Questions Moving Forward
A blog in which I can constantly ask questions and explore ideas about my own teaching practice. Feel free to comment on any posts that you find interesting or have suggestions for!
In my placement at Spencer Van Etten Highschool I taught a group of 11th graders in U.S. History. My personal teaching style focuses around the use of storytelling as a means of teaching history. In order to break up classroom activities, the other day I decided to try using a game as a way of highlighting a theme of the time period in question. For context, we were discussing domestic life in 1950s America. We discussed youth culture, and the high premium that Americans placed on conformity in the 1950s, but I wanted to explain to students the underlying paranoia that came along with the era of McCarthyism. This was a concept that was a bit difficult to explain to them, there are a great deal of similar things in their own lives that could be comparable to the fear and paranoia found in 1950s America around the notion that communist sympathizers could be living amongst us.
I decided to use a game to highlight this idea of paranoia and in the spirit of getting into the mindset of the time, we named the game "Commie Hunt". If you're interested, here's how to play:
What you'll need: The game should be played by a group of ten or more, though theoretically it could be done with less, it'd just be less fun. You should make cards that will be passed out to all the players. On most of the cards, the word "loyal citizen" will appear, and on a few, you should write "communist spy" or "communist sympathizer". I played with two groups of students, one with 27 players and one with 17. In the first group there were 5 spies, in the second there were 3.
Step One: Pass out the cards to everyone who will be playing. It is crucial that no one shares what is on their card with anyone else.
Step Two: You are the moderator, the game will begin by asking everyone to look down and close their eyes. Then you will ask anyone who got a spy card to look up at you and to look at one another. Now the spies know one another, but the loyal citizens remain oblivious to their identity. Ask the spies to look down and close their eyes.
Step Three: Ask everyone to "wake up" and tell them that there are a number of communists in their midsts ( you can even modify the game so that there are no communists, to drive home the damage that could be done by baseless accusations ). Now ask everyone (remember the spies are trying to blend in with the loyal citizens in the "day time") who they think might be a communist. The group can, if they want, vote on one accused person per turn in order to eliminate them. Note- if someone is eliminated, they are not allowed to tell if they were a communist or not.
Step Four: Ask everyone to "go to sleep" and then "wake up" the spies. The spies can now quietly confer (they should probably use hand signals to protect their identity) and decide to eliminate one of the loyal citizens, or, they can skip the turn. After making their decision, the spies go back to sleep.
Step Five: Everyone wakes up, and the moderator notifies the group if anyone was eliminated during the night. The group can now accuse and vote to eliminate someone.
Repeat steps 4 and 5 until either all the spies are eliminated, or the spies are all that is left. By the end, a lot of loyal citizens will probably have been swept up in the madness and eliminated on baseless suspicion. You can point this out to students, and make connections to McCarthyism by explaining that a number of people who were eliminated never actually did anything to make others suspect them.
When I tried this with my students, they loved it. First, because they did not get to play many games with their regular teacher, and also because the game is pretty thrilling. It puts students in a situation in which they can only trust themselves, and illustrates for them how quickly things can get out of control under such circumstances. Overall, it helped make a clear connection between my students and the time period we were discussing, which made the lessons moving forward more relatable to them.
Reflecting on this lesson I only wish that the game could have gone a little quicker, so that we could have discussed our takeaways longer before the end of class. This could probably be achieved in future lessons by utilizing my role as moderator to make the game move a little faster.