School Improvement in Maryland

Lesson Seeds: The lesson seeds are ideas for the indicator/objective that can be used to build a lesson. Lesson seeds are not meant to be all-inclusive, nor are they substitutes for instruction.

Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic A. The Foundations and Function of Government

Indicator 1. Investigate the evolution of the U.S. political system as expressed in the United States Constitution

Objective c. Compare how the powers and functions of the three branches of government are divided and how they are shared to protect popular sovereignty

To help students understand how power is divided and shared among the three branches of government, divide the class into two groups. Designate one group the House of Representatives and the other group the Senate. Ask each group to elect a spokesperson. Tell the class that they have to decide how the class will spend $25. First, ask each student to write down how s/he would like to spend the money. Then ask the House of Representatives and the Senate to work to develop proposals, or bills. Explain to students that, originally, the founding fathers intended the House of Representatives to represent the interests of citizens at the local level, and the Senate, whose members were elected by state legislatures, to represent the interests of the states. This was one way to balance power. Have each group share its proposal with the class. Explain that the House and Senate must work together to reconcile their different proposals into one bill that is sent to the president. Have students compromise to develop one proposal. Explain that one check on the legislative branch is that it cannot pass any law without the approval of the President. Designate yourself as the President and approve or veto the proposal. If it is vetoed, ask students to come up with a new bill and resubmit it. Once you, as President, have approved a bill, throw out a challenge to it. For example, if students want to use the $25 to buy candy, the challenge might be that candy is unhealthy and counter to the school's focus on health. Gather other "disinterested" parties to serve as the Supreme Court. Possibilities include school volunteers, other teachers, library staff, office staff, lunchroom staff, etc. One person would work, but it would be great to have three people. Have them rule on whether the bill is acceptable as is or whether it is invalid because it violates a school rule or value. If it is declared invalid, start the process over. Once a valid bill is passed, if possible, spend the money as the 8students proposed. For assessment, have students write a short essay describing the checks and balances on each branch's power as illustrated through the exercise.

Focus Question: How do the roles and responsibilities of the different branches of government overlap and check and balance each other?

  1. Divide the class into 6 groups (2 legislative, 2 judicial and 2 executive)
  2. Each group needs to analyze the roles and responsibilities of their group and organize the information into a chart. Students can use the Constitution or We the People, Lesson 5. The groups then come together and share what they've learned about each branch and the chart is completed.
    Branch of Government Powers Granted by the Constitution How These Powers are Checked
    Legislative Make laws Executive – veto law Judicial – declare law unconstitutional
  3. As a way of testing the understanding of the students, a review game can be played. Each group will have 1 minute to decide if their branch claims this as something they have power over or not. They will also have to justify their claim. When you call time, they should hold up their sign (a whiteboard can be used or a piece of paper with their branch written on it) showing their answer and then provide justification orally. Two points will be given for correctly claiming and justifying, 1 point for correctly not claiming a power, and 0 points for an incorrect answer.


  1. A bill is being considered requiring automobile manufacturers to install seatbelts in all new cars. E – propose & sign laws, L – create laws
  2. A case is being appealed from the Texas Supreme Court. J hears appeals cases
  3. The United States needs an ambassador to Argentina. E – makes appointments, L approves appointments
  4. There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court and a new justice must be appointed. E makes appointment, L approves appointment
  5. The US has decided to recognize the new Republic of Xanadu. E – chief diplomat
  6. The state of Arizona is suing California over water rights. J – dispute between states
  7. The army wants more money for tanks. E – commander-in-chief, L – pass bill authorizing money
  8. A law passed the state of Louisiana has been challenged as unconstitutional. J – hears cases about Constitution
  9. Ralph has been charged with a federal crime of transporting stolen cars from Texas to Oklahoma. J – federal court case
  10. Impeachment proceedings have been brought against the president. L – hears impeachment trials
  11. A bill is being vetoed. E – has the power to veto legislation
  12. A State of the Union message is being prepared. E – required duty of the President
  13. An Ambassador from a foreign country has been arrested. J – hears matters dealing with foreign countries
  14. A law is declared null and void. J – federal courts can overturn laws
  15. War is declared on Transylvania. L – Congress has the power to declare war, E – is Commander in Chief of Armed Forces
  16. A federal income tax rebate is being considered. L – congress has the power to tax
  17. A treaty with a foreign country to import oil is being negotiated. E – President makes treaties, L – Senate must approve
  18. A case has arisen over a collision between a US naval vessel and a private ship. J – federal courts hear naval disputes
  19. There is a dispute over land between 2 Indian tribes who claim the land is theirs by different treaties. J – hears controversies to which the US government is involved
  20. Review the situations at the end of the game so students can add information to their charts.
  21. Constructed response:
    Focus Question: How do the roles and responsibilities of the different branches of government overlap and check and balance each other?
Resources for Objective 1.A.1.c:
Clarifications | LESSON SEEDS |