Teaching Students to be Critical of Federalism with this lesson

Whenever government structures are involved in lessons, US citizens are often confused. There is so much information to cover, which will present many unfamiliar terms. Students have to learn about their local government but also the state and the federal government. Federalism may be a tough topic to learn about but with the right federalism lesson components, students will gain a much deeper understanding not only on what federalism is but how it works. 

federalism lesson

What is Federalism?

Since there are different types of federalism, it will be helpful to start out with a clear and concise definition. Once students understand that they are going to learn about the division of power before local, state, and federal governments, they can begin expanding their knowledge. 

Dual versus Cooperative Federalism 

In order to help students relate federalism to the United States, it is important to teach them the difference between dual and cooperative federalism. However, it is important not to overwhelm students with definitions. Instead, make relatable connections to help students just know the difference when looking at the word. One great way to do this by relating the different types to something so many students love: cake! Students will now have a visual representation on how dual federalism is similar to a layered cake with the states and national government being responsible for their own spheres while cooperative federalism is similar to a marbled cake due to sharing powers and policies. Once students understand the difference, a great conversation can develop on how America transitioned from dual to cooperative federalism. 

federalism lesson

Fiscal Federalism 

As with many aspects of life, money plays a key role. Fiscal federalism will be a vital topic to address while teaching the unit as it will allow students to learn about spending, taxing, and grants. Students will be able to see why anything dealing with money requires consideration, conversation, and cooperation. 

Real-Life Connections

One way to help students apply what they are learning is to relate the concepts to their own lives by forming connections. They may be formed between what is happening in their community or what they are hearing on the news. Either way, when students can take the content from the classroom and see it in action outside of the classroom, deeper understanding is occurring. 

In any federalism lesson discussion, there are going to be conversations over how everything is not always smooth. There are going to be disagreements among states and the federal government. Since different geographic areas have different interests and beliefs, the states do the best they can to represent the beliefs behind their citizens. 

Whether as a whole class or in small groups, students address some of the hottest issues in the news are impacted by federalism. However, they will also see how people can have different beliefs and still work out a compromise. In this case, students will see how the federal government and state governments each have power over different issues in order to ensure citizens are included in the decision-making process throughout America.

federalism lesson

Thought-Provoking Federal Lesson Activities

Federalism is a HUGE topic for students to learn. There are several terms and concepts to learn in addition to differences between the powers of the state and the national government. In order to help students gain mastery on this topic, it will be helpful to use a variety of activities. Not only will they make lessons more engaging, but students will be able to show what they know. 

One federalism lesson activity may start with students restating what the different vocabulary words in the unit mean. By doing this, they are forming their own definitions and then able to check them as a class. In addition to this, students can describe what it means for the state to hold power versus at the federal level. A strong extension would be to have students provide examples on when the state and federal level may share powers. 

More Federalism Lesson Ideas

After students can explain what federalism is and examples on the state versus federal power. Students can be provided with scenarios/problems and then have to explain which program would be involved to solve the problem. Then, to take the lesson even deeper, students can justify their decision and explain how they came to their answer. 

In addition to fiscal problems, students can also be given scenarios dealing with the national and state governments. After reading the scenario, students can decide who has power or if the power is shared or given to neither. It will be helpful to use the same format as above by having students justify their answer. Students apply everything they have learned in the unit.

This federalism lesson is full of discussion and activities, students will have a hands-on role in the learning process.

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