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Enduring Understanding: Students will understand the structure and function of the United States government established by the Constitution.
Optional: Branches of Government handout (go to: https://bensguide.gpo.gov/a-what-are-branches Print Branches of Government and make enough copies for students in class.
Background For Teachers:
Student Prior Knowledge:
Step 2: Look at the Declaration of Indpendence and have students list the problems the colonists had with the king of England, when they were under his control. Discuss the reasons the delegates to the Constitutional Convention felt it necessary to set up a government where no ONE person was in charge.
Step 3: Teach the 3 branches of government. Some students may know this information already. Ask students if they can first idenitify how may groups run our country. Have students identify those groups. If possible, show pictures of the Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court to represent each of the 3 branches. Have students guess which group belongs with what picture. Tape the pictures to the board and have a student write the names of the 3 branches under each picture. Explain that the House of Representatives and the Senate, together called Congress, make up the Legislative branch, the President, Vice-President and his cabinet make up the Executive branch, and the courts make up the Judicial branch. (Handouts can be made from the attached graphic organize. The lines are left blank so students can fill these in as you discuss them.)
Step 4: Discuss the functions of each branch. In a very simplified maner, explain that the legislative branch legislates--or makes the laws. The executive branch executes the law; the judicial branch judges the law when brought before it.
Step 5: Ask students to identify which of the following positions they would like to hold, if they were to hold one of these positions: President of the United States, Speaker of the House of Representatives and/or Senate Majority Leader, or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Ask students to explain why they chose the position they did. Students will report that the position they chose is the most powerful in the government. If no one responds thus, pose the question: which is the most powerful? (The purpose of this question is to try to get the students thinking about this before explaining that all are equal in power.)
Step 6: Explain that the branches are all equal in power. How is that possible? Discuss. What if one branch gets power-hungry and tries to override the other two branches? What if the legislative passes a law that bans courts, or something ridiculous like that? Demonstrate using the following simulation.
Step 7: Set up a make-believe scenario: the 3 volunteers have been friends for a long time and have formed a club (the goverment). These three are the ringleaders of the club and just to make sure that none of these friends take over the club, they've made up rules for themselves.
Step 8: Now that students have a general understanding of how the system of "checks and balances" works, use accompanying sheet to go over the specific powers of checks and balances accorded the various branches of government. (Students will need to use their textbook to find this information.)
Strategies For Diverse Learners:
For Learning Disabled: Students who need help can be given a worksheet with partially completed answers.
Essay Question: Explain how the system of checks and balances works. First explain what the system is, why the government was created in this 3-ring manner, then provide two examples of the powers EACH branch has and how those powers are checked by the other. For example, (YOU CANNOT USE THIS ONE): The President is commander-in-chief of the army, but only Congress can declare war. You will be graded on the following: 2 points for explaining the system correctly, 2 explaining the reasoning behind the system, and 1 point for each example of power and how that power is checked. (6 points). 10 POINTS TOTAL.
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