What is the Judicial Branch?

This lesson exposes students to the judicial branch and the power of judicial review. They will 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.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

The Federalist Debates: Balancing Power Between State and Federal Governments

This series of activities introduces students to one of the most hotly debated issues during the formation of the American government — how much power the federal government should have — or alternatively, how much liberty states and citizens should have.

By tracing the U.S. federal system of government to its roots, established by America’s Founding Fathers in the late 18th century, student examine the controversial issue of state sovereignty versus federal power. Students compare the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution, analyzing why weaknesses in the former led to the creation of the latter. Then they examine the resulting system of government formed by the Constitution.

  • Resource Type: Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

Congress, the President, and the War Powers (Fundamental Principles of Government)

This lesson will explore the implementation of the war-making power from the first declared war under the Constitution—the War of 1812—to the Iraq War. Using primary sources, students will investigate how the constitutional powers to initiate war have been exercised by the legislative and executive branches at several key moments in American history. They will also evaluate why and how the balance of authority in initiating war has changed over time, and the current balance of power.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12

Act III: How Did the Constitutional Convention Work Out the Details of Government?

This short video examines the role played by the Committee on Detail in defining the powers of Congress, the most important of which were the power to tax and the power to regulate commerce. The Committee wanted to promote an interstate commercial republic and specified congressional powers to achieve that goal. According to Professor Gordon Lloyd, the inclusion of the “necessary and proper clause” was the most significant contribution of this Committee.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Legislative Branch/Congress
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12

Grade 9-12 Executive Branch Document Exploration

The purpose of this lesson is to assist student exploration of several of the primary source documents related to the creation of the executive branch. Through independent reading followed by a round robin assignment and an essay to explore current application of executive power, students will develop their historical inquiry skills and understand the scope and meaning of executive power under the U.S. Constitution.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Executive Branch/Presidency
  • Grades: 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

The Supremacy Clause

Tension between the states and the federal government has been a constant throughout U.S. history. This video explores the supremacy clause in Article VI of the Constitution and key moments in the power struggle, including the landmark case McCulloch v. Maryland. In McCulloch, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that the supremacy clause unequivocally states that the “Constitution, and the Laws of the United States … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Core Documents Collection: The Cold War

This collection of documents on the Cold War continues TeachingAmericanHistory.org’s extended series of document collections covering major periods, themes and institutions in American history and government. The volume covers American aid to Europe in the early years of the Cold War and American intervention in subsequent years in conflicts around the world to contain the spread of Soviet power. Its documents also explore the dometic effects of the Cold War, chronicling how national security concerns affected relations between American citizens and between Americans and their government. Each volume includes:

  • Key documents on the period, theme or institution, selected by an expert and reviewed by an editorial board
  • A thematic table of contents, showing the connections between various documents
  • Study questions for each document as well as questions that refer to other documents in the collection
  • Notes on each document to identify people, events, movements, or ideas to improve understanding of the document’s historical context
  • Resource Type: Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: History
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12

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

What Should the U.S. Do About North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons?

The United States and North Korea are involved in escalating tensions related to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The U.S. opposes North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons. The Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, however, believes he needs nuculear weapons to remain in power. While war with North Korea is probably not imminent, the prospect has caused alarm. A nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea would have devastating consequences.

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