Foundations of Democracy

This collection gives teachers access to foundational principles of democracies including rule of law, limited government and checks and balances. It can be used to build background knowledge to analyze the health of our democracy over time and in today’s environment.

Essential Questions include:

  • What systems attempt to limit government power?
  • Where does the government gain its authority in a democracy?
  • What is the rule of law and how does it play out in democracies?
  • What are ways of measuring the health of a democracy?
  • What recourses are in place to ensure the health of democracy?
  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12

Key Constitutional Concepts

This three-part documentary discusses why and how the Constitution was created at the Constitutional Convention and explores the protection of individuals’ rights in the Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright and limits on presidential power through checks and balances in the Supreme Court case Youngstown v. Sawyer.

Each segment is about 20 minutes.

Closed captions available in multiple languages, including Spanish.

  • Resource Type: Closed Captions, ESL Appropriate, ESL Materials, Special Needs/Language Focus, Translated Materials, Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

The Role of the Courts (Separation of Powers)

In these five short videos, federal judges explain separation of powers and the roles of the three branches of government as well as landmark cases related to separation of powers. Judges also discuss our government’s system of checks and balances, and why it’s important to respect the nation’s rule of law and the jurisdiction of the courts.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Grade 6-8 An Energetic Executive

The purpose of this lesson is to assist student understanding of the expressed and implied powers of the president. By the conclusion of this lesson, students will understand the scope and purpose of these powers and be able to describe how they play out in real life. Students will also understand the importance of constitutional checks on presidential powers–examining the ways that a president could abuse his or her power should constitutional checks not exist.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Executive Branch/Presidency
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

Congress at Work: The Presidential Veto and Congressional Veto Override Process

Students will use a facsimile of a vetoed bill and veto message to understand the veto and veto override process in Congress. Referring to the Constitution, students will match the Constitution’s directions to the markings and language of the bill and veto message. Students will then investigate motives for using the veto and override powers, and how the powers reflect the Constitution’s checks and balances.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Primary Sources
  • Subject: Executive Branch/Presidency
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Separation of Powers: Grades 3-5

This lesson is designed to be used in conjunction with the National Constitution Center’s Separation of Powers show, which is available as part of themed museum packages for groups and the Traveling History & Civics Program for schools.

Together, they show students firsthand how the three branches of government work together through separation of powers and checks and balances.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 3, 4, 5

Separation of Powers: Grades 6-8

This lesson is designed to be used in conjunction with the National Constitution Center’s Separation of Powers show, which is available as part of themed museum packages for groups and the Traveling History & Civics Program for schools.

Together, they show students firsthand how the three branches of government work together through separation of powers and checks and balances.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

Separation of Powers: Grades 9-12

This lesson is designed to be used in conjunction with the National Constitution Center’s Separation of Powers show, which is available as part of themed museum packages for groups and the Traveling History & Civics Program for schools.

Together, they show students firsthand how the three branches of government work together through separation of powers and checks and balances.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Court Shorts: Separation of Powers

In a five-minute video, federal judges offer insights into their thinking about the separation of powers and describe how healthy tensions among the branches have a stabilizing effect on democracy. The judges also share their respect for and commitment to this founding principle, which has an impact on everyday American life.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12