What Is Government?

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will define government and describe a democratic republic with a Constitution. They identify the role of government at all levels - national, state, and local and talk about what young people can do to have a voice.

PrintOne Fifty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • describe the purposes of government.
  • define the relationship between the levels of government in the United States.
  • list services provided by each level of government.
  • describe needs in society that are not being met by government.
  • Levels of Government Ladder (Handout)


  1. Anticipatory Set: 

    Define government as the organization through which a political unit (national, state, or local) exercises authority and performs functions. How a government is organized is determined by the way that people choose to run themselves in an attempt to have order and rules. Examples of governments formed to exercise authority and rules include school board, city council, township board of supervisors, federal government, state government. In the United States there is a representative democracy in which the people determine the way things run by way of voting for people who represent them. 

  2. There are many different national government styles, including dictatorship (government by one or a small group with rule by force as the norm), empire (established by conquering), feudalism (orderly pyramid of control), communism (each according to their ability), and democracy (rule by the citizens of a nation). Discuss examples of each style.

  3. The United States is a Democratic Republic with a Constitution. Democracy = rule by the people; Republic = elected representatives speak on our behalf; Constitution = document of rights and rules that applies to all. 

    Brainstorm the benefits of these three elements:

    • People need to be involved for this type of government to be successful. 
    • The government is for people and not the other way around.
    • People have voice and choice on how things are run and what the rules are.
    • If enough people want change, they can work together and make those changes in the system.
    • There is potentially more fairness in a democratic republic than in a dictatorship, empire, or communism. 
  4. Student pairs discuss what happens in a democratic republic when people are involved. How does it compare when people are apathetic and uninvolved?

    Have students share out their answers. Lecture on how involvement is essential in a democratic republic. Suggest ways that students can be involved to improve this form of government in which we use in the United States. 

  5. Introduce the three levels of government (national, state and local) and discuss each. Explain the levels with the concept of a ladder using Levels of Government Ladder (handout). The national level, framed by the Constitution, is the top rung of the ladder. The state and local levels are on the next two rungs. The ladder illustrates the idea that each level cannot pass laws that conflict with the decisions/laws of the level above, but can pass laws conflicting with the decisions/laws below. 

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Explain why needs are met in different ways by government, business, civil society and family.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss a public policy issue affecting the common good and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.