Checks and Balances—Separation of Powers

Class Length: 1-2 class meetings


Students will be able to:

  1. Define the terms separation of powers and checks and balances.
  2. List, identify, and label the powers, relationship between, and histories behind the three separate branches of government: judicial, legislative, executive.


- Checks and balances

- Separation of powers

- Executive

- Judicial

- Legislative


- American Government textbook


Teacher will display on overhead the titles, function, and illustration of the three branches of US government: executive, judicial, legislative. Students use textbooks to learn these concepts. Teacher will include:

- Power is separated into three branches to avoid any abuse of right or responsibilities: legislative, executive, and judicial. It helps prevent any one branch from abusing its power.

- This system checks one branch against the others, and provides a balance of power among the structure of the government.

Students will be asked to define a system of checks and balances. Students will create and show a transparency that contains the meaning of separation of powers and the checks and balances system. Information to be included (retrieved from cite referenced):

- Legislative powers over the executive branch:

Overrides vetoes

Impeaches a President

- Legislative powers over the judicial branch

Approves federal judges

Impeaches federal judges

- Executive powers over the legislative branch

Vetoes acts of Congress

Calls Congress into special session

- Executive powers over the judicial branch

Appoints federal judges

- Judicial powers over the legislative branch

Declares laws unconstitutional

- Judicial powers over the executive branch

Declares executive acts unconstitutional

Students will play Pictionary with the information they have just learned. Each phrase lifted from the bag will be related in some way to the system of checks and balances. Divided into teams, the students will draw, using only pictures, representative illustration of their randomly picked phrase.

After several rounds, the students’ will have to arrange the drawings in the order that they make the most sense in terms of the systems of checks and balances. These illustrations will be displayed in the classroom throughout the unit.


National Constitution Center (2007). Separation of powers and a system of checks and

balances. Explore the Constitution.



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