Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Communist Lesson Plan

I love a good red scare as much as the next guy - well, teaching about one at any rate.  To begin the lesson I always start with a game of Communists - a popular party card game also known as Mafia.  This game causes students to understand the weak evidence used to accuse people of communism in the 1920s or 1950s.  It also familiarizes students with people involved and their actions (or lack-there-of).
Materials and Roles
A deck of playing cards.  Remove the jokers and aces, 2 queens, 3 jacks, and as many numbered cards as you must to equal the number of students in your class.

I play the narrator and act as a moderator throughout the game.
Whomever gets a king card is a communist
Whomever gets a queen card is a member of the HUAC committee
Whomever gets a jack card is Edward Murrow (or other journalist)
Whomever gets a numbered card is a citizen

Playing the game
Each round consists of a day and a night.
The narrator announces that it is night time and has everyone close their eyes to go to sleep.

Next, the narrator tells the communists to open their eyes and acknowledge their fellow members. They kill off one of the other players by silently gesturing to indicate their target. Then the narrator instructs the communist members to "sleep" (close their eyes again).
Now the HUAC members will open their eyes and point at a suspect.  The narrator nods or shakes their head to indicate if the person is a communist.  Then the narrator instructs the HUAC members to "sleep" and the journalist to open his or her eyes; he or she points at someone to protect, then goes back to sleep.


The narrator tells everyone to wake up. Unless the journalist and the communists selected the same target a murder is announced, sometimes with a little narrative detail. For example, "In a very sad twist of events, Billy was run over by a car with a hammer and sickle bumper sticker last night."  This player is "dead" and may no longer participate in the game in any way.
During the daytime phase, the players deliberate over which student is a suspected communist that they wish to try for treason. Once nominations are made, the narrator administrates an election between the nominees, in which all players vote.  Whomever receives the most votes is tried and electrocuted for treason.
Because players have less information and more freedom to deliberate, during the day, the day phase tends to be longer than the night phase. I usually have a five minute time limit for day rounds.

Ending the game
If the citizens discover (try for treason) all of the communists, the citizens win.
If the communists outnumber the citizens, the communists win.

I encourage citizens to listen for "things that go bump in the night" or to make wild assumptions and associations to 'discover' the communists.  Students generally get really into the game and require very little encouragement to participate.  We always end with a discussion about how decisions were made by both parties and how few facts were generally used in the trial of the suspected communists during the day.

If you are covering this lesson, you may also be interested in the dots game where students are given a card with a red or green dot on a card and must make groups without any 'red dot' members despite keeping their cards a secret.  This was a wonderful idea that @ColoradoHowe shared in a #sschat on active learning.  Also, be sure to check out @'s blog about teaching Marxism through Rock Paper Scissors.

I would love to hear how others also cover this topic!

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