Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Federalism and the Prevention of Abuse of Power in the US Federal Government

Jim Vierthaler
Marion County Schools


This multiple day lesson plan is designed to show the ideas, values, and principles of the United States Constitution and other other writings that helped to shape the government of the United States. Students demonstrate understanding of the federal government of the United States (Federalism, Democracy vs. Republic, Rights vs. Freedoms) through regular formative assessments and a summative assessment. Students will also identify examples of abuse of power and identify attempts by the US federal government to prevent abuse of power. Unlimited governments (e.g., totalitarian regimes) are not discussed. Also addressed are the following Marion County objectives: Compares And Contrasts, Describes Characteristics Of Democracy, Recognizes Contents Of Basic Documents, Describes Elements Of Branches. Although this can be used in any high school-level American government class, it is intended for use in honors or advanced placement classes.


The student understands the nature of political authority and the nature of the relationship between government and civil society in limited governments (e.g., constitutional democracies) and unlimited governments (e.g., totalitarian regimes).

The student understands how the overall design and specific features of the Constitution prevent the abuse of power by aggregating power at the national, state, and local levels; dispersing power among different levels of government; and using a system of checks and balances (e.g.,federalism).


-Pen or Pencil
-Copy of the US Constitution for each student (either in a textbook or from an Internet Web page)
-Copy of Federalist 10 for each student
-Overhead projector and overhead copies of Constitution and Federalist 10 are recommended
-Internet access from either teacher computer or student computer (preferably both)
-Recommended: TVGold or other such device to connect the teacher's computer to the classroom television. This will help in class discussions when using the Websites that are listed later in the unit plan. Also, this will help to incorporate use of technology in the classroom (as per the No Child Left Behind Act).
-Copy of Summative for each student (Associated File)
-Copy of Summative key for teacher (Associated File)


1. Create overhead copies of Venn diagrams and 'KWL' charts.
2. Provide hard copies (or computers with access to) of Federalist 10.
3. Create overhead copy of 5 Principles of a Democracy.
4. Obtain copies (or use textbooks with copies of) the US Constitution.
5. Be familiar with graphic organizers such as 'KWL' charts and Venn diagrams.
6. Duplicate the Summative assessment and key in the associated file.
7. Explore the listed Websites for information for you and the students.


Days 1-12
NOTE: Each procedure is one day's lesson including discussion and formative feedback review/correction from the previous day.

Instruction: Begin by having students create a 'Know, Want to know, and Learned' chart (otherwise known as a 'KWL Chart') about the US Constitution and the Federal government. Focus on the 'K' and 'W' portions here. Teachers: if students do not offer these items on their own, please direct them to include the following: Federalism, the Bill of Rights, Branches of government, Democracy, and Republic. This chart will be collected (so the teacher can offer appropriate written feedback) at the conclusion of lesson #6. Students participate in classroom discussion each day and take notes on the following subjects of discussion:

1. Ask students: What are the different branches of the United States Federal Government, and what are their responsibilities? Discuss the purpose of checks and balances and give examples. At the end of the discussion the students should be able to identify examples of checks and balances in each of the 3 branches of government. Assign for homework a bubble diagram using the term "Checks and Balances." This should be reviewed and collected on the next class day. Review this in class the next day and discuss as a class. Allow students to correct and add information using a different color of ink on their bubble diagrams. (This technique allows you to see what the student wrote originally and what the student had to add or correct, without a penalty being attached.)

2. Ask students: What are the functions of government? Discuss which level of government (Federal, State, County, City) is involved for a particular activity such as (but not limited to) collection of taxes, running elections, building and maintaining roads, highways and bridges, law enforcement, and operation of airports. Define and discuss the concept of federalism (A system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units).

Ask: What is federalism? Why is it necessary? At the end of the discussion students should be able to identify (in a matching non-graded quiz) which level of government is appropriate for the activities that were discussed and explain (in short answer response) the concept of federalism. At this point the students will use their notes to answer oral questioning by the teacher (on lessons #1 and #2). Students may use this opportunity to update or revise their notes if necessary.

3. Discuss with students: What responsibilities does the US federal government have as outlined in the US Constitution? What are its limitations? What role do the states play? Students should be able to show (through written or oral questioning) what the responsibilities of the federal government are. Assign
simple to assess, ten to fifteen true/false questions on responsibilities and non-responsiblities of each level of government in order to identify which student needs further assistance.

4. Ask students: Does Congress have the authority to be involved in certain activities (such as, but not limited to, funding day care, funding arts, social security, Medicare) according to the US Constitution? Use current events (from television, newspaper, magazine, etc.) to expland on this. Discuss Article I, section 8 of the US Constitution (See Weblinks). Review the 18 constitutionally authorized powers of Congress. Discussion: Does congressional involvement in activities outside of the 18 found in Article I, section 8 represent an abuse of power? At the conclusion of this lesson, students should be able to identify the powers of Congress as outlined in Article I, section 8 of the US Constitution. At this point the students will use their notes to answer oral questions posed by the teacher (based on lessons #3 and #4). These answers should be collected to review student responses. Students may use this opportunity to update or revise thier notes (if necessary).

5. Discuss the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments to the US Constitution). Ask: What are your rights as a US citizen?
What is a right?
What is a freedom?
Compare and contrast rights vs. freedoms (using a Venn diagram, if you desire). At the conclusion of this discussion, students should be able to identify and name the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution and identify the differences between a freedom and a right.

6. Discuss: What is a democracy? Review the concepts of a democracy (civil rights over natural rights, equality, compromise, majority rule, and worth of the individual). Discuss: What is a republic? (A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them, natural rights over civil rights, minority rights, etc.) Discussion topic: Is the United States a democracy? Give particular attention to the concept of majority rule. Ask:
Do we, in fact, live by majority rule?

Ask: Why does the word ‘democracy’ not appear in the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, or a Presidential speech (until the mid-1900s)? Include a discussion of Federalist 10 by James Madison. Discuss Madison’s 2 great points of difference between a democacy and a republic (first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended). Students should be able to identify the 5 basic concepts of a democracy and have an understanding of Madison’s point that the United States is a republic and not a democracy at the end of this section. Students should also understand Madison’s concerns about democracies.

Using the concets of a democracy and Federalist 10, have students construct a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the concepts of a democracy vs. a republic. At this point students will use their notes to answer oral questioning by the teacher (based on lessons #5 and #6). Students may use this opportunity to update or revise their notes (if necessary).

7. Students break into small groups (3 to 4 students in each) to design a change to the US Constitution (either an additional amendment or a repeal of an existing amendment) complete with explanation and desired result. Class discussion will occur after each presentation. Topic: What could be a possible unexpected result (either positive or negative). Students will show understanding of the US Constitution and possible changes in society from alterations of the US Constitution. A review of current or recent events/trends in US government might help students with ideas. Be prepared to devote an entire class period (or more) for this as some ideas may generate more of a response than others. If you are pressed for time, an alternative could be to post the ideas (without identifying the students who came up with the idea) in the classroom and have students review and discuss them as a class.

8. Conclude by completing the KWL chart that was created at the beginning of the unit. At this point focus on the final 'L' portion of the 'KWL' chart.


Formative Assessment:
On #1, formatively assess the students' bubble diagram.
On #2, formatively assess the non-graded quiz.
On #3 formatively assess the true-false questions.
On #4, formatively assess the students' written responses to the teacher's oral questions.
On #5, formatively assess the written differences between a right and a freedom.
On #6, formatively assess the Venn diagram.
On #7, formatively assess the students' presentations of the addition/deletion of an amendment.
On #8, formatively assess the L part of the KWL chart.
(Formative assessment should occur, including comments by the teacher. Criteria for each formative assessment is found in the procedure to which it corresponds. Students should have an opportunity to correct or add to their assessments the next day after a review or discussion, in order to use them on the final assessment. It is important for each student to have adequate and correct information in their notes and formative assessments.)

Summative Assessment:
Assess the Summative using the answer key in the Associated File.

(Additional objective or multiple choice/true false questions can be added as needed by individual teachers using this lesson plan.)


ESOL and ESE students should be allowed extra time and or preferential seating. ESOL students should be allowed to work in groups with students that speak their same language.

ESE Modifications should include, but not be limited to:
1. Written notes, outlines, study guides
2. Lessons broken down into smaller segments
3. Highlight materials for reading and emphasis
4. Varied pacing of instruction
5. Allow extra time for processing/responding
6. Extended time for exams
7. Preview questions
8. Allow oral exams with oral responses
9. Peer assistance as needed

The following Marion County standards are reinforced in this unit:

004 Compares Relationships - Ideas And Behavior 5 5 EXP
The student will compare the relationships of ideas to actions, ideology to policy, and policy to practice.

G03 Uses Critical Thinking
The student will use critical thinking skills through questioning and writing activities.

004 Draws Conclusions/Predicts Consequences 10 5 ESS
The student will draw conclusions and/or predict probable
consequences of an event or series of events.

G04 Develops Participation Skills
The student will develop personal and interactive skills which
will assist him/her to work cooperatively with others for a common good.

001 Recognizes Effective Interaction Skills 12 5 ESS
The student will recognize effective group interaction skills
conducive to cohesion and cooperation.

S03 United States Federal System
The student will demonstrate an understanding of the federal
system in the United States.

G01 Analyzes Functions And Effectiveness Of Federal Gov.
The student will analyze functions of the United States federal

G05 Develops Historical Literacy
The student will develop historical literacy through the reading and discussion of literature and/or documents pertinent to American government.

Web Links

Here is the text of the tenth essay of the Federalist Papers written by James Madison. This link is for both student and teacher use for class discussion.
Federalist 10

This Website contains the full text of the Constitution of the United States.
US Constitution

This Website is dedicated to the concept of federalism in the United States.
U.S. Federalism Site

This Website explains the differences between a republic and a true democracy. This site does a good job in explaining James Madison's concerns about democracies.
Republic vs. Democracy

This is the official Website of the United States House of Representatives.
US House of Representatives Home Page

This is the official Web page of the United States Senate.
US Senate Home Page

This Website is dedicated to explaining the differences between a democracy and a republic.
Another Republic vs. Democracy Page

Attached Files

Summative Assessment (with answer key.)     File Extension: pdf

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