Knowing the branches of the government and their functions is an important first step in understanding the way the system functions. With this lesson plan, your students will identify each of the three branches and explain the functions of each. Applicable at any grade level, this plan can serve an introduction to a full unit about the U.S. government or as a stand-alone lesson to provide an overview of the structure of the federal government.
Students will identify the three branches of the U.S. government.
Students will explain the executive branch of the U.S. government, including the president and the departments of the Cabinet.
Students will explain the two houses of the legislative branch and the function of the branch.
Students will explain the structure of the judicial branch and identify the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Students will understand the system of checks and balances and will provide examples for each branch.
- Divide the class into three groups. Assign each group to one to the three branches of the government. Groups will use the textbook and other resources to learn the following about the assigned branch and to prepare a visual aid for sharing the information.
What groups or individuals make up the branch? What job does the branch have? What can the branch do to stop the other branches from getting too strong?
- Regroup the students so that each new group has at least one member from each of the original groups. Students share what they learned in their research with their new group members. As a group, students should create a poem or song to show the name and responsibility of all three branches, including at least five facts about each branch.
Individual Practice and Assessment
Students should select two of the following activities to demonstrate their knowledge:
Make a poster that shows how each branch checks the power of the others.
Make a mobile that shows the way in which each branch checks the power of the others.
Create a game board that allows players to learn about the three branches, their responsibilities and the system of checks and balances, including at least 10 facts about each branch.
Film a teaching video about the three branches, the functions of each and the way each limits the power of the others, including at least 10 facts about each branch.
Present a puppet show about each of the three branches, including the powers of each and the checks and balances system. Include at least 10 facts about each branch.
Middle school or high school students could also write an essay analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of this division of power between the three branches.
With this American government unit lesson plan, your students will have an understanding of the division of the federal government system, preparing them for a more detailed study of each branch, as well as of the system of federalism.
Students can find more information about the three branches of the American government at the following websites:
The activities for this American government unit lesson plan come from the author’s seventeen years of teaching, including nine years as a middle school and high school history and government instructor.