Types and Purposes of American Courts Lesson Plan: The Court Quest Game

Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

In this American courts lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 6 through 12, students use BrainPOP resources to identify the different types of courts in the American justice system and explore their purposes. Students will attempt to try a virtual case using a simulated court system game and research a case that interests them.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Identify the different types of courts in the American justice system and their various purposes.
  2. Attempt to try to a virtual case using a simulated court system game.
  3. Explain when a lower court should try a case and when a case needs to be tried at a higher court.



federal law; supreme court justice; nominate; judicial review; unconstitutional; violate; opinion; judicial branch; appeal; hearing


Explore the BrainPOP Supreme Court Topic Page and familiarize yourself with Court Quest game play. Make a class set of copies of the Flow Chart Graphic Organizer. You may also want to check out the Pre-Game Powerpoint, and make copies of the Pre-Game PowerPoint Worksheet (which are made available from iCivics.)

The game is designed to teach students about the federal and state court systems and the appeals process. As students navigate around the country, they will encounter citizens who need assistance getting their cases to the correct court. They will be responsible for reading each case and analyzing the details in order to assign the case to the right court. You can find more details about game play in the Court Quest Game Guide for Teachers.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Project an online article about a Supreme Court decision that is relevant to students. Facilitate a discussion: Why was this case decided by the Supreme Court? What cases does the Supreme Court try? What has to happen before the Supreme Court will hear a case? Explore and build students' student background knowledge on the different types of courts.
  2. If desired, show the Pre-Game Powerpoint and distribute the Pre-Game PowerPoint Worksheet for students to complete.
  3. Show the class the Court Quest game via the projector or interactive whiteboard. Walk students through the introduction to the game and rules for game play (you may want to play the tutorial for 5 minutes.) Then explain that they will be given time (preferably in partners or groups) to explore this game. Remind students to pay close attention to the process a case goes through as it works its way up to the Supreme Court.
  4. Give students 15 minutes to play the "unlimited time" version of the game. Walk around as students play to help facilitate inquiry-based learning and ask questions about student understandings.
  5. Bring the students back to a whole class discussion. What did they learn about our court system? Was there anything that surprised them? Why do certain cases make it to the Supreme Court while others don't? Is it better to resolve disputes in lower courts? Why or why not?
  6. Distribute the Flow Chart Graphic Organizer to students. Have them work individually or with a partner to jot down what they know from the game about how a law arrives at the Supreme Court and how the court reviews it.
  7. Play the BrainPOP Supreme Court Movie.
  8. Have students use a different color pen to add to or correct their earlier notes on the graphic organizer. Their corrections and additions should reflect what they learned through the BrainPOP movie. Play the movie through a second time if needed.
  9. Ask the class how the information learned through the BrainPOP movie might aid them in being more successful with game play in the next round. Have students share strategies that did and didn't work, and talk about what real-life law makers do when confronted with the obstacles from the game play.
  10. Allow students to play the 15 minute timed trial version of the game, either with a partner or group. Afterward, talk about which partners/group of students were able to help the most amount of constituents during the 15 minutes. Have students reflect orally or in writing about what they learned.
  11. Use the Quiz as a review and/or assessment tool. You may also wish to have students research a Supreme Court case that interests them and record their findings on the Activity page.

Extension Activity:

Extend students' understanding of the court system by introducing them to another GameUp activity, Argument Wars. Ideas for incorporating this game into your instruction can be found in the Argument Wars! Learning with iCivics lesson plan.

Other relevant GameUp activities and lesson plans include Law Craft (in which students pick an issue that is important to them and constituents and take it all the way through the law-making process), Executive Command (in which students play the role of the president for a full term and explore veto power), and Branches of Power (which allows students to control all three branches of government).

You may also want to use the other Social Studies Games featured in GameUp.

BrainPOP Movies:

Court System
Supreme Court