Understanding the three branches of the United States government is an important objective in the social studies curriculum, but it can be difficult for younger students to remember. Relating the concept of the legislative branch to the daily lives of children can make it simpler.
Help students remember the function of the legislative branch with this mnemonic device: Hold up the thumb and forefinger of your left hand; this will form the letter “L," which stands for “law" and “legislative." Point to your head: this stands for the executive branch, which “heads" the federal government. Hold up the thumb and forefinger of your right hand, curving the thumb to make a letter “J." This stand for “judicial," and the judicial branch checks that the laws are “right," according to the Constitution (and it is on the right hand).
- Students will recognize the need for laws.
- Students will understand the function of the legislative branch.
- Students will identify the two parts of the federal Congress and the way in which representation is determined.
- Discuss the school and classroom rules. Lead students to answer the following questions:
- What are our class rules? Write them on the board.
- What rules does our school have? Again, write them on the board.
- What purpose do the rules serve? Why do we need them? Lead the class to see that rules serve to maintain order and keep people safe
- Explore the concept of laws as being a name for rules that apply to our whole society. Ask students to name laws with which they are familiar and to postulate the purpose of laws. If students are not able to think of laws, prompt them with ideas about theft, traffic and driving, or vandalism.
- Ask students, “How do we get the rules for our school?" Point out that a committee made up of teachers, staff members and parents usually makes them and that other staff members usually select the committee.
- Explain that the legislative branch creates U.S. laws, which is a group of people elected from among the citizens. Mention that the U.S. Constitution sets the eligibility criteria for members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Place students in small groups to create a poster to explain the structure of Congress. The posters should include the names of the two houses and the number of members in each. Older students could also explain how representation is based (population in House of Representatives, equal representation in Senate).
Enrichment Ideas for Extending the Lesson
- Have students label a map with the number of representatives from each state.
- Encourage students to write to their representatives and senators about issues about which they are concerned.
- Older students could research how residents of American territories are represented in the United States Congress.
Since understanding the structure and functions of the legislative branch often leads to increased civic participation, teachers have a strong incentive to facilitate this learning. Making personal connections is a well-respected best practice for making content accessible to students.