Role Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}

Social studies has always been one of my absolute favorite subjects to teach. I get so excited about United States history, and I do my best to make a potentially boring topic come alive for my students! There are a lot of opportunities for hands-on, get out of your seat lessons and projects in the classroom (especially on those hot and extra wiggly days!)

So, on this particular day, I decided to throw out my original lesson, and get my students up and moving instead for one of my favorite lessons, The King’s M & M’s (or our version of it at least)! This lesson is not my original idea, but it is most definitely one of my all-time favorites!

The object of the activity is to get students to understand why American colonists were upset with British tax laws, like the Stamp Act, after the French and Indian War. The activity will also help students understand the idea of Taxation Without Representation. Since this activity involves role play, students will have the opportunity to simulate a scenario of what happened when the colonists were being taxed by Great Britain. It definitely gives them a better understanding of what the colonists felt during that time.

Here’s what you need to do to prep for this activity:

1.) Choose one person to be the King.

2.) Choose two people as parliament members/tax collectors.

3.) Print out the role cards/signs that say King and Tax Collectors. Hole punch them, and tie string around the signs for students to wear around their necks. (printables available to download at the end of this post)

Role Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine NanniniRole Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

4.) Print and cut out the tax cards. 

Role Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

5.) Give each student a paper plate (or cup!) with 10 pieces of candy, and instruct students not to touch them. 

Role Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine NanniniRole Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

Luckily, I had some red plastic cups in my cupboard and a huge batch of gumdrops from a science experiment we did the week before! ;)

Before you start the activity, you may want to pull your King and tax collectors to the side and explain their roles:

Role Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine NanniniRole Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

When the tax collectors go around the room to collect the candy pieces, I typically divide the room in half and let each tax collector collect the candy from their side of the room only. I have the tax collectors collect the candy from each student in an individual cup. Then, once they collect the candy in their individual cup, they pour all of the pieces out on a plate so students can see all of the candy that accumulates throughout the activity.

Once you have all of your materials ready, invite the King and his/her tax collectors to the front of the room. Introduce them to the class as the King and his tax collectors, and then tell the rest of your class that they are the colonists. I typically make a big fuss over the difference between the two groups.

Have the King explain to the class that he/she will be taxing everyone for various reasons.

Role Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

*The man above is actually my dad! :) He would come in to my class and help every once in awhile, and my kids adored him! What better person to play the king, right?! They all got such a kick out of it!

Once the class is ready, the King can start reading the tax cards, and the parliament members can start collecting the taxes. Watch how upset your students get! It’s kind of hilarious!

Role Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

Make sure the King points out all of the tax money (or candy) that is piling up!

Role Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

I typically only read about four or five tax cards. This seems to be the perfect number that leaves many students with no candy pieces and some students with just two or three of their original candy pieces.

*Once all of the taxes have been collected, have the King tell the colonists that the tax money now needs to be dispersed. For their work, each of the tax collectors will get 10% of the tax money (or candy), and the King will get the rest for him/herself. Now your students will probably go bonkers! Typically my students show some definite feelings of displeasure, and the students who are the King and parliament start gloating a bit,

At this crucial point in the lesson (and to calm them all down!), I talk to students and them to understand how the colonists reacted to the tax collectors and the various tax laws from different acts. In small groups, I had students discuss these questions:

Role Playing with the American Revolution {Freebies Included}- Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

It’s amazing how many lightbulbs go off during this activity, and how many big smiles are plastered on their faces!

Then, to finish out this activity, I found this awesome video on TeacherTube called, Too Late to Apologize – King George.

The video is hilarious, educational, and very relevant. Your students will love it! Mine even shared with me that as soon as they went home, they got online to watch it and show all of their family members! Score! And of course (the most important part), hand out the leftover candy pieces for them to eat!

Side note: If your students are going to be handling food, and later eating it, make sure they use gloves or some type of utensil. 

Click HERE to grab all of the freebies to use in your own classroom! Enjoy!

73 Comments

  1. Oh my word, I am so doing this next week–PERFECT timing!!! Thank you a zillion times Kristine!!!! :)

  2. I’ve been teaching an American Revolution Unit to my students this will be a great end of unit activity!

    I was thinking about the candy hand touching issue, and all the sudden it came to me! The foil covered chocolates that look like gold coins would be perfect!

    Thanks so much for sharing your creative ideas! It really helps us not so creative people!

  3. @Christine- Thank you so much for your kind words! Your idea about the foil covered chocolates is great! Thank you so much for sharing! :)

  4. Yes! I’m moving up to 5th grade and get to teach social studies. I’m super excited about it and this seems like a great activity and video! Thank you so much for it!

    Steph
    Simple Insights

  5. I love this idea!!!!! Thank you for sharing. Where did you find the boarders you used for “The King” and “Tax Collector” poster.

  6. This is such a cute idea! I currently teach 5th grade, but here in South Carolina, the American Revolution is a 4th grade standard. There are still tons of things it would apply to for us, though. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Oh my goodness! I can’t WAIT to do this with my class next week!!!! They are going to get a kick out of it!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! First year teaching 5th grade S.S. and this is much appreciated!

  9. Anonymous says:

    This was wonderful!! We did this lesson today and it went so well. Thanks for sharing! The class all walked out singing.

  10. I do this activity every year with my 8th graders. It is one of my favorites. I even got a crown from the local party store for the King. Tax collectors and some colonists wear tricorne hats. Thanks for sharing your post.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      What a great idea! Thanks so much for your kind comments!

  11. Jane Redding says:

    I do this same activity every year using M & M s!!! My kids go nuts over loosing CHOCOLATE! You are so on target here, the kids finally get what all the fuss is about! They can’t stand the unfairness of taxes without ant compensation. Fun activity.

  12. I got the idea of using smarties from another site. I buy enough to use in the tax activity, plus enough that stay in the wrapper to pass out at the end.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Great idea! :)

  13. Penny Jones says:

    I love this idea and I can’t wait to use this in class on Monday to start a review of Event Leading to the Revolution . Thank you for sharing!!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Penny! I hope your kids have fun!

  14. I love this idea! i am teaching the American Revolution at the end of the year and I cannot wait to use this. It is awesome!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Deena! I hope your kids love it!

  15. April Schoenberg says:

    This is a brilliant and creative idea! Thank you so much for sharing! It will be perfect for my 5th grade classroom this week!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words, April! I’m so glad to hear! I hope your kids have fun!

  16. Thank you so much this is perfect! Just what I was looking for!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Great! Thanks so much, Tina!

  17. Jennay Atturio says:

    This is amazing. So much fun and the kids loved it!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Jennay! I’m so glad to hear your kids loved it!

  18. Love the idea of the cards. I do something similar with the middle ages but there are different levels of society and each level pays different taxes to different people and the Church. The kids who are the peasants go crazy. Last year they all but started a revolution before the activity was over. Great provocation for taxes or revolution.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      That’s a great idea! Thanks so much, Amanda!

  19. Thank you so much! This is amazing. I will be using it in an ELA lesson comparing the feelings of King George & the colonists!!!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Hi Colleen- You’re welcome! I appreciate your kind words! I love your ideas to incorporate ELA. Have fun!

  20. So much fun to do with the class! It really help tie the events leading to the war to the feelings they were having as “colonists”. They also enjoyed the parody.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much for your kind comments, Ginger! I am so happy to hear your students had fun!

  21. Thank you for creating this lesson and I am going to add this year to our studies. :)

  22. Katie Bradley says:

    I’m student teaching this year & I’m going to be in 5th grade this semester! One of my state standards for history is to cover the American Revolution, and I just found this activity! I’m so excited to try and do this in my student teaching classroom!!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Katie! I am so glad to hear! Enjoy your student teaching!

  23. T. Congilosi says:

    Love this! About how long does the activity take?

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much! I got through the activity in one class sitting. So about 50-60 minutes max with a discussion at the end. I hope that helps!

  24. Shelly Prettyman says:

    This is one of the most creative ideas I have ever seen. I have been looking for something similar but have been unable to find anything that was even close. Thank You so very much for putting this together.

  25. Thank you for sharing this idea. I love it and can’t wait to do it with my class- along with the video!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Lisa!

  26. Jessica Witt says:

    This is EXACTLY what I was looking for and the freebies are so much nicer than the printables on similar pages! Thank you!!!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Jessica! Have fun!

  27. Hello, this activity looks awesome! Thank you so much for sharing it!!! I was thinking of using it as a mini-lesson review… Do you know of any activities that could follow this in samll group centers… Something that would tie into and relate to the lesson?

  28. We have a wellness policy in our school so I don’t think that I can have candy…:(( but I am thinking of using pennies. Thoughts?

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      I love that idea, Teresa! I think your students will still understand the concept of the activity!

  29. Jessica Guevara says:

    I am currently a student teacher in a 5th grade classroom. Activities like these make me want to stay in 5th grade. Thank you for this awesome activity!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Jessica!

  30. This is amazing! I wanted to know if it were possible to get this in Spanish?

    I could provide the Spanish! I teach in Spanish and would love this!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Hi Ashley- Unfortunately, I don’t have this in Spanish. Sorry! Thanks for your kind words! :)

  31. Jaime Juchems says:

    Thank you. So awesome.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Jamie!

  32. This is literally the best thing I’ve found on Revolutionary War simulations!!! And it made my life 100000x better not having to make my own cards and jobs. Thank you!!!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Laken! You are SO welcome! :)

      1. I LOVE IT!I got all A’s in social studies and science

  33. AnneMarie Mann says:

    This is so awesome! Thanks!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much! :)

  34. Kelly Haber says:

    Hi Kristine! I absolutely LOVE this activity. Unfortunately I am teaching virtually this year. I feel like this activity alone helps solidify what is really happening during the taxation. Do you have any thoughts on how to make this activity virtual? I use Google Meet. Often times my friends don’t turn on their cameras and they keep themselves muted.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Hi Kelly- Thank you for your kind comment! It would be tough to translate this to a digital activity. The interaction is the best part of it! However, I do think it is doable. You could have each student get a plate of any type of their favorite snack from home. Each time the King (you or another student) reads off a card, they would have to take one of the snacks off the plate. In the end, they only get to eat what is left on the plate. Similar to the in-class activity, just a little less interactive. I hope that helps!

  35. Hi! Absolutely LOVE this activity! I put in my email a few hours ago for the freebie, but have yet to receive it. Is there another place I should go to get the download link?

    Thank you!!!! <3
    Jackie

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Hi Jackie- It should come right away! Check your SPAM folder!

  36. This is awesome! Thanks for sharing it and for free. Super nice of you.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thank you so much, Jill!

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