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Who's in Charge Here? Can the colonial system succeed?

Created by:
Michelle Bartling
Washington Township- Green Bank

Beth Perlman
Mullica Township

Revolutionary War Games

Grade Level:
6 to 8


The purpose of this lesson is to demonstrate to students that influence by local leaders presents a great challenge to maintaining the loyalty of English subjects in the American colonies. Student will also consider what it was like to be a tax collector, colonist or parliament member.

Historical Context

Students should possess a general knowledge of the American colonies following the French and Indian War and the causes for England's changing attitude toward the colonies.


colonial power, empire, occupation, influence.

Goals and Objectives:

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

1. Understand the reason for imperial taxation.

2. Role-play to understand the perspective of Loyalists or Patriots.

3. Analyze a short story and discuss the feelings of people during the American Revolution.


STANDARD: 6.1 (Social Studies Skills): All students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understanding of civics, history, geography, and economics.

STANDARD 6.2 (Social Studies Skill): All students will know, understand and appreciate the values and principles of American democracy and the rights, responsibilities, and roles of a citizen in the nation and the world.

STANDARD 6.5 (Economics Skill): All students will acquire an understanding of key economic principles.

STANDARD 6.6 (Geography Skills): All students will apply understanding knowledge of spatial relationships and other geographic skills to understand human behavior in relation to the physical and cultural environment.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Map of Colonial America in 1776.


"Pound Cake for the General" by Theresa Thomas. Scholastic. 1997,

Excerpt of "Katie's Trunk" by Ann Turner. MacMillan Publishing Co. 1992 http://www.eduplace.com/kids/hmr/gr5/gr5_th3_sel2.html

Excerpts from "My Brother Sam is Dead" by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier. 1985.

Internet access

Details of Activity

WARM UP/ENGAGEMENT (10 minutes): Read aloud Theresa Thomas' "Pound Cake for the General," published Scholastic Read-Aloud Anthology (Scholastic: 1984).

Follow this with the powerpoint presentation "Patriots & Tories & Neutrals" (available online at http://www.yorkcountyschools.org/mes/, search for patriots and neutrals to find the powerpoint), and use both to begin a discussion of the different points of view about the American Revolution and the role of leadership.

FIRST ACTIVITY (20 minutes): Students participate in The King's M&M's Game. This is 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 are 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 are 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.

Sometimes students will have all of their M&M's confiscated, and members of Parliament can had almost as many as thirty to forty pieces to show for their efforts. Some students will show definite feelings of displeasure just as some on the receiving end of this taxing generosity gloat 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 become great discussion topics:

1. Why were the tax collectors tarred and feathered?

2. Why did colonists boycott British goods? Students should be able to discuss the methods and organizations devised by the colonists in order to resist the British and how these laws led ultimately to the break from Great Britain.

Since colonists were upset about new taxes on paper and the lack of representation in the establishment of these taxes, this strategic activity draws students into a similar, albeit contrived, situation where items are arbitrarily removed from their possession without their input. Students' frustration with the unfairness of the way they lost their candy is easily compared to the substantial give and take on one of the central issues leading to the American Revolution -- taxation without representation(full instructions for this activity are available online at http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=675764).

SECOND ACTIVITY (10-20 minutes): Follow this exercise with time for independent reading and reflection. For 10 minutes, students will independently read Katie's Trunk by Ann Turner. For an additional 10 minutes, they can look at excerpts from My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln & Collier & Christopher Collier, to gain the perspective of young adults and the challenges that they faced during this time period.

Students will answer worksheet in small groups. (See attached)

Practice and Reinforcement

Students are asked to write a paragraph explaining why they would prefer to be a loyalist or patriot if they lived at the time of the American Revolution. Students should use points from the lesson or game to support their feelings.

Students can also research more on the revolution by checking out PBS's website: http://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/chronicle_philadelphia1776.html

Finally, teachers may chose to assign the book "My Brother Sam is Dead" (a Newberry Honor book written for young readers, published by Scholastic Paperbacks in 1985), and then offer the following quotations and questions for discussion:

1. Pg 21 "Father I am not an Englishman, I am an American&.." Does patriotism lie with heritage, or birthplace?

2. Pg 25-26 Last paragraph stopping at "Sometimes they were called Rebels." What can you argue about the idea the King was king, so he should be in charge? Should people have the right to make their own choices?.

3. Pg 149 Bottom of the page "bah, patriots. &&. I've had enough of it." What prices should be paid for freedom?


Collier, James & Christopher. (1985). My Brother Sam is Dead. Mass Market Paperback.

Fischer, Max W. (1993) American History Simulations, Teacher Created Materials. Directions for how to play the M&M game. http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=675764.

PBS website. (Copyright© 2004) Twin Cities Public Television. Chronicle of the Revolution. http://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/chronicle_philadelphia1776.html.

Thomas, Theresa. (1984). A Pound Cake for a General. Instructor's Read Aloud Anthology: Scholastic.

Turner, Ann. (1997). Katie's Trunk. Tandem Library.

York County School Power Point Presentation. http://yorkcountyschools.org/teachers/wpelkey/American%20Revolution/Pats,%20Tories,%20and%20Netrals.ppt.

Web Links:
Link to the M&M's game.

Good time line of the events of the Revolution.

Powerpoint about different political opinions.

For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here