Executive Branch Activities for Middle School

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Middle school students are often ready to understand the structure of the federal government on a deep and meaningful level. This lesson offers activities that get them well acquainted with the executive branch.

The Executive Branch of Government

Are you trying to teach your middle school students more about how the federal government works? A good understanding of the structure of government will equip your students for civic participation and for understanding history as well as current events.

By middle school, many of your students will already know that the federal government is divided into three branches, but they might be a bit fuzzy on the details of exactly what each branch is responsible for. Since everyone has heard of the presidency, the executive branch is a great place to start. This lesson gives you some activities that will help your students understand the executive branch of government.

Activities for Understanding the Executive Branch

Can Do, Can't Do

One thing that is really interesting about the executive branch of government is that while the president certainly has a great deal of power, he or she is not the same as a monarch. This activity helps your students understand that there are many things a president can do, but there are many things a president cannot do without the support of the legislative and judicial branches.

Prepare for this activity by creating a worksheet with ten to fifteen things that a student might assume presidents have the power to do. These might include:

  • declare war on other countries
  • appoint Supreme Court justices
  • make laws for this country
  • create amendments to the Constitution

Have students work with partners to circle all of the items on the list that they believe the president is able to do. Then, bring students together and go through the items one at a time, teaching students which of the things on the list are and are not under the president's power.

At the end of this activity, help your students work in groups to create Venn Diagrams comparing and contrasting the presidency with a monarchy.

Close Reading of Article Two

Perhaps the best way for students to understand the executive branch is to closely read Article Two of the Constitution, in which this branch of government is established and its limits are clearly delineated. Break your students into partnerships or small groups, and give each pair a copy of the relevant article. Explain that their job is to work collaboratively to read the article and then 'translate' it into modern English. As they work, they should also keep a list of any questions that come up, either about wording or about the actual function of the executive branch. Finally, bring all of the groups together and have them share what they came up with. Facilitate a discussion that addresses their questions.

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