Title:  Capitalism and Communism: What's the difference?

Grade Level: 7-12

Subject/CA Standards:  Social Studies 8.4.3, 10th/11th Cold War Units, Economics

Overview:  Many of the recent social movements and revolutions in Central America have had communist/socialist overtones.  In this lesson, students will learn the differences between the two ideologies and how they play out in modern societies.

Purpose:  To explore the differences between communism and capitalism through a simulation exercise and make comparisons with the Zapatista way of life in southern Mexico.



  1. Enough Starburst candy for each student to have three pieces.
  2. Questions and Notes.
  3. Reading on Zapatista Communities.
  4. Adapted from the Teacher's Curriculum Institute at www.historyalive.com.

Activities and Procedures:

  1. Give each student a number of Starburst (between 1 and 5).  Each student should write down how many they receive.
  2. Students then are told that they will be playing Rock Scissors Paper with each other.  There are three rules to the game:
  1. Students play the game until most are out and only several remain playing.
  2. After discussing the questions, ask students “What could I do to make this more fair?”.  Students inevitably answer that they should all receive the same amount - redistribute candy equally.
  3. Notes on Rock Scissors Paper and Communism.
  4. Read and discuss Zapatista Communities.  Connect with analogies from the game.

Tying It Together:

  1. Have students research and present two examples of communist revolutions or countries: Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Vietnam, any former Soviet Bloc countries, etc.
  2. Think about what the reasons, methods and outcomes were in each system that they research.  Compare positive and negative examples with that of the Zapatista model.