Teaching With M&Ms....mmmmmmmm

I began my unit on the American Revolution this week.  I get so excited when we get to this part because the kiddos get excited, too.  For some reason, they are more interested in this unit than Native Americans, Explorers and the Colonies. 

I start the unit with a simulation.  The kids love these.  I've used simulations several times in social studies this year.  What I love most is that the kids remember them later in the year.

For example, when learning about the land bridge theory, I had my students act out crossing the land bridge hunting wholly mammoths.  Awesome!  I've also used simulation while teaching about the Triangle Trade Route and the students were all bunched up side by side, lying on the hard floor, unable to move while hearing a story (a primary source, too) of a slave's journey to the new world.

For this simulation, we used M&Ms...yes, I'm still eating them because I bought too many {sigh}.

This idea is not mine, I found it in a Teacher Created Press book from eh-hem 1993 {double sigh...I'm that old}.  I liked the idea, but I have jazzed it up for me.

When entering the classroom after PE, each student drew a card from a stack.  On the card, the students were either assigned to be a colonist, a member of Parliament, a tax collector or King George III. 

All of the colonists are given a tray of 20 M&Ms...and they are all like, "Woo hoo...candy".  And I'm all like, "Woo hoo, hold on a minute.  Those are going to be what you use to pay your taxes.  Remember when we were talking about the French and Indian War and how Britain was telling the colonists that they needed to pay for it?  Well, guess what...you are going to pretend to be those colonists paying taxes. But our taxes will be on things we do, wear or eat here at school."

And they are all like, "What?  I've got to give these M&Ms away?" 

And I'm like, "Yep, you sure do."

Then the tax collectors are all like, "Woo hoo, so I get to collect the M&Ms, right."  So, I have the tax collectors put in plastic gloves because although they are collecting the taxes they are not going to keep them.

Well, the tax collectors are excited non-the-less.

The king is put on his (or her) thrown and members of Parliament sit down next to the king. 

Then the fun begins.  I read a tax card aloud to the class.   It might say something like:

Pay 3 M&Ms if you ate a school lunch today.

Or, pay 2 M&Ms for wearing blue jeans today.

Or, pay 1 M&M if you own a pet.

This goes on for a good little while.

Some students are losing quite a few M&Ms.  Others, not as many.


So, the discussion leads to deciding whether or not they would then want to fight for independence.  Would they oppose the British government and laws, would they care as much as the neighbor who lost almost all of his M&Ms, etc.  How would this lead to war?

As all of the "taxes" are collected, I start to divvy them out to the tax collectors (for their fee), the members of Parliament (for being noble and all) and finally about half of them go to the king.   Man, do those colonists get mad when one student ends up with a bucket of M&Ms. 

In the past, I have let the students stew on this for most of the day.  (To get the debate even more heated, of course.) This year, however, I've got several special kiddos that would not have been able to handle that, so I let everyone off the hook right away.  And, being the nice teacher that I am, I gave back all 20 M&Ms to the colonists and the tax collectors, king and members of Parliament all got 20 as well.

I always start with this activity because I want to get my students thinking about the causes of the American Revolution. 

As I said before, I jazzed this activity up....you may get this at my TpT store.  It's on sale, too, for only $1.50 instead of $2 right now :) 

If you like it, let me know.  If there is something you think I need to change, let me know that, too.  I'm always up for feedback of any kind. 


  1. This is such a great idea! When I taught 5th grade I LOVED teaching American History. I wish I still taught American History because I would sooo use this!

  2. I love it! My teaching partner years ago used to start with this same activity (I guess she had the same book ;) ) and the kids really got into it. Thank you for sharing. I love reading about teachers teaching history!

    Teaching in Room 6

  3. What a brilliant idea!! I love this!

  4. Hello!
    I tried to find this activity at TPT, but couldn't find it! Do you still have it available? Thanks!