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High School — Social Studies

The political direction of a community, state or nation is determined by the government. Though there are many different types of governments, the governing body of any group of people includes interdependent offices and systems. Students must understand their own governing bodies and acquire comparative knowledge of governments across the world.

Ohio's Academic Content Standards establish the following expectations for student performance in the area of Government:

  • Students understand the purposes, structures and processes of political systems at the local, state, national and international levels;
  • Students understand that people create systems of government as structures of power and authority;
  • Students understand that these systems are intended to provide order, maintain stability and promote the general welfare.

The content in this Teaching Tool is based on Ohio's Academic Content Standards: K-12 Social Studies and includes types of questions asked on the Ohio Graduation Test. While various activities are suggested for working with students, this Teaching Tool is designed to complement a rigorous, research-based curriculum, not to substitute for one.


1. Government

Click on the following benchmarks for more information and for links to annotated OGT items.


Benchmark A: Analyze the evolution of the Constitution through post-Reconstruction amendments and Supreme Court decisions.

Benchmark A: Analyze the evolution of the Constitution through post-Reconstruction amendments and Supreme Court decisions.

Though the U.S. Constitution was written in the late 1700s, its ability to shape the powers and limitations of the government has not waned. The U.S. Constitution has been amended and interpreted in response to major events in United States history. Students need to understand that these amendments and interpretations combine with the originally ratified draft of the Constitution to create a document that is continually evolving. It is considered a "living" document.

To succeed in this benchmark, students must be able to explain how government is affected by the changes to, and interpretations of, the Constitution. Changes to the Constitution take the form of amendments. Interpretations of the Constitution occur through Supreme Court decisions.

Discussion questions to help students understand how the U.S. Constitution is a living document -- Students should be able to explain how the U.S. Constitution changes in response to contemporary social and historical events. Students can consider the following questions, noting examples from post-Reconstruction amendments:

  • What is the role of an amendment to the Constitution?
  • How have amendments changed the powers and limitations of the presidents and/or Congress as presented in the Constitution?
  • What role does the Supreme Court have in influencing the U.S. Constitution?
  • How have Supreme Court decisions changed the powers and limitations of the presidents and/or Congress as presented in the Constitution?

Ways in which Supreme Court decisions influenced the Constitution -- The evolution of the U.S. Constitution is particularly evident in the Supreme Court's interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Have students review the content of the Fourteenth Amendment. Have them identify:

  • What the amendment states;
  • The amendment's historical context.

In order to see how the Constitution is subject to continued change and interpretation, students can analyze the effects of the three landmark Supreme Court decisions. For each Supreme Court decision listed, students can ask:

  • What did each decision decide about equal protection under the law?
  • How did each subsequent decision reflect the historic and social climate of the times?
  • Overall, what was the legal path of racial discrimination? How did the U.S. Supreme Court's view of racial discrimination change?
  • How does that changing view show that the U.S. Constitution is a living document?
Supreme Court CaseWhat was the decision in this case?What historic and social events might have influenced the decision? How was the 14th Amendment argued/applied to the decision?
Plessy v. Ferguson   
Brown v. Board of Education   
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke   

Students can review their answers in the chart and explain:

  • What were the changes in the Supreme Court's views on the constitutional interpretation of equal protection under the law as granted by the Fourteenth Amendment? Explain how each case reflected a changing view from the previous one.
  • How do these Supreme Court cases show the evolution of the Constitution in response to the changing social conditions that require new applications of the law?

Amendments allow the Constitution to respond to the changing needs of individuals and groups -- Amendments to the Constitution reflect the government's response to the changing needs of individuals and groups.

Help students understand how, through amendments, the government has responded to individual and group issues. For instance, the Third Amendment was a response to colonists' anger at being forced to "quarter" soldiers during times of war. Have students investigate the post-Reconstruction amendments to the Constitution. Students can analyze what each amendment tried to accomplish, how each amendment responded to the needs of a particular group, and the impact of the amendment's ratification on that group. Ask students to fill in the following template:

Amendment What does each amendment do? How did this amendment respond to a particular group's need?What was the impact of the amendment's ratification on this group?

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark B: Analyze the differences among various forms of government to determine how power is acquired and used.

Benchmark B: Analyze the differences among various forms of government to determine how power is acquired and used.

Students must be able to identify and explain different forms of government. They must be able to recognize the purposes (the ends to attain, e.g., national security), the structures (the organizational makeup, e.g., legislative branch), and the functions (the actions contributing to achieving needs, e.g., law enforcement) of these forms of government. In addition, students must consider how these different governments are structured so that leaders acquire and use power. Students should be able to compare and contrast the different forms of government and make generalizations about their findings.

Identify and record characteristics of each government:

Type of GovernmentChief Executive(s)Purposes StructuresFunctions Example
Absolute Monarchy King, queen, or member of a royal family   Saudi Arabia
Constitutional MonarchyRoyal family member(s)   Jordan, Liechtenstein
Parliamentary DemocracyPrime minister, premier    The United Kingdom
Presidential DemocracyPresident   The United States
DictatorshipEmperor, General, Chancellor, etc.   Iraq under Saddam Hussein
Theocracy Mullah, Pope, etc.   Afghanistan under the Taliban, Vatican City

Consider how power is acquired, used and justified by leaders in each government -- Using their answers from the completed chart above, students can also consider how leaders in each of these governments use and justify their power.

  1. Students can determine how leaders might acquire power by considering the "Purposes" column. For example, if students know that the purpose of a presidential democracy is to represent the will of the electorate, then they can conclude that power is acquired through being elected.
  2. Students can determine how leaders might use their power by considering what they know from the "Structures" column. For example, if students know that dictatorships tend to rely on military apparatuses, then they might conclude that dictatorships use their power to rule absolutely.
  3. Students can determine how leaders might justify their power by considering the "Functions" column. For example, if they know that theocracies tend to impose religious beliefs, then they might conclude that theocrats justify their actions by claiming that a higher power guides them.
Type of GovernmentLeader(s) How Power is AcquiredHow Leaders Use PowerHow Leaders Justify Power
Absolute Monarchy     
Constitutional Monarchy     
Parliamentary Democracy     
Presidential Democracy     

You may use the following discussion questions to help students compare and contrast these different forms of government:

  • What are some similarities among the types of government investigated above?
  • What are some differences among the types of government investigated?
  • What qualities do some of the above forms of government share?
  • What qualities are unique to a particular form of government investigated?

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.



Help With Fundamentals

These activities can help you address the fundamentals of Government with your students.

Activity 1

Map the Terminology

Have students complete a web using the following list of terms. On each "arm" of the web, students should explain how each term is connected. For additional support, provide students with more information on the following terms as centers of the webs.

  • Segregation;
  • Desegregation;
  • The Fourteenth Amendment;
  • Amendments to the U.S. Constitution;
  • Supreme Court decisions;
  • "Living Document."
Activity 2

Breaking Down the Elements of Leadership Within a Government

Have students identify the basic elements of leadership and power within the six different forms of government charted below. For additional support, fill in the "Example" column and provide students with text resources to complete the remainder of the chart. You may also provide students with a bank of answers. Students can fill in the blanks, crossing out each choice as it is used.

Type of GovernmentExample Who is the leader? What is the leader's title? How does that person exercise power? How are the leaders chosen?
Absolute Monarchy     
Constitutional Monarchy    
Parliamentary Democracy    
Presidential Democracy    

Additional Instruction and Practice

These activities may be useful for students who require additional instruction and practice with Government.

Activity 1

Draw Connections: Show the Evolution of the Constitution through the Fourteenth Amendment and the Related Supreme Court Decisions

Assign students to groups of four. Within each group, have each student represent one of the following:

  • The Fourteenth Amendment;
  • Plessy v. Ferguson;
  • Brown v. Board of Education;
  • Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

Within each group, each student must identify:

  1. What were the historic events, social movements or shifts in public opinion that prompted the case to come before the Supreme Court?
  2. How does the change/interpretation of the U.S. Constitution connect to the next decision on the list?

Have students summarize how all of the assigned amendments/Supreme Court decisions were connected by the Constitution's evolving interpretation of the protection of equal rights for all citizens.

Activity 2

Investigate a Political Leader

Assign students a political leader past or present. Have students identify which type of government this leader represents. Students should go on to identify the purpose, systems and functions of this form of government under the assigned leader. Students should then describe how this leader acquired power, how this leader uses his power and how he justifies his power. For additional practice, students can provide evidence to argue whether people ruled by this leader view him positively or negatively.

Students can present their findings through written essays or oral presentations. This activity can be focused on specific leaders within a particular period in history.

Advanced Work

These activities can help your students reach the next level in their understanding of Government.

Activity 1

The Legacy of the Fourteenth Amendment: Prepare a Debate

Have students research and debate more recent cases of discrimination and the protection of equal rights. Ask students to analyze the following Supreme Court decisions:

  • Plessy v. Ferguson;
  • Brown v. Board of Education;
  • Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

Help students identify connections between affirmative action and the Fourteenth Amendment.

For the debates, students can be organized into groups of three. Within each group, assign roles:

  1. One person should present the group's opening argument;
  2. One person should respond to the opposing argument;
  3. One person should prepare the group's closing arguments.

Students not participating in a debate can be prompted to evaluate and judge the arguments.

Activity 2

Compare Different Forms of Government (Essay/Position Paper)

Have students compare the U.S. government with that of another nation. Students should:

  • Explain how the systems of government are similar and different;
  • Determine the pros and cons of each of the forms of government based on public opinion within each nation and internationally;
  • Draw conclusions about the forms of government by explaining whether one is more successful than the other in accomplishing its purposes.

Throughout their writing, students should provide evidence to support their conclusions.