Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8

In this checks and balances lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 3-8, student explore the functions of each branch of the U.S. government. Students use an online interactive game to review how the checks and balances process ensures an equal distribution of power among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Explain the primary functions of each branch of the United States government.
  2. Complete cloze passages in an online game to review how the checks and balances system ensures an equal distribution of power among the three branches of government.


  • Computers with internet access for BrainPOP
  • Interactive whiteboard


This lesson plan uses an online social studies game from Sheppard Software called Checks and Balances. We encourage you to preview the game prior to introducing it to your students.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Project the Checks and Balances game for the class to see. Read the initial screen together and discuss it.
  2. Click the arrow to move forward to the third screen which shows the actual game. (The second screen can be shown and discussed only if you think your students will need the additional background knowledge or review prior to game play.)
  3. Together, read the vocabulary words listed at the bottom of the screen. Then have a student volunteer read the first cloze passage (fill in the blank phrase) at the top of the screen. After the phrase is read, signal to students that they should think-pair-share for 15 seconds to discuss the answer with their partner, then signal again to indicate that students should end their conversation and bring their attention back to the whiteboard.
  4. Have one pair of students tell which answer they think is correct and explain their thinking, then check their answer by dragging it to the correct space in the passage. Each government power will only "stick" in the correct place, and will bounce back if it is placed incorrectly.
  5. When all the cloze passages on the screen are complete, click "next" to continue. You will see two more screens in which game play continues in the same manner. You can have students access their own computers and work in pairs to complete the game, or continue playing on the interactive whiteboard as a whole class until all three levels are completed and then have students try the game with their partner.
  6. Before releasing students to play the game with their partners, remind them to discuss their answers and explain their thinking as they work.
  7. Provide approximately 5-15 minutes for students to complete all 3 levels with their partner. Allow students to work at their own pace, instructing them to utilize BrainPOP resources when they are done. They can play either the BrainPOP Branches of Government movie or the BrainPOP Jr Branches of Government movie and explore the related resources for each topic (such as the Related Reading for the BrainPOP movie and the game, activity, and word wall for the BrainPOP Jr. movie.)
  8. Assess student learning by projecting the second screen of the game for the class to see. This screen notes some of the key functions of each branch of government. Minimize the window so that students can no longer see the screen, and challenge them to work with their partner to list at least 2 functions of each branch of government that further the checks and balances system. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes and allow students to jot down their thoughts.
  9. Re-open the window that shows the game's second screen and allow students to check their answers with a partner. They can make a checkmark next to each function that they recorded that is also on the screen. Allow students to award themselves points, if desired. Talk about students' answers. What key vocabulary words did they use to describe each aspect of the checks and balances system? Did they list any functions that were not in the game? Encourage students to recall what they learned from other sources, as well.

Extension Activities:

Be sure to check out another great civics game by Sheppard Software called Branches of Government. You can also search the full collection of social studies games on BrainPOP's GameUp.