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Separation of Powers with Checks and Balances

85 min

Guiding Questions

  • Why was the separation of powers included in the US government?
  • What are the three branches of government?
  • How does the checks and balances process work?
  • What are some examples of how separation of powers works in our government today?


  • Students will understand how and why separation of powers was included in the US Constitution.
  • Student will describe the three branches of government and explain how the  checks and balances process works.
  • Students will explain real life examples of checks and  balances in action.

  • Founders
  • liberty
  • limited government
  • Framers
  • John Locke
  • James Madison
  • Constitution
  • judicial review
  • republican government
  • checks and balances
  • virtue
  • separation of powers

Have students work alone or in pairs/small groups to fill in the first two columns of a KWL Chart (What I Know; What I Want to Know; What I Learned): What are the three branches of government and how do they function together?

Separation of Powers with Checks and Balances Activity: Montesquieu and Madison [45 minutes]

Have students read Handout A: Montesquieu Excerpts from the Spirit of the Laws and Handout B: Madison Excerpts from Federalist No. 47 to compare and contrasts their views on separations of power and checks and balances. As students read, have them complete Handout C: Montesquieu and Madison Venn Diagram. Depending on student background knowledge, you may want to divide the reading assignments and/or use grouping strategies since these excerpts are rather long.

Separation of Powers and Checks with Balances Activity: Constitutional Principle Viewing Guide [15 minutes]

Have the students watch the Constitutional Principle Video on Separation of Powers. Students should complete Handout D: Separation of Powers Video Viewing Guide as they watch.

Have students finish the KWL chart they started in the warm-up focusing on the Learned column.

Students find current events reports related to separation of powers and checks and balances, and share them in class, explaining how Montesquieu and Madison might interpret the events described.

Students will take one of the branches of government and focus on a specific example of a situation and how that situation would play out amongst all of the branches.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Republican Government

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