Civics Lessons

Teaching Standard: Structure and Function of Government

Participating in the Jury System

Students participate in activities and discussions about the relationship of a democratic society to its legal institutions, and the issues of fairness and equality under the law and legal system. They learn how constitutional amendments such as the Fourteenth Amendment influence lawsuits, and they will apply concepts within the Bill of Rights to jury trials. Students conduct research to compare the U.S. jury trial system to trial systems in other countries.

Voting in Congress

Students learn what factors members of Congress consider when deciding whether to vote for a bill. These include the powers given to Congress by the Constitution, members’ personal opinions, political party support, and what voters think. During the first day of the lesson, students find out about each of these factors. During the second day, students get to try their hand at weighing the factors by considering hypothetical bills.

B.B. Wolf v. Curly Pig Mock Trial

Mock Trial Script of Curly Pig vs the Big Bad Wolf

What is the Role of the President in the American Constitutional System?

This lesson examines sources of presidential power and ways that checks and balances limit presidential power. Students explain the president’s constitutional responsibilities, identify checks on the president’s power, and defend positions involving the exercise of presidential power.

Making Decisions: by Group: The Jury System

Students learn about the nation’s jury system and its importance to the rule of law in the United States. Students will experience the Sixth and Seventh Amendments at work as they engage in the main lesson activities, including one in which they will serve as jurors.

Goldilocks vs. the Three Bears

This scripted mock trial includes ideas for pre and post mock trial activities.

What Makes Lawmakers Tick?

This is the final lesson of three lessons on the Fundamentals of Representative Democracy.
This lesson is designed to give students a better idea of what makes members of Congress and state legislators tick. What motivates them, why do they run, what attributes and skills do they possess, and what is the nature of their jobs? This lesson relies upon a lawmaker being invited and coming to class to answer student questions about legislative life.

The Tired King

Students learn about the three functions of government in this interactive role play.

Krabbs v. Plankton Mock Trial

Students learn about the different roles and responsibilities in a court by participating in a mock trial.

Why Do We Have a House and Senate, Anyway?

Students learn why there are two houses of Congress and discover how a bicameral legislature ensures that states have a voice in bills. Together, the class creates a school cell phone policy and experiments with different voting groups that demonstrate why the bicameral compromise was necessary. Students also examine how things might be different today if there were just a House or a Senate.

Connecting the Separate Powers

In this lesson, students will gain an understanding of the separation of powers using role playing and discussion. Students will identify which parts of the Constitution provide for the branches of our government, and will categorize public officials into one of these three branches.

The Problem of SpongeBob RoundPants

This short scripted mock trial for grades 4-6 involves SpongeBob suing Abercrombie and Fish for pants that don’t fit. Scripted parts allow the trial to move quickly to jury deliberations during which the student jurors actually decide the verdict of the case.

Judiciary Act of 1789

The purpose of this lesson is to teach students about the significance of the Judiciary Act of 1789 in establishing a federal judiciary, and the power of judicial review as outlined by the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Case, Marbury v. Madison (1803). By the conclusion of this lesson, students will understand the key provisions of the Judiciary Act of 1789 and the structure of the federal judiciary, as well as the power of judicial review.

Qualities of Judges

Students brainstorm qualities that judges might possess, then discuss why those qualities are important.

What Makes a Court Supreme?

The purpose of this lesson is to help students understand the original purpose and
powers of the Supreme Court according to the Constitution. Students learn the Supreme Court’s role in preserving the U.S. Constitution and the balance of power it creates.

People in the Courtroom

In this lesson, students analyze a photograph of a trial. They identify the people in the courtroom, learn about the roles that they play in the legal process, and discuss how each is essential to ensuring access to justice.

Electing a President

This lesson starts with a political cartoon, then leads into discussion about the Electoral College and electing the U.S. President.

The Need for Laws: Planet Lawless

This activity will help students understand the need for rules, the rulemaking process, and the role of the student / citizen. Students will be introduced to the relationship between rules and laws and how citizens can establish laws in their communities, much like rules in the classroom, to help them live together.

Appellate Courts: Let’s Take It Up

Students learn what happens in appellate-level courts and how those courts operate differently from the trial courts most people are familiar with from watching television. By following the case of a real middle school girl who was strip searched at school, students find out what happens when someone takes a case all the way to the Supreme Court. Through this case, students learn about the structure of the federal court system and the way appellate courts decide cases.

What is the Judicial Branch?

This lesson exposes students to the judicial branch and the power of judicial review. They read about an actual Supreme Court case, Torcaso v. Watkins, to see how the judicial branch used its power of judicial review to strike down an unconstitutional state law.

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