2.3 Government Institutions
This inquiry set is designed to introduce to students the structure and functions of the federal government. It also provides students with three sources that help them understand how they — as children and potential voters — can voice their perspectives to their government leaders.
- HSS 2.3.1 Explain how the United States and other countries make laws, carry out laws, determine whether laws have been violated, and punish wrongdoers.
- HSS 2.3.2 Describe the ways in which groups and nations interact with one another to try to resolve problems in such areas as trade, cultural contacts, treaties, diplomacy, and military force.
How does government work?
- If students lack basic background knowledge about the government, a book like The U.S. Constitution by Norman Pearl introduces the constitution and three branches of government. Teachers might want to read this book out loud to frontload vocabulary and concepts.
- Divide the students into groups of five. Assign one reader part to each student. Allow time for each group to practice their parts, emphasizing the statements written in bold lettering that are to be read aloud in unison. Groups present to their classmates — ideally four times for significance and vocabulary — using the visual sources for each branch of government. (Note: The Readers' Theater could also be divided into sections to make the presentation more manageable. In addition, students could create their own visuals, select props, and solidify their understanding by performing the Readers' Theater for another class).
- Source set. It is important for students to understand and experience the role of "the people" as part of their understanding of our government. The source set includes examples of "the people" participating in government as individuals and as groups — African American men casting their vote during Reconstruction, groups demonstrating on behalf of a cause, and a 6-year-old writing a letter to the president offering his help.
- Literacy – writing. After examining the source set, discuss an issue that is important to students. Using the writing frame, compose a class letter to a government official stating the students' view on the issue.
- Preparation for lesson: a. Print Sources 1, 2, and 3 on cardstock for students to use with the Readers' Theater presentation. b. Print or display the source set. c. Make a poster-sized writing frame letter.
- After examining the source set, determine an issue that is important to students (school issues: longer recess, better lunches, etc.; community issues: need for a stop sign or traffic signal, etc.). This is an opportunity to transition to roles and responsibilities of local governments. Teachers might say, "we have been learning about how people make laws for our whole national government. Who is someone who makes some of the rules at our school?" Discuss the person, identify an issue, then hold a class vote to determine the focus of the letter to be written. As a class, compose a letter to the proper official (principal, mayor, city councilman, President)who would be able to address the request. Encourage students to use evidence in the text to make a strong argument. The writing frame can be used as a class poster or as a Google doc so students can complete together using Chromebooks, or other devices if available.
- End the activity by returning to the inquiry question to provide an opportunity for students to discuss what they learned about how government works.
2.3 Government Institutions Readers' Theater Student Handout
2.3 Government Institutions Writing Frame Student Handout
2.3 Government Institutions Teacher Key
- The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
- The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.