Lesson Plan: Divided Government and How it Works

Divided Government Introduction

Georgetown University professor Stephen Wayne talked about the history of presidents working with congresses of the opposing party.


Divided government occurs when the presidency and Congress are not controlled by the same political party. This lesson provides an overview of what divided government means and benefits and drawbacks of it. In this lesson, students will also explore historical examples of the president's party losing control of Congress and determine the most important factors for successful divided governments. This lesson can work in a traditional classroom or in a flipped classroom with one-to-one devices.


  • WARM-UP:

    Begin class by posing the following question:

    • What are ways that checks and balances limit the power of the individual branches?

    • Explain the role that political parties play in Congress.

    Review the answers of the warm-up with the class and discuss the role that political parties play in the lawmaking process. Either individually or as a class, view each of the following videos. Have the student take notes using the divided government note-taking chart. The chart will address the questions listed below.

    • What is divided government?

    • What are the causes of divided government?

    • What are potential benefits of divided government?

    • What are potential drawbacks of divided government?

    Handout: Divided Government Note-Taking Chart (Google Doc)



    Review the students' responses on the first part of the chart and address any misconceptions about divided government. Using the second section of the handout, have the students view each example of presidents and members of Congress responding to elections that caused divided party governments. Students will describe the circumstances for each election and take notes on how the presidents and members of Congress responded. They should focus their notes around the question:

    • What are the most important factors that impact the effectiveness of a divided government?

    This part of the lesson can also be adapted to be used as a jigsaw activity where students are assigned one of the elections and become experts. They would then share their information with other students to complete the chart.

    Handout: Divided Government Note-Taking Chart (Google Doc)


    After completing the chart, have the students provided a written response to the following prompt. They should provide specific examples from the videos to support their response.

    • What are the most important factors that impact the effectiveness of a divided government?

    As an exit slip, answer the following question in a short paragraph.

    • Is a divided government an effective way to make laws? Explain your answer.

    Research a Divided Government- Choose a time when the presidency and the Congress were controlled by different parties. Research the major legislation that was passed during that time. Evaluate if this specific example of divided government was successful.

    Create a Survey- Create a survey about people's feelings about divided government. Develop at least 5 questions that address the issue of divided party control of the Congress and presidency. Give your survey to other students and citizens. After giving your survey, summarize your findings in a written response.

    Additional Prompts:

    • In your opinion, how would the founders view the the current way the branches function during times of divided government?

    • Is a divided government beneficial for the country? Explain your answer.

    • How do times of divided party government contribute to political polarization in the country?

    • In your opinion, do times with divided party government create better laws for the nation? Explain your answer.

    • Does divided government create more centrist policies or create more gridlock?

    • How do divided governments serve as a check on the presidency

Additional Resources


  • Bipartisan
  • Congressional Oversight
  • Democrat
  • Gridlock
  • House Of Representatives
  • Legislation
  • Mandate
  • Midterm Election
  • Minority Leader
  • Moderate
  • Republican
  • Senate
  • Speaker Of The House
  • Stalemate
  • Subpoena


Executive BranchLegislative BranchPolitical Parties


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