Checks and Balances


The lesson reviews the concept of Checks and Balances as it relates to the three branches of the United States government.  Most students are aware of the three branches of government, and should understand the process of a bill being passed, but often are unclear of this “checks and balances” concept.  The students will become aware of how checks and balances separates the power of the branches of government.

Checks and Balances Lesson Plan Includes:

  • Full Teacher Guidelines with Creative Teaching Ideas
  • Instructional Content Pages about Checks and Balances
  • Hands-on homework activities related to checks and balances of the American government
  • Answer Keys
  • Common Core State Standards
  • Many Additional Links and Resources
  • Built for Grades 4-6 but can be adapted for other grade levels.

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During this lesson the students will become aware of how a process of checks and balances separates the power of the branches of government, and keeps one person or group from becoming too powerful.  The three branches of government are defined and various relevant vocabulary is also defined such as Cabinet, veto and impeach.  As part of the lesson, students will complete an activity which gives them an opportunity to vote on an issue vetoed by a previous president, so they will have “hands-on” experience that relates to how the checks and balances’ process works.

Sample Classroom Procedure / Teacher Instructions: 

  1. Ask students: What would it be like all the laws in the United States were decided by just one person?  What are the advantages and disadvantages?
  2. Allow for responses and discussion. Further ask:  What prevents the President from doing whatever he or she wants to do regarding the laws of the country?
  3. Allow for responses and discussion. Introduce Checks and Balances.
  4. Distribute Checks and Balances content pages. Read and review the information with the students.  If possible, share recent examples of vetoes, veto overrides, and appointments to, or decisions of the Supreme Court.  Save the final question for the lesson closing.  Use the additional resources to enhance understanding.
  5. Distribute Activity page. Read and review the instructions.  Group students in 3s or 5s.  Allow students time to discuss past vetoes and to vote, whether for or against the bill.  Encourage students to spend time thinking about the vetoes and the discussion questions.
  6. Once completed, bring the class together and discuss the vetoes and questions. Hold a final vote on the two vetoed bills by the past Presidents.
  7. Distribute Practice page. Check and review the students’ responses.
  8. Distribute the Homework page. The next day, check and review the students’ responses.
  9. In closing, ask students: What new law do you think is needed or not needed in the United States?  Why?
  10. Allow for responses and discussion. Students may respond to both, a law they believe is needed, and a law that should be eliminated.  Students must give reasons for their responses.

Common Core State Standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.3, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.5, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.3, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.3, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.2

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.3, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.6.2, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6.4, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6.10

Class Sessions (45 minutes): At least 2 class sessions

Additional Resources: 

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Additional information

Grade Level

4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade


Social Studies