Lesson Plan: US Government: Checks and Balances
Date: Week of October 6, 1997
Objectives: The students will
I. identify the powers delegated to the three branches of government
II. Illustrate how the system of checks and balances works.
III. determine how the checks and balances system can be seen in today's modern democratic system.
Warm Up Activity (Anticipatory Set): Review of Flow Chart
A) Display the flow chart that shows how the checks and balances system works.
B) Have students develop their own flow chart that illustrates the major points of the three-branch checks and balances system.
Main Activity (Instructional Input): Chart on the Checks and Balances System
A) Distribute or display the chart on the Checks and Balances system found with this link.
B) Students should answer the questions in writing or orally by identifying both the branch doing the checking and the branch
whose power is being checked.
C) Review responses when students are ready.
Examples (Modeling): Checks and Balances: A Simulation
A) Have the students form four groups each representing one of the branches of government and one representing the Print and
B) The legislative group should be divided into two groups, the House and Senate. The teacher should designate a President in
the Executive group. The Judicial branch branch should have an odd number of people.
Hand each of the groups the appropriate scenario on one or more slips of paper. The other groups should not know the
contents of the other group's instructions.
The Legislative Branch
The Congress must write a bill that restricts the content of what can be put on the World Wide Web. It must be a proposed
law that makes it a crime to publish on the Internet any criticism of the president or his advisors. Please list examples of the
types of language that would be made illegal if the material were available on the World Wide Web. Students in this group must
write the bill, be ready to debate the bill in class, and vote on it. The final results of the bill must be that is passes and is sent to
the President for If the president vetoes the bill, the Congress will make amendments to the bill and resubmit the changed bill to
the President. approval.
The Executive Branch
Congress is going to submit a bill to you, the Executive Branch, that will make it illegal to place any criticism of the President on
the Internet's World Wide Web. You will have to decide if the bill should be approved by the President or vetoed. Each of the
president's advisors must write a "memorandum" to the president stating his or her position on the bill with a recommendation to
the president weather or not it should be vetoed. Students should be ready to share their views with the class in the form of a
press conference. If the president vetoes the bill, the Congress will make amendments to the bill and resubmit the changed bill
to the President.
The bill should ultimately be approved by the President.
The Judicial Branch
The Congress is considering a bill that will make criticism of the President on the Internet's World Wide Web illegal. If the bill is
approved by Congress and approved by the President, the Supreme Court must be ready to hear arguments in favor and
against the bill. The Supreme Court must be ready to ask the Congress questions about the bill in order to learn facts that will
lead to a decision in a lawsuit brought by the Press against the bill. The Supreme Court must develop five to seven questions it
can ask lawyers on both sides. The Supreme Court will also have to vote on the constitutionality of the bill. Those in favor
(there must be a minority of students taking this position even if they disagree with it) and those opposed to the bill must write a
"majority" and "minority" opinion in the case.
The Print and Electronic Media
The Congress is considering a bill that would make criticism of the President on the Internet's world Wide Web illegal. The
President will no doubt agree with such a bill since it would improve his image. The press is using the Internet more and more to
place their articles on line for their customers who cannot receive their print version. If the bill becomes law, the Media (TV,
Radio, Newspapers, and Magazines) must be ready to sue the federal government on the basis of the First Amendment
Freedoms of press and Speech. The Press will learn of the President's decision at a press conference. They must have
questions ready for the President no matter which way he decides: for or against the bill. Members of the media must write one
or more editorials opposing (and supporting, even though this position would be in the minority) the bill. Members of the Press
must be ready to answer questions from the Supreme Court as to why the bill should be ruled unconstitutional (or not ruled as
The Simulation Procedure
Follow the outline below when running the simulation. Be ready to improvise if needed to keep all students on task and to lead
students in fulfilling their role in order to gain the concepts contained in the instructional objectives.
1) Distribute scenario sheets. Inform students that each group must produce written element in the execution of their roles,
which will be graded. The teacher can decide if the group can submit one document (such as Congress submitting one bill) or if
each person must submit a document (such as each of the presidential advisors submitting a written recommendation to the
2) Allow students to discuss their roles based on the sheets. Students need to decide who will do what within their groups.
This may include sub-roles such as the Speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, Vice president, Attorney General,
Newspaper editors, and Supreme Court justices.
3) Each group must decide what they will do depending on the other group's actions. Congress must know that they will
present their bill first to the class and formally submit it to the President.
4) Congress passes the bill with a voice vote. The teacher acts as clerk by reading the names of the House and Senate
members and recording the vote. The bill is then submitted to the President.
5) The President and his advisors consider and decide on the bill. The group's members must write their recommendations.
The president announces his decision to the class in the form of a Press conference.
6) Members of the press ask their questions. The President can answer questions or defer to his advisors. The Attorney
General will be a very important advisor at the press conference.
7) The Press announces their lawsuit against Congress once the bill has been approved by the President in the press
8) The Supreme Court asks questions to the Press and the Congress and President. They try to gain information regarding
whether or not the law is constitutional. Once all their questions have been answered, they should discuss the merits of the case.
9) The Supreme Court announces their decision. The minority and majority opinions are presented. The Chief Justice presents
the majority opinion.
Check For Understanding:
A) Have students list all of the examples of Checks and Balances in the role playing simulation. Have them answer the following
questions orally or in writing:
1) How was the proposed law discussed in the simulation related to the Constitution?
2) How was the law similar to an actual law that was passed by Congress recently?
B) Locate articles from print or Internet web sites that discusses the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act.
Distribute readings on the topic to students and have them compare the CDA with the law in the simulation.
C) Have students discuss why or why not the CDA was constitutional according to the decision of the Supreme Court, and
discuss how the system of checks and balances can be seen in the passage and nullification of the CDA.
Guided Practice: Quiz On The Checks and Balances System
A) Distribute quiz on the Checks and Balances System.
B) When students have completed their work, have them exchange papers, review answers orally, and make corrections.
Homework (Independent Practice): Checks and Balances In The News
A) have students locate an article in a newspaper, magazine, or web site that illustrates the concept of checks and balances.
B) Instruct students to write an article or broadcast summary that outlines the main events and concepts in the article. Students
should include a statement that contains a statement regarding which branch has the power and which branch is having its
power limited by the actions of the other branch.
C) Students should bring in article and summaries and discuss or present their findings to the class.
D) During the discussion, ask the students to respond to this question:
How does the Constitution's system of checks and balances contribute to the system of democratic government?
In what ways would you change the Constitution to improve the system of checks and balances?
Wrap-Up Activity (Closure): Pictionary on Checks and Balances (Based on the game Pictionary or Win-Lose-or-Draw).
A) Divide the class into 5-6 teams of 4.
B) Using the flow chart or chart shown above, choose an individual to come to the board or overhead to draw ideas relating to
checks and balances for the class. No words, numbers or talking can be used. The teacher supplies the term to be drawn.
C) The first team to guess the concept gets the point and sends the next person to draw up to the board/overhead.
D) Review the main idea of each concept before moving on to the next one by analyzing the elements of the drawing made by
E) Continue until all concepts have been reviewed.
Evaluation: The lesson will be evaluated by:
I. the accuracy of student's written responses;
II. student's scores on future tests and quizzes.