I try to bring simulations into my classroom whenever I can. What topic is better to simulate for students to understand better than governments? I’m sure I’m not the first person that has used something like this to help teach government types, but I’ve really enjoyed seeing students better understand how governments operate after this classroom experience.
First I break my students into five to six groups, usually these have about four students in them. I then tell the students that they’re “grade” for the day is based on how well they function as a group mimicking the government type that I give them. There is no grade for the day (I tell them this after we’re done) and we have already learned a little bit about governments so this isn’t that big of a shocker for my students. Next, I tell the kids that the job their government needs to complete is to build the tallest freestanding tower they can with a bare minimum of supplies. I always use leftover things that I have around the classroom, and this year is was a few pieces of paper, some notecards, some straws, some pencils, and a small amount of tape. I let the kids brainstorm their towers as I go around and give them their governments. Some governments are tougher than others with this simulation, like communism, but most are able to be handled by my 6th graders. The governments I used this year were:
- Republic/Democracy – Every person must vote for every decision the group makes. They may not vote to elect a leader or change their government type.
- Dictatorship/Absolute Monarch – Appoint one person the leader the dictator/monarch and they must always have every person in their group actively doing something. These can be productive things or non-sensical things like singing songs, doing pushups, etc.
- Anarchy – Give only one group this government type. These kids can go around and steal supplies from the other group. No one can be physically violent to them and once they touch a supply it is theirs with no questions asked.
I usually give my kids about 15-20 minutes to build their towers. What usually happens is the anarchy group is so busy stealing stuff that they have a ton of supplies, but barely something you could call a tower to show for all their materials. The republic group is frustrated by how long it takes them to get anything done because they have to vote on everything. The monarchs usually are passive or they completely take advantage of their powers as the ultimate leader. After the activity is over and the towers have been judged, we have a class discussion about the good and bad of every government type and how those apply to modern day governments. After that, my kids reflect on their governments and what type of government they think is the one they would select for a country they might start in the future.