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Instructional Lesson: Civics 1 Grades 4-5

Three Branch Checking Game
Fran O'Malley
The Democracy Project


In this lesson students will play a game that is designed to help them understand the powers and responsibilities of the three branches of the United States government. The lesson can be used to pre-assess or reinforce students' understanding of the powers of the three branches.

Targeted Audience: Grades 4-5

Time to Complete: 40-50 minutes.

Benchmark Addressed: Civics 1 [Government]
Students will understand that the United States government is divided into executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each with specific responsibilities and powers.

Materials Needed

  • Pictures or drawings of the White House, United States Capitol, and Supreme Court.
  • Cutouts of the powers of the three branches of government (see Resource 1).
  • Cutouts of checks (see Resource 2).


1. Cutout the powers of the three branches of government and checks found on Resources 1 and two prior to class. You will need one set of Resource 1 cutouts for every 3 students in class. Place the Resource 1 cutouts in small bags making sure that the wording on each cutout faces down (i.e. is not visible to the students). Include one "check" (see Resource 2) for each student in each bag.

2. Place students in groups of three and arrange their seats so that the 3 members (triads) of each group are facing each other. Give each student in a triad a picture or drawing of one of the three branches (e.g. Student A receives a picture of the White House, Student B receives a picture of the Capitol, and student C receives a picture of the Supreme Court). Ask each student to display the picture on their desk so that the others in the group can see it.

3. Tell the students that they are going to play a game that will reinforce and assess their understanding of the powers of the three branches of the U.S. government. Explain that you are going to place a bag with cutouts on the desk (or table) of each group. Each cutout describes a power of one of the three branches of government. Proceeding clockwise and one at a time, each student is to draw a cutout from the bag. Read the power that is described on the cutout and place it on top of the picture that shows the branch that possesses that power.

4. Scoring: If the student is correct, he or she earns one point. If either of the two other members of the group believe that the student's placement is incorrect, they can "check" the placement by placing their check on top of the cutout and explain where he or she actually thinks it belongs. A student who correctly "checks" a response earns two points while the student who placed it incorrectly loses a point.

5. Add up the total number of points earned by each student at the end of a round to determine a winner. Winners can be given an award such as bonus points.


  • Ask the students which branch they think was given the most power? Why might the Framers of the Constitution have chosen to do this?
  • Ask the students why the Framers of the Constitution separated the powers of government into three branches?

Explain that the Framers intended to divide power relatively evenly among the three branches and that they also separated the powers of government believing that by separating power they would help to insure that no single person or group would be able to abuse power. By separating powers into three branches the Framers intended to give powers to each branch that would allow one branch to check the actions of the other two if either attempted to abuse or assume powers that they were never intended to have. Ask students to think of examples whereby one branch abuses power and one of the other two check that abuse.


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University of Delaware Web PageSend comments to Fran O'Malley at fomalley@udel.edu.
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