The Judicial Branch

Students will learn about the federal and state courts and what they do. They will explore the courts’ role in fairly settling disputes and administering justice, and the unique role of the U.S. Supreme Court in interpreting the U.S. Constitution.

Check out this quick video on the Judicial Branch on YouTube!


Sources of Law

Where do laws come from? This lesson teaches students about the sources, types, and unique systems of law that exist in the United States. Students learn about sources of law from the Constitution to local ordinances. They also compare and contrast civil and criminal law and peek into the special systems of military and juvenile justice.

Got a 1:1 classroom? Download fillable PDF versions of this lesson's materials below!


Judicial Branch in a Flash!

Need to teach the judicial branch in a hurry? In this lesson, students learn the basics of our judicial system, including the functions of the trial court, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. Students learn how a case moves up through these levels and discover that these courts exist on both the state and federal levels.

Got a 1:1 classroom? Download fillable PDF versions of this lesson's materials below!


The Courts in a Nutshell

In this WebQuest, students look at all levels of both the state and federal court systems. They learn about jurisdiction, look up the courts in their own state, find out what federal appellate circuit they live in, and investigate the current U.S. Supreme Court justices.


The Courts in a Nutshell

In this WebQuest, students look at all levels of both the state and federal court systems. They learn about jurisdiction, look up the courts in their own state, find out what federal appellate circuit they live in, and investigate the current U.S. Supreme Court justices.


We The Jury
Play Time: 15-30 mins
Use evidence, testimony, and quick thinking to decide challenging court cases.

We The Jury
Play Time: 15-30 mins
Use evidence, testimony, and quick thinking to decide challenging court cases.

James Bond in a Honda: Trial Simulation Lesson

Students participate in a scripted fictional trial based on a real case in which the producers of James Bond films sued Honda for creating an ad that looked way too much like a James Bond movie. After the "trial," students examine evidence and play the role of jurors.  Students apply real copyright law to simulate the process courts use in applying law to fact and arrive at a "verdict." This is a two-day lesson.


Trial Court "Go Fish"

Here, iCivics presents a judicial variation of the classic card game "Go Fish!" Students use a write-on courtroom game board and play with cards that show the people involved in a trial--such as judges, court staff, attorneys, and litigants--and each of their roles. By trying to match people and roles to make pairs, students learn what trial participants do both in court and out of court.


Appellate Courts: Let's Take It Up

Students learn what happens in appellate-level courts and how those courts operate differently from the trial courts most people are familiar with from watching television. By following the case of a real middle school girl who was strip searched at school, students find out what happens when someone takes a case all the way to the Supreme Court. Through this case, students learn about the structure of the federal court system and the way appellate courts decide cases.


Court Quest
Play Time: 15-30 mins
Navigate our court system and guide citizens to the right place.

Court Quest
Play Time: 15-30 mins
Navigate our court system and guide citizens to the right place.

Interpreting the Constitution

Students learn that you can't take constitutional language at face value. Those phrases we read in the Bill of Rights, such as "cruel and unusual punishment" or being a "witness" against yourself, have specialized meaning based on years of interpretation by the Supreme Court.  Students analyze real-life cases interpreting the 8th and 5th amendments to see whether they interpret the Bill of Rights the same way the Supreme Court did... and discover how tricky interpreting the Constitution really is!


Supreme Interpreters

What does it mean to interpret the Constitution? Why is interpretation necessary? Who gets to do it? In this WebQuest, students explore the answers to these questions and more. Using examples from the First and Eighth Amendments, students try their own hand at interpreting sticky situations—and compare their findings to actual Supreme Court opinions.


Supreme Interpreters

What does it mean to interpret the Constitution? Why is interpretation necessary? Who gets to do it? In this WebQuest, students explore the answers to these questions and more. Using examples from the First and Eighth Amendments, students try their own hand at interpreting sticky situations—and compare their findings to actual Supreme Court opinions.


Argument Wars
Play Time: 0-15 mins
Argue real Supreme Court cases, and put your lawyering skills to the test.

Argument Wars
Play Time: 0-15 mins
Argue real Supreme Court cases, and put your lawyering skills to the test.

*NEW* Argument Wars Extension Pack

Make your students’ game play more meaningful by using our activity and assessment set designed specifically for Argument Wars. This easy-to-use Extension Pack helps you give context and purpose to the game, as well as reinforce and assess the game concepts. That means deeper learning for students, and best practices around game-centered learning for you!  

Extension Packs require PowerPoint and are designed for use with projectors or interactive whiteboards. 


*NEW* Argument Wars Extension Pack

Make your students’ game play more meaningful by using our activity and assessment set designed specifically for Argument Wars. This easy-to-use Extension Pack helps you give context and purpose to the game, as well as reinforce and assess the game concepts. That means deeper learning for students, and best practices around game-centered learning for you!  

Extension Packs require PowerPoint and are designed for use with projectors or interactive whiteboards. 


Supreme Decision
Play Time: 15-30 mins
Assist a Supreme Court Justice as she makes the deciding vote in an important case.

Supreme Decision
Play Time: 15-30 mins
Assist a Supreme Court Justice as she makes the deciding vote in an important case.

The "Supreme" in Supreme Decision

After playing "Supreme Decision" with your class, use this lesson to reinforce the concepts students learned by playing the game.  In this lesson, students compare Ben Brewer’s fictional case in “Supreme Decision” with a real-life case involving a student.  They also look at a variety of historic landmark cases to understand why precedents and judicial review are important in peoples’ everyday lives.

This lesson assumes your class has already played "Supreme Decision."


McCulloch v. Maryland

Students learn about the landmark case McCulloch v. Maryland, in which the Supreme Court clarified what kinds of actions Congress can take under the “necessary and proper” clause. Students find out what events led to this case, look at some examples of what “necessary and proper” could include, and examine the relationship between state and federal power under the Supremacy Clause.


Branches of Power
Play Time: 30+ mins
See the bigger picture and control all three branches of government!

Branches of Power
Play Time: 30+ mins
See the bigger picture and control all three branches of government!

Supreme Court Nominations

This lesson teaches the fundamentals of Supreme Court Justice nominations and helps students understand the politics behind the nominations. It challenges students to cut through the politics and compare nominees’ judicial philosophies and includes an optional extension for students to research and analyze the controversial nominations and confirmation processes of Robert Bork, Harriet Miers, Clarence Thomas, and Merrick Garland.

Got a 1:1 classroom? Download fillable PDFs of this lesson's materials below!


In the Courts

Our Judicial Branch has a big job! Do you think you have what it takes to be a judge and get the job done? 


In the Courts

Our Judicial Branch has a big job! Do you think you have what it takes to be a judge and get the job done? 


Judges: Playing Fair

This mini-lesson takes a look at the role of fair and impartial courts in American life. Students learn about how judges are selected and held accountable. It also looks at how judges focus on the facts in order to keep things fair. This resource is accompanied by a short video from the Informed Voters Project.  


Mini-lesson: Judicial Activism & Restraint (HS)

This Media Moment Mini-lesson teaches the judicial philosophies of activism and restraint. In the second half of the lesson, students explore criteria through which they can evaluate news-related opinion pieces and practice judging the value of a Supreme Court related opinion piece of choice.


Mini-lesson: Supreme Court Opinions (HS)

Students will learn about the types of Supreme Court opinions and the influence of legal precedent. Additionally, this Media Moment Mini-lesson introduces traditional authors of opinion pieces and explores factors that should influence a student’s evaluation of an author’s credibility. Students then evaluate two commentators or authors of choice to judge the value and limitations of their opinions.