Making the Branches of Government Relevant

A discussion of the three branches of government can be a fascinating experience.

By Cathy Neushul

Document of Congress

When Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address, he made a point of highlighting the awe-inspiring nature of a government, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” However, there are still some people who take democracy for granted. In order to help your scholars appreciate the rights and privileges that Americans have, you can start by giving them an in-depth overview of the three branches of government.

While some students may view a discussion of government as a recipe for boredom, you can quickly dispel this notion by showing them newspaper articles about the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court. There is always something interesting to talk about, such as health care reform, civil rights, or oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas. When discussing government, you can find a topic to interest even your most reluctant learners. 

The Internet Revolution

One of the great things about the Internet is the effect it has had on how people interact and learn about government. People no longer have to depend on textbooks or encyclopedias to learn about the three branches of government. They can visit websites, listen to speeches, watch live debates, or read the latest news posted to blogs.

The Legislative Branch

One of the first things you should do when launching a discussion relating to Congress, is visit the House of Representatives and Senate websites. You can watch live webcasts, find out about current legislation, or look up the name of your local representatives. Then, show your class a list of active legislation and identify the issues that are of particular importance to those in your class. For example, there might be legislation scheduled for discussion relating to gun control. Have your class read the legislation and talk about how they think their local representative will vote. After researching some of the key issues regarding the legislation, debate the merits and drawbacks of the legislation and whether or not they would vote for it.

The Executive Branch

One of the new perks of the Internet age is the ease with which you can interact with the president. Visit the president’s website and read recent speeches, listen to webcasts, or find out about recent legislation signed into law. You can even e-mail the president and tell him exactly how you feel about a particular issue. Right now, health care reform is a hot topic. Pick a topic, such as this one, and have students do research to find all the information they can about it. They can read blogs, listen to press briefings, locate newspaper articles, and more. After they have gathered information, ask them to write an opinion piece describing what they think about the topic and the president’s actions.

The Judicial Branch

While the other branches of government might get more airtime, the inner workings of the Supreme Court is a fascinating topic, and well-worth the time it takes to research it. Talk about the justices, their backgrounds, and the cases they have heard. Then, have your class look through the current cases and pick one they find to be of particular interest. They can read about the case and report back about their findings. This exercise provides a good way for young scholars to get an idea of the wide variety of cases that are presented before the Supreme Court.

Make Government Come Alive

Your class may not know that government and politics are fraught with drama, interesting characters, and great stories. Look through any newspaper, and you are bound to find at least one article about the president, a congressman or congresswoman, or a senator. Ask them to read the article and decide what facts about the person are verifiable, and what is simply hearsay. If you want to drive this point home, have your class watch the movie Lincoln. There are some wonderfully colorful and interesting politicians depicted. It might just change how they view government and politicians. It would also be worthwhile to take some time to present a few of the lessons below be certain that your class gains an understanding of America's unique governmental system. 

The Three Branches of Government Lessons:

The Three Branches of Government

Use this resource to help your class review what they have learned about the three branches of government. Have them identify the specific functions of each branch and how they work together. Then, have pupils share something interesting they have learned about each branch.

The Federal Courts in American Government

A discussion of the court system can be fascinating. Here, scholars examine how the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches of government work together. They also discuss the importance of an independent judiciary.

Separation of Powers

One of the key concepts of American government is a separation of powers. Pupils learn about this important aspect of the Constitution. Then, they engage in a role playing activity.

The Three Branches of Government

Use this resource to help your class gain an understanding of how the three branches of government developed. They discuss the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and the concept of checks and balances. This is a good way to begin a discussion on the interaction between the three branches of government.