Lesson Plan: The Judicial Branch

Objectives: The students will...
1. Describe the key powers of the Supreme Court;
2. List and describe several key Supreme Court cases to illustrate the concept of judicial review.
3. Differentiate between civil and criminal law.
4. Become familiar with current events and how such events relate to the judicial branch of government.


· Worksheet  – Vocabulary: Equal Justice Under Law
· Worksheet   – Vocabulary: The Federal Court System
· Worksheet  – Vocabulary: Supreme Court
· Worksheet   – Federal Court System…and Justice for All
· Class Notes   – The Federal Court System …and Justice for All
· Worksheet   – Vocabulary: Judicial Branch
· Computers with Internet access
· Overhead projector and transparencies

Motivation: Warm Up Activity (Anticipatory Set):  “I’ll See You in Court” 

A) Post the title of the activity on the board or overhead.

B) Have students brainstorm for two or three minutes all the reasons why someone would have to or want to go to court.

C) Post all student responses without commenting on or evaluating them.

D) When time has expired, have students create the following T-chart in their notes:

Cases where the law has been broken Cases of conflict between people
Speeding ticket

Arrest for assault

Child abuse

Car accident claim

Divorce or child custody


E) Have students decide through discussion or class vote under which heading each response should be placed. Some examples appear in the chart above. If a response cannot be placed in either section, evaluate the response to see if it is a reason why someone would go to court.

F) Once all the responses have been classified, place the following headings above each section:

Criminal Law Civil Law
Cases where the law has been broken Cases of conflict between people
Speeding ticket

Arrest for assault

Child abuse

Car accident claim

Divorce or child custody


G) Tell students that they just defined two major bodies of law within the American legal system. Students should keep the chart in their notes for later reference.

Main Activity (Instructional Input) and Content Reading Assignment: Vocabulary 

A) Distribute the following items: (Right-click any link and select "save target as" to download to your computer).

Vocabulary: Equal Justice Under Law. [Word 2000 version]   [Adobe Acrobat PDF]
Vocabulary: The Federal Court System [Word 2000 version]   [Adobe Acrobat PDF]
Vocabulary: Supreme Court [Word 2000 version]   [Adobe Acrobat PDF]
PowerPoint Presentation: The Federal Court System …and Justice For All
PowerPoint Note-taking Worksheet: The Federal Court System …and Justice For All  
[Word 2000 Version]   [Adobe Acrobat PDF]

(Answer keys for these worksheets are available by purchasing Civics Lesson Plans)

B) Have students form partner pairs and use their textbook, encyclopedia, or Internet to define terms. 

C) PowerPoint Lecture: The Federal Court System 

Students should have the fill-in-the-blank study guide that corresponds to Class Notes:  The Federal Court System …and Justice For All.

D) Have students complete the worksheet as they view the presentation.

E) Choose students to read the presentation aloud. The teacher controls the pace of the presentation and should ask higher thinking skills questions orally as the presentation proceeds.

F) Review responses with students orally after the presentation is complete.

Wrap-Up Activity (Closure):  Judicial Branch In the News: Examining Supreme Court Cases 

A) Have the students break into groups of four. Display the chart on the board or overhead for students to copy. Instruct them complete the chart below on their own paper.

B) Visit the web links listed below to print and copy each of the websites so that students can refer to printed versions if needed. Otherwise, students can access the websites via Internet accessible computers in the classroom or computer lab.

Case 1: Piscataway vs. Taxman (http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/briefs/pisc.htm)

Facts of the Case Argument for Affirmative Action Argument Against Affirmative Action Previous Case Rulings Supreme Court Decision

Case 2: ACLU vs. Janet Reno (http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-511.ZS.html)

Facts of the Case Argument for Affirmative Action Argument Against Affirmative Action Previous Case Rulings Supreme Court Decision

C) Other important cases can be added. Once students have completed the chart, allow each group to present their findings in one of the areas. Student groups should present both sides of the case. Have the class vote on the issues and compare with the actual decision.

New: A worksheet on cases dealing with the Bill of Rights is now available here.
Investigating and Debating the Bill of Rights

Also available in Word 2000 and PDF Format.

Wrap-Up: Check for Understanding: Judicial Branch Matching

A) Display a set of matching terms from the students’ vocabulary list on the overhead. A set is provided below.

B) Have students complete the matching exercise on their own papers.

C) Instruct students to exchange papers and correct papers orally. Review terms aloud, have students enter scores, and return to the owners. Collect for a grade.


___1) Felony

___2) Misdemeanor

___3) Civil case

___4) Criminal case

___5) Original Jurisdiction

___6) Appellate Jurisdiction

___7) Interpretation

___8) Constitutionality

___9) U.S. District Court

___10) U.S. Court of Appeals


A) This court hears cases before they reach the Supreme Court.

B) This court has original jurisdiction in all federal cases.

C) The quality of not violating the ideals and restrictions set out by the nation’s written plan of government.

D) The process of deciding the meaning of law. Explaining the law and making decisions based on that explanation.

E) The authority of a court to hear a case coming up from the lower courts.

F) The authority of a court to be the first to hear a case.

G) Any court action that tries to determine if a crime has been committed.

H) Any court action that attempts to settle a dispute or correct a wrong between two parties.

I) Any crime that carries a sentence of one year or less.

J) Any crime that carries a sentence of over one year or more.


1) Felony (J)
2) Misdemeanor (I)
3) Civil case (H)
4) Criminal case (G)
5) Original Jurisdiction (F) 
6) Appellate Jurisdiction (E)
7) Interpretation (D)
8) Constitutionality (C)
9) U.S. District Court (B)
10) U.S. Court of Appeals (A)

(As you can see, the answers are in order backwards. Will your students be able to tell? If they catch on, ask them not to share it with the class so others can do the same).

Assessment: Judicial Branch Matching Vocabulary Worksheet

[Word 2000 version]   [Adobe Acrobat PDF]

Allow students time in class to complete the worksheet. Instruct them to use the chapter on the Judicial Branch in their textbook to complete the questions on the worksheet. If students need more time, have them complete the worksheet as a homework assignment.

Evaluation: The lesson will be evaluated by…

1. The accuracy of student’s written responses on PowerPoint worksheet and Supreme Court case analysis.
2. Student’s scores on future tests and quizzes.


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