Simply because it got the students in the middle of a situation relevant to a famous episode in history, this was by far one of my favorite lessons! This was an American History Simulation for fifth graders geared toward helping students understand why Americans were upset with the British tax laws, such as the Stamp Act, after the French and Indian War. They were also able to identify tactics colonials used to show their displeasure with the taxes.
To play the game prepare Role cards in advance: one King, two Parliament members and two Tax Collectors. The remaining role cards were Colonists. Then prepare Object cards with names of items commonly worn or possessed by students , for example jeans, sneakers, glasses, pens, jewelry etc. In the corner of each object card, write a number ranging from one to three. These numbers will become a taxable value.
Begin by giving each student a cup containing ten M&M's (and instruct the students not to touch them!)
The role cards are to be randomly passed out and ask for the students who have the 'King', "Parliament," and "Tax Collector" cards to come to the front of the room. The King is to sit in a designated "seat of honor," and Parliament members are to have a specific area from which to enact their roles.
Members of Parliament are to draw from the prepared Object Cards and announce to the Colonists what item is to be taxed,(eg., blue jeans). Anyone possessing that item has to pay out the number of M&M's equal to the number written on the Object Card. So if the card marked 'jeans is pulled, each colonist wearing blue jeans must relinquish three M&M's.
The "Tax Collectors" do all of the collecting of M&M's and all "taxes" are to be returned to Parliament. Taxes should be levied for at least 3 items but not more than six. The idea is to relieve several student of all their candy and leave many more with just two or three of their original total.
After all taxes have been levied the funds can now be dispersed. This is an arbitrary breakdown for the purpose of the simulation.... Tax Collectors get 10%, Parliament receives 50% (these fund are to be used to run the empire!) and are to be divided equally between the two students in that role. Finally, King George pockets the remaining 40% for himself.
It has happened on a few occasions that while some students had all of their M&M''s confiscated, members of Parliament have had almost as many as thirty to forty pieces to show for their efforts. Some students showed definite feelings of displeasure just as some on the receiving end of this taxing generosity gloated just a little bit too much. The objective of this lesson has to be completed during the withdrawal from the roles because understanding how the colonists reacted to the tax collectors and the various tax laws from the Stamp Act is relevant at this crucial moment. Simply asking what was so unfair about how the class was taxed and how it could be handled more fairly became great discussion topics. Why were the tax collectors tarred and feathered became well understood! The reasons British goods being boycotted..... what methods and organizations were devised by the colonists in order to resist and how these laws led ultimately to the break from Great Britain became intrinsic.
I tried this as an anticipatory set, but found the lesson much more effective after the Stamp Act had been introduced and the text lesson presented. The sufficient background made the post-simulation review more exciting, they got so involved.
Since the colonists were upset about new taxes on paper and the lack of representation in the establishment of those taxes, this strategic activity drew the students into a similar, albeit contrived, situation where items were arbitrarily removed from their possession without their input. The students frustration with the unfairness of the way they lost their candy was easily compared to the substantial give and take on one of the central issues leading to the American Revolution -- taxation without representation.
American History Simulations written by Max W. Fischer, 1993, Teacher Created Materials