Checks and Balances: Let's Describe the Powers

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TSWBAT read informational text on each of the three branches and compare them using a Three Circle Venn Diagram.

Big Idea

Just "check" how we "balance" government.

Warm Up

10 minutes

A significant aspect of United States Government students need to secure is the concept of "Checks and Balances."  Although we've discussed at various points before, this lesson will concentrate solely on what the checks and balances are, branch to branch to branch. This lesson is a perfect one for the kids to practice their ELA skills of comparing and contrasting.  I instruct them to take notes as they watch a video. In the next section of the lesson, they will display the similarities and differences between the branches in a Three Circle Venn Diagram.

I begin with a review of "Checks and Balances" using the nearly four minute video.  Students watch the informative video  The narrator is a little dry, but the information is interesting enough to keep their attention. Students take notes during the video. It should be noted that they're participating in a government simulation at this time, and have been learning how to navigate through procedures as a member of one of the Three Branches.  This naturally impacts their interest in the video.  Many are eager to hear more information about "their" particular branch.


**I was pleased when they asked me to replay this video after the Venn comparison/contrast activity which is in the application section.  It was informative, and a few wanted to supplement the text they'd just read.


25 minutes

The students are primed to get to work.  With the review complete, we are ready to read the informational text within the interactive site and complete the Three Circle Venn Diagram.  The students label the circles with each of the Branches of Government: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.  They then read two forms of text- the interactive site informational text and Checks and Balances page of data, and complete the Triple Venn completing the Triple Venn Diagram. The first is a specific page detailing each of the branches and its checks and balances.  The second is an overall Checks and Balances page that puts it all in one place. I also bring this one up on the Smart Board for kids to come up and peruse. Here is Checks and Balances Info on the Smart Board.

My objective with this lesson is two-fold.  First is the content.  I want the students to learn more about how each of the Three Branches of Government function.  Secondly, they are practicing the ELA skill of Comparing and Contrasting data.  How wonderful their knowledge will be enhanced with RI.5.6 as they note important similarities and differences between the branches, and understand the content better because of it. 

The Congress for Kids interactive site from which I pulled some of the informational text we're using is an excellent resource if you have time for the kids to navigate through it in the computer lab.  I simply printed the pages I wanted for this lesson, but the link will take you to the entire site.

Triple Venn Diagram 1

Triple Venn Diagram 2

Triple Venn Diagram 3


15 minutes

The kids volunteer to share their Triple Venn Diagrams with the class. (Sharing her Venn) I was impressed with some of the similarities they came up with.  The differences between the checks and balances are easy to spot, but the similarities can be a bit tricky. 

The it's time for a little levity with the final piece.  This Flocabulary on the Three Branches is fun, interesting, and the perfect wrap-up. (Watching "Flocabulary" on Checks and Balances)  The kids get into it right away!  As soon as it ended, they asked for it to be played again which is a great sign that I found the perfect learning hook.  One of the girls asked a friend what I'd said the name was so she could look it up later.  They love "Flocabulary!" Again, great to hear!