Federalism Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

What is federalism and how does it impact our lives? A video lesson explains key concepts while an activity presents real life examples. Extensions and related lessons help to further this discussion.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • define 'federalism'
  • analyze examples of federalism


1 to 2 hours

Curriculum Standards


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).


Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.


Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Key Vocabulary

  • Federalism


  • Begin by asking students to consider the laws that govern our daily behaviors. Who makes them? Are they people like us? Our neighbors? Who enforces them? Discuss these ideas as a class and write key points on the board.
  • Now play the video lesson What is Federalism? - Definition & Factors of U.S. Adoption, pausing at 1:36.
  • Did the class include local, state, and federal government in their discussion of lawmakers? Discuss potential issues that might arise if these three levels of government conflict.
  • Play the rest of the video lesson for the class now.

Discussion Questions

  • What might happen when state laws conflict with federal laws?
  • Does federalism adequately represent the views of individual citizens?


  • Have each student research an instance when local/state laws conflicted with federal laws (e.g. the legalization of marijuana, physician-assisted suicide, same sex marriage, etc.). How is this handled? How are discrepancies enforced?
  • When each student has found an example and gathered the necessary facts, have them present their findings to the class. What do these examples say about federalism?


  • Ask students to review the Constitution to find specific instances when supreme power is granted to the federal government.
  • Have students conduct research on Supreme Court cases where local and federal governments were at odds. What were the outcomes?

Related lessons

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