Maybe it was my own personal experiences in high school that jaded my opinion of the fascinating world of communism, socialism, and capitalism. I vaguely remember drone voices muttering things like, “private ownership of industry,” “classless society,” and “economic competition.” Although, when I was a freshman, those phrases only served to wake me from my third period nap.
I was less than a week into my full-time student teaching at my cooperating high school. I couldn’t afford to turn my freshman away so early in my teaching experience, especially if I expected it to be a successful month. As I scoured the internet, racked my brain, and flipped through my cooperating teacher’s lesson plans, searching for a way to teach my freshmen about Marx’s Theory of Communism; something caught my eye.
It was a lesson that used the game Rock, Paper, Scissors to teach how capitalism breeds socialism and how socialism eventually leads to communism. I like games! And I know freshmen like games! After scanning the procedures, materials, and goals of the plan, I was hooked. I began writing my lesson plan, making revisions to fit my audience and teaching style, and I also talked with my cooperating teacher to see if he had any tips from past experiences.
As excited as I was about the lesson, I could not have foretold the feeling of complete and utter satisfaction that coursed through my body as I watched my freshmen not only having fun, but fully engaged in a deep conversation with each other about topics I dreaded so much as a freshman myself. I would find out days later, while reading their essays, that they actually got it! They understood the facets of communism, socialism, and capitalism and why Vladimir Lenin wanted a communist Russia. Not bad for my first time!
However, the glory was not all mine. Here is a summary of how the lesson works.
I gave all but three students three Hershey Kisses each (the actual lesson called for paper tokens, but I felt like it needed to be “worth it” for the students). I conspicuously gave the remaining three students ten Hershey Kisses. I listened as the “that’s not fair” and “why do they get more?” comments flooded the room, taking note of their complaints, while those with more candy gloated. The students then competed with each other in Rock, Paper, Scissors, with the loser having to give up a Hershey Kiss to the victor. Once a student ran out of candy, they were instructed to sit down and watch. Again, I took note of their complaints as this happened. The remaining students continued playing until only a few students had candy left.
At that point, I stopped the game. I asked the students several questions regarding their experiences: How did you feel at the start of the game? How did you feel when you ran out of candy and had to sit down? What tactics could you have used to get back into the game? (Steal, bargain, buy someone off, lie) Was the game fair? What could the teacher have done to make it fair and should he do it? Once again I took note of their responses.
As a class, we then discussed the communist theory of Karl Marx, aided by a flow chart that showed side-by-side the key points of capitalism, class struggle, workers revolt, socialism, and communism with the events of our Rock, Paper, Scissors game. For example, the box for capitalism had three points: private ownership of industry (students started with their own candy), freedom of competition (students played rock, paper, scissors), and results in unequal economic classes (some students won, most lost). The class struggle was played out in the students’ complaints and the workers’ revolt through their responses about how they could have gotten back into the game, and arguments about the game’s fairness.
As we approached socialism, I informed the class, that I, being the government, had decided to collect all the candy and redistribute it equally. Those with empty hands rejoiced while those who had been incessantly staring at their candy, unable to eat it, voiced their complaints. I asked them how they felt now, and if the action was fair. We then proceeded to the box on socialism: government ownership of industry (teacher collected candy), goal is to bring economic equality (teacher redistributed candy equally), and aims for a classless society (students now all have the same amount of candy).
I then asked the class if they wished to play again. Only a few brave souls were interested. This led us to our final box, communism: goal of classless society achieved (students would refuse to play game again and choose to share candy) and no government needed (teacher would no longer need to supervise).
We closed with an open discussion to clarify points and tie it directly to Lenin and the Soviet Union. I finally allowed the kids to eat their candy, with my own satisfaction that it was 45 minutes well spent!
In my opinion, when teaching history, it is essential to bring history to life. Make it tangible and apply it to something kids can relate to. History is fun, and if you as the teacher, buy into that and create an environment that brings history to life, your students will buy into it too! My freshmen did and it has made my student teaching experience that much easier!
Communist theory of Karl Marx. [Lesson plan]. History alive! The rise and fall of the Soviet Union. (1995). Palo Alto, CA: Teachers’ Curriculum Institute.