct way to call in and talk with their elected representatives.

What’s On C-SPAN – Besides the House?

The core programming on C-SPAN 1 and C-SPAN 2 are the floor proceedings and committee meetings of the House of Representatives and Senate. But there’s much more to the C-SPAN family of networks. Here’s just a quick overview of some of the many different programming areas that I’ve found useful as a teacher:

  • Washington Journal airs every morning from 7:00 to 10:00. It features public officials and policy makers as guests, and each 45 minute segment includes both a brief interview (~10 minutes) and a call-in segment.
  • Q&A is an hour long interview program hosted by Brian Lamb. The guests are typically some interesting people (some more so than others) and Brian is a great interviewer.
  • BookTV features interviews with authors of non-fiction books about history, society, and politics – great for getting an expert view on a subject.
  • American Presidents is a series of shows focusing on each of the Presidents – a collection of clips, interviews, and discussion. Recently, a similar series has been developed for the First Ladies.
  • There are a number of documentaries, including “The Supreme Court: Home to America’s Highest Court,” one of my favorites because it features the Supreme Court Justices explaining how the court works.

I like to think of C-SPAN and its video library as an archival collection. There may be a lot of mundane video to sift through, especially with the Congressional material, but once you start digging you’ll find gem after gem. They key is simply to take some time to get to know the video library – or look at the curated clips provided by the C-SPAN Classroom website.

So how can we use this in class…? Well here are five suggestions, along with some sample videos.

#1. Use As an Anticipatory Set or Bell Ringer

Let’s set the stage. You’re teaching a Modern American history course. You’re learning about school desegregation. You’ve already dealt with Brown v. Board of Education and the Little Rock Nine. Your students know the “success stories” of school desegregation, and now you want to teach them “the rest of the story.”

Enter Richard Lindsey and North Little Rock High School.


You watch the video clip and then discuss the following questions:

  1. What story does Richard Lindsey tell? What happened?
  2. Why is Richard Lindsey scared? Would you have done what he did?
  3. How does the story of North Little Rock High School compare to that of Central High School?

Richard Lindsey’s is an amazing story on a number of fronts. First, it’s full of evocative details. The backdrop of the school along with his first person account makes that day at North Little Rock High School seem to really come alive.

In terms of content, it’s amazing because it’s a story less told. It was a failure. He climbed the steps to the doors of North Little Rock High School and was turned away – and the school didn’t integrate for almost a decade. It illustrates the messy nature of integration. The decision in Brown v. Board of Education was great and all, but it meant nothing without people willing to be brave enough to force schools to integrate. The video is a great discussion starter to get kids’ brains working and prime them for the lesson to come.

On the C-SPAN Classroom website you’ll find a host of similar videos in the section titled Bell Ringers. These are all short videos (from a few minutes up to maybe 10) designed to be used as an introduction to the topic. You’ll find a summary of the video and some questions you can use if you don’t write your own.

#2. Reinforce Things You’ve Already Learned

Instead of using the video at the beginning of class, you can use it at the end. After a lesson on the March on Washington, you want to hammer home the size, scope, and revolutionary nature of the gathering. So you watch this video with John Lewis.

Some discussion questions to go along with the video:

  1. How many people spoke at the March on Washington? Who was the last?
  2. How does Lewis describe their trip to the protest in the morning? What imagery does he use?
  3. What topic(s) and language are controversial about Lewis’ speech at the time?
  4. Are those topics still relevant in today’s context?

If you’re not up on the trivia factoids, then you’ll learn in the video that there were ten speakers that day in Washington. Dr. King spoke last, and John Lewis is the last surviving member of the program.

I love the imagery he uses to describe the crowds outside Union station. They’re a “sea of people” moving west through the city. He says that they came to lead the people to the march, but that the people are really leading them. Think about that for a second.

And you could pick up on any number of themes to connect Lewis’ speech and the March on Washington to today’s political climate. Voting rights and disenfranchisement? Check. Talk of revolution and black masses? Check. Patience, calm, and peacefulness? Check. I love the line about marching like Sherman. Humor for history geeks.

In this same program with John Lewis, you could use any number of segments to reinforce teaching about the Civil Rights movement – he also talks about the freedom rides, bloody Sunday, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And there are countless other videos of experts talking about content that you could use to reinforce teaching. Washington Journal is a great place to look for this kind of video – the initial 10 minute interview often involves the guest summarizing or explaining some key topic.

#3. Jigsaw or Flip the Classroom

Another option would be to use the videos themselves to teach the content. If you have the hardware and want to do this in class, a jigsaw is a great format. Split the kids up, have everyone watch different videos, them have them group up and share. Or, flip the classroom and have kids watch a few videos at home and then meet up in class to discuss the content.

A great video for this is the collection of clips titled, “Justices In Their Own Words.” Watch the video titled, “Granting Certiorari” and answer the following questions:

  1. How many people ask the Supreme Court to hear their case every year? Every week…?
  2. Why does the Court “grant cert” or decide to hear a case?
  3. What is discretionary jurisdiction?
  4. How many Justices must agree to grant cert for the court to hear a case?

I love the image at the beginning of Justice Breyer standing in front of the book case of cert petitions for the week. That’s a boat load of reading. Feel bad for the lowly clerk.

But the best part about these videos, for me, is that the Justices are explaining it. I don’t know why, but that just seems to make what would otherwise be a very abstract concept a titch more real and concrete.

#4. Support a Deliberation or a Debate

You could also use a collection of videos to support a deliberation or debate about a current event.

For example, watch Scott Garrett explaining why a minimum wage increase is a bad idea and then watch Joe Biden explain why it’s a good idea. Both of those videos come from a Classroom Deliberations page on the minimum wage.

Classroom Deliberations are in depth collections of videos curated and created by classroom teachers that work with the C-SPAN Education Team. Each deliberation page identifies a controversial topic, provides some background information (readings and videos), and then provides videos supporting both sides of the issue. They are a great way to familiarize your students with a controversial issue and then prepare them to either debate the merits of an issue or deliberate on some sort of compromise.

By the way, sorry Scott but I agree with Joe.

#5. Long Term Documentary Project

Finally, you can let your kids run free a bit and work on a long term documentary project – StudentCam.

This is a project similar to other competition projects. It encourages kids to participate through the use of prizes, but there are a lot of them.

To enter the contest, students have to create their own documentary video on the topic of the year (this year the topic is “The Three Branches and You”). These documentaries must include some C-SPAN footage, and they should also include a balanced perspective on the topic.

In addition to a $5,000 grand prize winner, there are both regional winners and grade level winners. There are plenty of opportunities for students to be recognized for their work, even if they aren’t the grand prize winner. Although the grand prize winner will be interviewed on C-SPAN and have their documentary aired… which is kind of cool.

Here’s a link to last year’s grand prize winner so you can see an example.

This is a great kind of project to start in class – have kids choose a topic, search for video material, and share their progress – and then let them work on the technical stuff at home or out of class.

Interested? Want to Learn More…?

There’s only so much you can learn in an hour (or in 2,000 words if you’ve read through this entire post). Hopefully I’ve whetted your appetite a bit and you’re looking to learn a bit more.

Option 1 is to simply get connected and be informed on updates. Join C-SPAN Classroom, or connect with them on Twitter or Facebook. The education team down in Washington is awesome, and they’ve already identified, clipped, and collected a ton of videos for you to use in class. Stay connected, and you’ll get updates on new lesson plans and deliberations pages.

Option 2 is to spend some time looking through the video library yourself. Head on over to the C-SPAN Video Library and search for a topic that interests you. But be warned, it’s addictive.

Assuming you don’t have unlimited time to browse the library on your own, consider checking out the Teacher Opportunities section of the Classroom website. The C-SPAN Education team hosts two Educator Conferences each year in July – one for high school teachers and one for middle school teachers. This is a two day conference (travel and housing paid for) and you’ll learn a ton about C-SPAN, the programming, and the people that run it. It’s a great way to spend two days in the summer.

If you’re really interested, then consider applying for the Teacher Fellowship. Mind you, this is a highly selective opportunity. But it’s an awesome opportunity to work in the C-SPAN offices in Washington with their education team for a month. While it’s not required for people to complete an Educator Conference before they apply for the Teacher Fellowship, it is common.

So… I think that’s it. Thanks for reading or for attending the session at NJCSS. And if you make it down to C-SPAN, tell Pam, Josh, and Craig that I said “Hi.”