Branches of Government Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about the branches of government.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Branches of Government. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Help children understand how their government is organized and run. Encourage them to learn about their local, state, and federal governments and how they can be involved and become active members of their communities, states, and country. This movie will explain the responsibilities of the three branches of the United States government: the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch.

Review with children that before the United States was a country, there were thirteen colonies that were ruled by the King of Great Britain. The king made most of the decisions about the government and how people lived. The colonists rebelled and established independence so they could elect their own leaders. Many colonists did not want one person or body to have too much power, like a king. The founding fathers drafted and signed the Constitution of the United States, which is the set of laws of the country that explains how the government should be organized and run. The Constitution specifically outlines a separation of powers and describes a system of checks and balances so that one person, leader, or group does not hold too much power.

Remind children that the federal government, or the government of the country, is divided into three branches. The legislative branch is in charge of creating laws. Congress makes up the legislative branch and it is divided into the Senate and the House of Representatives. Explain that each state elects two senators, which means there are a total of 100 senators. Senators are elected every six years. Then share with children that the House of Representatives has 435 seats. The number of seats each state gets to elect depends on the number of people that live in the state. So, for example, a more populous state such as California has 53 seats in the House of Representatives, while a less populous state such as Wyoming only has 1 seat. Why might seats in the House of Representatives be based on population? Discuss with children. Representatives are elected every two years. Explain that the main job of Congress is to create laws. Members of Congress write a bill and it gets put to a vote. If the bill passes both houses, it gets sent to the president

The executive branch is in charge of carrying out laws and recommending and approving new ones. The president of the United States heads this branch. If the president signs the bill, it becomes a law. The president can also veto, or reject, the bill and it gets sent back to Congress. There it can be changed and resubmitted to the president, or Congress can decide to override the president’s veto with another vote. The president’s veto power and Congress’ power to override a veto allow for the balance of power. What if the president could create any law he or she wanted to? Discuss with children. The president is also commander-in-chief of the military and leads the armed forces, and also meets with leaders from other countries to discuss and help solve problems. The president and vice president are the only leaders that are elected by the entire country. The president can serve just two terms, for a total of eight years. Why might the president have term limits? Discuss with children. For more information about the president’s duties, we recommend sharing the President movie.

The judicial branch reviews laws and makes sure they follow the Constitution. The United States Supreme Court heads the judicial branch. There are nine justices, or judges, of the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. Supreme Court justices are not elected and there are no term limits: justices serve until they decide to retire and step down, or if Congress decides to remove them. Explain that the U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Its decisions guide all other courts in the country. The judicial branch makes sure that new laws and existing ones follow the Constitution.

Remind children that the government has a system of checks and balances. Each branch checks each other to make sure there’s a balance of power. What if Congress could pass any law? What if the president vetoed every bill created by Congress? Discuss possible outcomes together.

Encourage children to get involved with their local governments and be active citizens. They can write letters and e-mails to their representatives and senators to help make changes and make their voices heard. What problems do they see in their communities? How can they be addressed?