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

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

We the People: An Analysis of the Constitution

Students will recognize the different parts of the U.S. Constitution and conduct a close text reading to discover the meaning and significance of each part. In the main activities, they will analyze the way in which the document balances the workings of the government with the rights of the individual. The Lesson Extensions will support these analyses with text-based evidence from primary text sources.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 5, 6, 7, 8

The United States Constitution (CKHG Unit)

This unit explores the creation and central ideas of the United States Constitution. Across 18 lessons, students learn how, after the Revolution, the Founding Fathers worked to confront the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation. They learn why the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, and explore reasons why the Constitution has survived as the guiding document of government in the United States.

  • Resource Type: Assessments, Books, Descriptive Text, Lesson Plans, Media, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources, Timelines
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8