Lesson Plan: The Role of Executive Departments

Agriculture Secretary Confirmation Hearing for Tom Vilsack- Opening Statement

On February 2, 2021, Tom Vilsack, President Biden’s Agriculture Secretary nominee, testified during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee. He provided an opening statement at the beginning of the hearing.


This lesson looks at the 15 cabinet departments in the executive branch and the roles and duties of the heads of each of those departments. Students will view videos of each cabinet member’s Senate confirmation hearing to learn about the qualifications of that cabinet member and what each department is responsible for. This lesson will be updated as new cabinet members are nominated.



    Introduce the vocabulary relating to the executive department and the cabinet by using the Google Slides presentation to match the key terms to the relevant department or handout to brainstorm keywords for each department. The Google Slides presentation and handout can be used to access all of the videos and activities in this lesson.

    Lesson Activities: Executive Departments (Google Slides)

    Handout: Executive Departments (Google Docs)


    Review vocabulary activity results and address any misconceptions.

    Use the Google Slides presentation or the Google Doc handout to have students view video clips of each head of the executive departments discuss the role of the departments during their confirmation hearings. Students will view these opening statements from the cabinet secretaries’ confirmation hearings to make inferences about the role and responsibilities of each head of the executive departments.

    Lesson Activities: Executive Departments (Google Slides)

    Handout: Executive Departments (Google Docs)

    Teachers can choose to have students complete all 15 slides, choose one and share it with the class, or complete a specified number of slides.

    For each department, students should include the following:

    • Nominee’s Relevant Experience and Leadership Style

    • Policies and Proposed Actions Discussed

    • How the Nominee views the Role of the Department

    • Duties of this Cabinet Position

    • Keywords and Issues Relating to the Function of this Department

    Review the students’ answers and address any misconceptions about the roles of specific executive departments. After viewing the video clips about the executive departments, address the following prompt:

    • How do the heads of the executive departments assist the president in fulfilling his policy goals? Use specific examples from the video clips to support your answer.
  • WRAP-UP:

    As an exit slip, have the students answer the following question in 1-2 sentences.

    • What is the overall job of a cabinet secretary?

    Ranking the Executive Departments- Rank the 15 executive departments from most important to least important. For your top and bottom ranked departments explain why.

    Reorganizing the Federal Bureaucracy- Develop a plan to reorganize the 15 executive departments. Include explanations of which departments you would combine, expand or eliminate to improve the efficiency of the federal bureaucracy.


    • How can the backgrounds and beliefs of a cabinet secretary influence the functioning of an executive department?

    • How do presidents and cabinet secretaries work together to execute laws?

    • How do the backgrounds of cabinet secretaries often match their department’s responsibilities?

    • What factors should president consider when nominating cabinet secretaries?

Additional Resources


  • Attorney General
  • Cabinet Secretary
  • Commerce
  • Confirmation Hearing
  • Diplomacy
  • Executive Department
  • Foreign Policy
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior
  • Nomination
  • Treasury
  • Urban


Bureaucracy & RegulationExecutive Branch


Middle SchoolHigh School