Updated: Oct 26, 2020
What's going on everyone?
My economics class recently moved into learning about different economic systems and I wanted to find a fun way to teach/learn about capitalism, socialism, and communism. I've always heard people talk about how the board game, Monopoly could be modified to match whichever system is being taught. I don't often teach with board games because it may take players a lot of time just to understand the rules. Fortunately, many of our students were already familiar with Monopoly so we didn't need to spend too much time going over how to play. I began to scour the Internet for Monopoly classroom resources and came across a website created by a professor of Sociology named Ryan Cragun's.
The rules he created are extensive and one would probably need a fair amount of class time to finish a game. I needed to modify his rules since I only have a 55 minute class period with a class full of English Language Learners. I want to be clear that the rules for each system are overly simplistic and are not 100% accurate representations of these economic systems, but they do serve as a great starting points for discussion. You can find my Lesson Plan will all of the materials here.
We started the week with capitalism. Monopoly is normally based on capitalism, but we still needed to change the rules because a normal game can take hours to complete. In a normal game of Monopoly, everyone starts out with the same amount of money and opportunity. Real life is not like that so we divided the students into social classes. I had my class separated into five groups, each of which was broken up into the following social classes; the Upper Class, the Middle Class, the Working Class, and the Poor Class. Each student received a set of rules specific to their social class. You can slide through the rules in the image above. Those in the upper class had a clear advantage. They started with more money, could buy any property they wanted, and could even add or subtract one to their roll on the dice. The rules, like in real life, became more restrictive depending on their status. Those in the working class, for example, could only buy orange, maroon, light blue, and pink properties. Going to jail is also much worse since they start with less money. In this version of the game, students can just pay a lawyer $500 to get them out of jail, a fee that those in the working and middle class most likely couldn't afford.
By the end of the game, the Upper Class completely swept the board. They usually managed to buy a lot of property and increase their overall wealth. Students in the middle class were able to buy a couple of properties and maintain their social status while the students in the working and poor classes were struggling to get buy. The bottom two social classes were more focused on making it to Go each round in order to collect some money than they were on buying property. All of my classes had a lot of fun playing this version of the game. Even those who started at a disadvantage enjoyed trying to find ways to stay relevant. We spent the following day reading about capitalism and making comparisons to the game. You can find the articles I used attached in the lesson plan above.
After learning about capitalism, we moved on to socialism. Everyone gets the same set of rules, which you can read in the image to the left, for this version of the game. The idea is to level the playing field for all of the players. Everyone starts with the same amount of money, can buy any property they want, receive the same amount of money for passing Go, and everyone is subject to taxes. Rent is also capped at certain amounts depending on the color of the property- this way a landlord cannot charge too much and bankrupt a player. If for whatever reason a player cannot afford to pay rent then the government steps in to help cover the costs. This is what the tax money is used for. For the most part my students also really enjoyed playing this version of the game. Since it was not really impossible for anyone to lose they decided to make it a competition to see who can finish with the most property. Having more property is not really the point of socialism, but it at least showed them how a government would be stepping in to help them, through the use of collected taxes, if needed.
The students then read about socialism and compared what happened in the game with what happens in reality. The game version of socialism is fairly idealistic and would most likely not play out the same way in real life. This is important because while socialism may sound great on paper, there are real concerns with it as a system just like with capitalism and communism. It is important for students to distinguish between what we want to happen and what will actually happen. Just like with capitalism you can see the article that they read in the lesson plan above.
Now for the boring version of the game: communism. There are actually two versions of communism to play if you want, but for now we are going to focus on the Karl Marx version. There is nothing fun about communism. There is no money. No one gets to own private property. The Chance and Community Chest cards have no place in the game. There is no winning or losing to be found. Each student rolls the dice and they all just go in circles until they decide to just stop. I'll be honest. My students were not happy while playing this version of the game. But, it did lead to some nice conversation afterwards about why it wasn't fun. In they end they understood that communism is more about the community than it is about furthering your own place in society.
Another aspect of communism that we touched upon is how there is often a power vacuum. This occurs because there is no real government. Someone or a group of people, have historically always tried to fill in this void. Usually this has led to the rise of various dictatorships. If you have time, playing the dictatorship version of communism can be a fun way to finish this mini unit. Especially since the Karl Marx version of the game is not the most exciting. The game is basically broken up into communist officials and ordinary citizens. You can take a look at the rules in the images above. We finished off the unit with another day of reading and comparing communism in real life to what transpired in the game.
This was one of the more fun weeks of the year. It was also unique in the sense that I almost never teach with board games. You all know how much I love teaching with video games, but this little unit on economic systems has shown me that board games are also an incredibly valuable resource. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes out for other board games to use in the future.
Thanks for reading,
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