Social Education 57(2), 1993, pp. 88
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

Retrieving and Reinforcing U.S. Government Using Graphic Organizers

William W. Goetz
Kean College of New Jersey
Union, New Jersey
How well do students retrieve knowledge of government from U.S. history courses? We confronted this critical question when schools began offering a program of electives to students all of whom had taken at least one year of U.S. history. We developed a strategy using graphic organizers to assist students to retrieve, reinforce, and possibly extend knowledge of U.S. government. We allotted five teaching periods for this process.
Step One: The Unitary System and the Federal System
Figure 1
Place two graphic organizers on the chalkboard or overhead projector contrasting the centralization of power found in the unitary system to the diffusion of power within the federal system. Ask students to interpret the organizers by drawing conclusions about the systems' rationales and structures and by making inferences about their comparative strengths, weaknesses, and suitability for various types of societies. (The dotted line between state and local governments in the federal system indicates that local governments draw their authority from the state and do not have constitutionally guaranteed reserve powers.) Next, point out the horizontal separation of power already included in the organizer for the federal system (or left blank and later imposed on it with chalk or grease pen). Nine segments of U.S. government (sometimes referred to as "power-boxes," a useful term) that can be reinforced and expanded upon in the following activity emerge as a result of this division and separation of power.

Step Two: Division and Separation of Power under Federalism
The Division of Power
With the graphic in view on the chalkboard or overhead projector, review the distinction between powers delegated to the federal government, reserved to the state, and shared between the levels of government. We suggest a minimal explanation so students will be encouraged to retrieve the information independently and reinforce their knowledge through the activity and follow-up discussion. Then ask students to classify each of the powers listed below. The ensuing discussion of student responses offers opportunities for you to comment, offer examples, and provide both historical and contemporary references.

1.Establish marriage and divorce laws (state)
2.Tax (shared)
3.Regulate business activities within the state (state)
4.Establish welfare system (shared)
5.Establish educational system (state and local)
6.Coin money (federal)
7.Regulate business activities between states (federal)
8.Borrow money (shared)
9.Declare war (federal)
10.Establish traffic laws (state and local)
11.Establish qualifications for voting (state)
12.Make laws to protect the environment (shared)
13.Establish and support the armed forces (federal)
14.Establish penal laws (shared)
15.Regulate trade with foreign countries (federal)

Separation of Powers
Following the same procedure-minimal explanation with encouragement of retrieval-ask students to classify a list of powers relating to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. You should clarify and extend the student responses.

1.Directing the police authorities (executive)
2.Raising revenue by taxation (legislative)
3.Determining whether an accused is guilty (judicial)
4.Removing a judge from office (legislative)
5.Vetoing a piece of legislation (executive)
6.Declaring an executive act unconstitutional (judicial)
7.Administering the government on a daily basis (executive)
8.Charging a suspect with a crime (executive)
9.Introducing a constitutional amendment (legislative)
10.Proposing a budget for governmental expenses (executive)
11.Interpreting the law when necessary (judicial)
12.Approving appointments to executive agencies (legislative)
13.Granting pardons and reprieves (executive)
14.Removing the executive from office (legislative)
15.Calling a special session of the legislature (executive)
16.Declaring a piece of legislation unconstitutional (judicial)
17.Investigating an alleged crime (executive)
18.Overriding a veto (legislative)
19.Ensuring rights of individuals under investigation (judicial)
20.Repealing or altering existing laws (legislative)

Step Three: Identification of Institutions
Next, modify the graphic organizer to permit the addition of the names of the institutions on each level. Help the students identify the national, state, and local institutions that belong in each of the power-boxes. We found that students require particular assistance in identifying local institutions.

Figure 2
Step Four: Checking for Understanding of Institutions and Processes
In the concluding step, modify the graphic organizer again by removing the names of the institutions, replacing them with numbers, and asking the students to associate a list of institutions and processes with the appropriate power-box. (We combined the institutions at the local level under one number to simplify the activity. When appropriate, you may address the distinctions during the discussion.) It is essential at this stage that you clarify and extend student answers.

Figure 3
1.The commander of the state police (2)
2.The attorney-general of the United States (1)
3.The county sheriff or police chief (3)
4.The Internal Revenue Service (1)
5.The Joint Chiefs of Staff (1)
6.The town or village council (6)
7.The National Guard of the state (2)
8.The Federal Bureau of Investigation (l)
9.The county prosecutor or district attorney (3)
10.The State Commissioner of Education (2)
11.The Office of Management and Budget (1)
12.The attorney general of the state ( 2)
13.The office of public defender in the state (2)
14.County welfare agencies (3)
15.The Central Intelligence Agency (1)
16.The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (1)
17.Chief of police in city or town (3)
18.The Interstate Commerce Commission (1)
19.The special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation (1)
20.The National Security Agency (1)

1.Raises or lowers state income taxes (5)
2.Investigates the breaking of a federal law (1)
3.Administers state hospitals (2)
4.Impeaches the governor of the state (5)
5.Rules on the constitutionality of state laws (8) (7)
6.Vetoes proposed state laws (2)
7.Impeaches a member of the U.S. Supreme Court (4)
8.Enforces environmental laws (1) (2)
9.Establishes an antiloitering law in your town (6)
10.Pardons a criminal convicted of a state crime (2)
11.Overrides veto of state law (5)
12.Confirms appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court (4)
13.Establishes property tax rate (6)
14.Establishes marriage and divorce laws (5)
15.Approves treaties with foreign nations (4)
16.Negotiates treaties with foreign nations (1)
17.Declares an act of the president unconstitutional (7)
18.Expels members of Congress (4)
19.Administers federal prisons (1)
20.Establishes tax (tariff) on imported products (4)

We ask students to construct and label the graphic organizer in step three as an evaluative instrument on the knowledge level; teachers might adapt step four into an evaluative instrument on the comprehension level. This strategy enabled students to clarify U.S. history terms and concepts. We found it useful because of its brevity and flexibility- it can be used in many situations, including issue-centered classes, where knowledge of U.S. government is essential.

League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund. New Jersey: Spotlight on Government. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1985.Macridis, Roy C., and Robert E. Ward. Modern Political Systems: Europe. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968.