Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades 5-12, students play an iCivics game called Branches of Power that allows them to experience the role of the three branches of government, and how they interact. The goal of the game is to move a public policy issue from an idea to a fully formed and tested law. 

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Simulate how separation of powers as well as checks and balances limit government, while contributing to the creation of laws.
  2. Analyze the structure, functions, and processes of legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
  3. Illustrate the federal lawmaking process.



This lesson plan features a game called Branches of Power developed by our partner,  iCivics. In Branches of Power, your students will select leaders for each branch of government; create a presidential agenda as they learn about the powers of the executive branch; introduce bills and pass law through Congress; and apply judicial review to passed laws. 

Review the Branches of Power Game Guide for step-by-step directions on how to play the game. Then, preview and play Branches of Power to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs. If students will be playing in small groups, review tips on Setting Cooperative Gaming Expectations.

To meet the needs of English language learners, review this Guide to Supporting ELLs in iCivics Games

Next, preview and print out the Extension Activities, which include pre- and post activities along with a mini-quiz. make enough copies for each student, or for pairs if they’re working that way.

For ideas on how to use SnapThought with this game and for specific prompts to provide students with during game play, read Branches of Power: SnapThought Prompts.

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies:  Branches of Government, Presidential Power, U.S. Constitution, How a Bill Becomes a Law, Supreme Court, Democracy

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Begin the lesson with a class discussion about the branches of government. Ask the following prompts to spark the discussion:  
    • What are the three branches of government? 
    • What is the role of each branch of government? 
    • What does “constitutional” mean?
    • How do the branches work together to create constitutional laws?
  2. Display the BrainPOP movie Branches of Government on the whiteboard and watch as a whole class. After the movie, review key concepts they will need to know to play the game, including Legislative branch, Executive branch, Judicial branch, bill, clause, Constitution, checks and balances, rule/ruling, uphold, and veto. For more associated concepts, see the Glossary of Game Terms in the Game Guide.
  3. Next, display Branches of Power on the whiteboard. Explain to the class that in this game, they will take on the role of each of the three branches of government with the objective of moving a public policy issue from an idea to a fully formed and tested law
  4. To prepare students for the game, download and distribute page 1 of Extension Activities, The Three Branches, for students to complete.
  5. Now students play Branches of Power. They can either jump in and start playing, or if needed, you can model how to play, reviewing the steps as outlined in the Game Guide.
  6. Students can play independently, in pairs, or in small groups. Circulate, listening in to students’ discussions and decision-making, providing support as needed. Game takes between 30 to 45 minutes to play, so you may want to have them play over two or three class periods
  7. If students have individual logins through My BrainPOP, encourage them to use the SnapThought® tool to take snapshots during the game. Review Branches of Power: SnapThought Prompts for suggested prompts.
  8. After playing, print out and challenge students to complete some or all of the post-game activities pages 2-4 of Extension Activities. Then have them take the Branches of Power Mini-Quiz on page 5.
  9. Finally, come together as a class to discuss what they learned. Ask the following post-game questions:  
    • If you were going to be a member of a branch of government, which one would you want to be part of? Why? 
    • What would be the advantage of having one branch that does everything? What would be the disadvantage? 
    • How is the lawmaking process affected if the president and Congress have different values?  

Extension Activities:

  • Challenge students to make their own infographic showing the process of how a bill becomes a law.
  • Help the class hold their own Congressional hearings on a topic from the game or one of your choosing. Ask each student to research and prepare a short testimony for the rest of the class. You can add a challenge by assigning them a value to include.