Playing with blocks…

Tuesday we played with blocks. 

Monday I was out and left sub plans which had the kids take notes on the Articles of Confederation.  Quick review for folks…the Articles had major weaknesses such: 

  • Each state only has one vote

  • Congress did not have the power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce.

  • There was no executive branch to enforce any acts passed by Congress.

  • Amendments to the Articles of Confederation required a unanimous vote.

  • Laws required a 9/13 majority to pass in Congress.

The kids had no idea why I brought in huge bags of blocks.  When the kids walked in I had them sit in a group of 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1.  Depending on the size of the class the middle groups fluctuated, but the largest and smallest stayed the same. Each group represented a state, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Delaware. Each student who was Delaware appeared to be picked at random.  But after sitting I let them know what was happening and when needed they helped me guide the class by proposing certain laws and voting yea or nay based on my finger position. After each group received the blocks I handed out different money to each group and then told them they have five minutes to build a fort with their blocks.




Of course Delaware was finished first.


The kids were told that the object of the game was to have the last fort standing, and I somewhat revved up the competitiveness and each group became very invested in their fort…except Delaware.  


I told the kids that there would be several stages to the game so that they would have the opportunity to increase the size of their fort.  I also established two rules. That each state gets one vote regardless of size, and any state can propose a new rule as long as four out of the five groups agree to it.  From there I was hoping the kids would take over because I really did not have any “stages.”  Delaware immediately proposed a rule that all blocks should be evenly distributed.  It didn’t pass.  Many other rules were proposed in attempt to gain power and everyone was voted down.  As the voting continued, each state became more and more interested in it’s own individual survival. Eventually Delaware offered to buy blocks from another group.  There were some offers, but England (me) came in and undercut everyone.  Immediately the other states started to make laws in an attempt to control foreign commerce, but all votes failed and Delaware continued to grow stronger.  When Connecticut saw this they formed an alliance and went to combined forts.  Unfortunately a group of angry farmers rose up and took over the state.  Connecticut tried to pass a law requiring other states to help, but none came to Connecticut’s aid.

Seeing chaos building, England sailed battleships off the shore of New York.  A law was proposed to build a Navy, and it passed.  The Navy had to be built from the supplies they had.  No one wanted to give any blocks to New York.  New York complained that it was a law, but as Virginia said, “whose gonna make us!.” Eventually England took over New York, already allied with Delaware, and then attacked the other states that voted against them trading with the states.  In the end Virginia had no chance.

The above is a combination of what basically happened in all the classes, but in the end in every class kids in Virginia mentioned that if they weren’t so greedy, selfish, and cared more about the other states they would still be in power.  I wrote greed, selfishness, and apathy on the board and asked what they could do so that those feelings don’t ruin it for them if we played again.  Of course they said make stronger rules, allow for someone to be in charge of enforcing them, and make sure that rules were in place to more equally distribute the resources.  “We need rules to protect ourselves from ourselves.”  Light bulb moment to John Locke from two days earlier.  It played out slightly different in each class.  In one someone stole a block from another group.  Immediately a law was passed that you could not steal, but of course there was no one to enforce it so each state hovered above their blocks creating further divisions among the groups. 

If you are a social studies teacher, you can probably see where the post activity discussion went.  Connections to the states under the Articles of Confederation kept popping up.

An example of a student’s reflection is below:

I think that we did this little mini-activity so we would learn how difficult it was in the colonies due to the Articles of  Confederation. The Articles of  Confederation caused the states to issue their own paper money which made trading with other states difficult. Every state had it’s own form of money that other states would not accept; The values of the currency could range from ⅙ of a dollar to $80. The Confederation Congress was powerless in the situation because they had no right to induce tariffs. Due to the weakness in the country,because of the interstate commerce,  trade countries like Spain and Great Britain took advantage. To make matters worse, they had no executive or national court system. One result of this weakness was Shays’s Revolution, lead by Daniel Shays.

Many places to tighten up and change, but over all I think the point was made.


  1. I love this idea! Have you done anything different? This was posted in 2013 so I am assuming you have done it again since this post. Just curious if you have anything that you did different to improve it.

    1. Geez, I don’t remember! I think things like should states be allowed to collaborate. Big states said no, small states said yes. Trying to pass a laws that said money and blocks should be evenly distributed..things like that.

  2. I have switched grades since doing this activity and I think the new grade has wiped my memory of the old 🙂 The one thing that I do remember is that “Delaware” needs to be someone who is generally quiet but quick thinking. Someone you could mouth something to and they would get it and do it right away, or someone you could write a note to on the back of a clipboard, walk by them, they could read it quick and then do it.

  3. I ran this simulation in my 7th grade civics class today and it went SO well! I just wanted to reach out and thank you for this great idea. All of my classes had SO much fun and the longer I reflect, the more great connections I appreciate that my students made. The mistake I made was not giving enough background information before hand so the connections were more vague than I would have liked, but I hope they will continue to reference their experiences in the activity as they learn more of the content. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  4. Do you have a lesson plan for this? Seems really interesting but can’t seem to get my head around how this goes except from the bit you explained.

  5. Hi I also am trying to figure out how this worked. How did you determine how many blocks to give to each kid? Was it 3? Who was knocking down the forts? (You mentioned that they needed to have the last fort standing). Was that you (aka England) invading? How did the money work? Was that just to buy blocks from each other? I guess I am unclear as to how they “won”

    1. JG–this was years ago 🙂 I so rarely do things twice and have long since forgotten the intricacies of it. yes it was me invading. I think I distributed money based on # of people in group. I think I basically took the blocks I had and divided them as evenly as I could per kid. Not sure about the winning..basically point was that if everyone stands alone, in the end most are not left standing. Sorry I can’t be more help!

      Whoa..just searched an old account and found these https://goo.gl/9wODBB I have a vague memory of having writing all over my print out by the end of the day as I changed things from class o class

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