Bartering, an Early Form of Interdependence
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
Through understanding the barter system and how it relates to the idea of interdependence, students will know the benefits and the problems associated with a barter system and understand why it was used in the Colonies.
- Barter a disposable object that they own.
- Write a journal entry showing a personal understanding of how bartering works.
- Be able to discuss the pros and cons of bartering.
- Brown bulletin board paper for "Scroll of Laws"
- Colonial Times 1600-1700 by Joy Masoff. Available in The Teacher Store
- Parent Permission Slip for Bartering (PDF)
- Student journals
- Yellow construction paper for the sun
Set Up and Prepare
- Make a scroll with all the rules of the market place.
Marketplace Rules (PDF)
- Make a "sun" to put on the blackboard to depict a "day" at the market.
- Tape off an area of the classroom floor for the Market Square.
Day 1: How to Barter
Step 1: Remind students that most of them (as colonists) have come from larger cities in Europe. In Europe, they may have been accustomed to buying items in shops. In early America, there were few stores or services, and most of what you needed was made by you. Share this interesting fact with students:
- "The first shop didn't open up in Salem, MA until thirty years after the Pilgrims arrived."
From Colonial Times 1600-1700 by Joy Masoff, p. 37.
- What if one colonist was a wonderful farmer but had a terrible time when he tried to make horseshoes, while another colonist really had difficulty getting anything to grow, but was a whiz with metal? (Discuss with the children what might happen, i.e. a deal.)
Step 2: After the discussion, explain that different people with different skills could bargain for one another's services. They also could exchange the goods themselves. For example, two bushels of vegetables could be traded for one set of horseshoes or baskets could be traded for deerskins. This system of trade is called barter.
Step 3: You will be able to barter in class. Bring in an object that you no longer want or need, with a signed Parent Permission Slip for Bartering (PDF), so you'll be able to trade with the other students. We will have a market day in the town square and you will be able to use your bartering skills.
Day 2: Market Day
This will take about 40 minutes. It does not have to be the next day. It should be after the majority of students have brought in their items to trade.
Step 1: Here we are on market day. The entire town (class) meets in the square to listen to the governor (teacher) explain the rules of being able to trade in our town.
Step 2: With your scroll of Marketplace Rules (PDF), say to the class, "Today our town is proud to host its first market day. Here are the laws governing our market." Unfurl the scroll.
Read the rules aloud.
- Everyone must show decorum, so there is no running in the market place.
- In order for everyone to hear clearly to make a trade, there is no shouting in the market place. You must use a soft voice.
- You may only trade with one person at a time. You may not approach a person who is already engaged in barter.
- All townsmen are worthy of respect. Anyone trading in our market must show respect in their voice and words to others.
- As long as the market is officially open, you may continue to trade if you wish. You can make as many trades as you want.
- The governor will settle all disputes. The governor's decision is final.
- If the sun sets and you have not made a trade, the market is still closed, and you may keep the item you brought.
- When the market closes, you are to bring whatever item you have to the town square and sit down.
Step 3: Post the "sun" on the bulletin board to mark the opening of the market. Hand out the items to the students. Ask a few to begin trading. Then have several more join. Then the entire class can trade.
Step 4: The governor needs to stroll around and encourage students to visit all the townsmen in the market to make sure they are making a profitable trade for themselves. If someone has brought an item that no one wants, that is part of the system. If someone has many offers, that, too, is part of the system.
Step 5: Ring bell. "Hear ye, hear ye, the sun has set. The market is now closed." Take the construction paper sun off the board. Students sit within the taped town square area.
Step 6: This might go over into Day 3. Discuss with students, "How did it go? Did you get what you wanted? Why? Why not? What did you notice as you were trying to make trades?" Students might say that they had to trade more than once to get what they wanted and others didn't want to trade with them. Point out that bartering sometimes does mean that you have "extra work" to do that isn't necessary when you use money. If nobody wanted a short pencil, that's called the law of supply and demand. If no one wants what you have to trade, you are out of luck. There is no demand for your goods. You need to find another item or skill to barter. The things that were in great demand in Colonial Times were those things that helped people survive, such as food, barrels for storage, and tools. Blacksmiths, for example, were multi-faceted in what they could supply to people and so they tended to be more in demand in the community.
Day 3: Write About Your Bartering Experience
Step 1: Continue or review discussion from the Day 2 activity. Have students write in their journals about the bartering experience. Have them include the following points:
- What did you bring and was it traded successfully?
- Why or why not?
- Give an example of what might be a good barter item in Colonial times. Name something besides what the blacksmith can provide.
- Why might the colonists have depended on that item or service being offered in their community?
Step 2: Have the children share their responses in pairs.
Homework paragraph writing:
- Write a paragraph describing your colonial job and how it helps the community?
- Write a second paragraph about who in the community would be dependent on you? On whom would you depend?
- Did the students' responses and discussion show they understood how bartering works?
- Were they able to expand their personal experience to that of Colonial Americans?
- Did their written projects reflect understanding of how their colonial jobs mattered to the community?
- Were students engaged and focused during the work times?
- Were they able to follow the rules of the marketplace and successfully trade?
- In the discussion, did they show they understood the pros and cons of bartering?
- In-class journal writing
- Homework paragraph writing