Introducing the Classroom Economy
Students will learn the definition of economics, define classroom jobs, and attach salaries to those jobs.
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
Students will learn the definition of economics and briefly study how current and historic societies have had economic systems. Students will also determine necessary classroom jobs and attach daily or weekly salaries to those positions. The concepts of credits and debits will be introduced.
- Participate in a classroom economy designed to mimic real world economic activity
- Compare economic systems over time and history
- Evaluate the importance of classroom jobs and daily responsibilities
- Perform classroom jobs to earn daily salaries
- 4- by 6-inch steno notebooks, one per student
- Credit and Debit Logs (PDF), one per student
- A book on the history of money and trade (see my Book List for recommendations), or Scholastic's Money article
- Chart paper
- Optional: Money Design Template (PDF)
Set Up and Prepare
Step 1: Write on the board the two main definitions of "economy" and review with students:
- The careful use of money and goods, and
- A system of economic life in a country, area, or period.
Step 2: Now, ask students to share their prior experiences with money. Start with the following questions:
- Do you make an allowance?
- Have you ever purchased something with your own money?
- Have you ever had a job?
- Have you ever saved up for something?
- Have you ever sold something to someone else?
Step 1: Explain to students that they will participate in a classroom economy this year where they will use money to purchase goods. Read the Money article or the book you've pre-selected that teaches the history of money and trade.
Optional: Vote on a name for your class money. (My class money is called "Newies" because my last name is Newingham.)
Optional: Have students use the Money Design Template (PDF) to create designs for $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills. Once students vote on the winning designs, make many copies of the bills and store them in a cash box for the classroom bank that will eventually exist. (This step can be eliminated if you choose to use play money instead.)
Step 1: Discuss ways that people earn money in an economy. Encourage students to think about common jobs in their community.
Step 2: Brainstorm a list of jobs that students feel are necessary in the classroom. (Messenger, teacher's assistant, librarian, line leader, operator, etc.) Record the ideas on chart paper. See my list of possible classroom jobs.
Step 3: Explain that in a basic economy, not all jobs are paid the same. Sometimes salaries are based on the amount of work that a person has to do or the importance of the job. Have students rank the agreed-upon jobs and assign a daily or weekly salary (depending on how often you prefer to pay the students) for each classroom job.
Step 4: Create a poster with a list of classroom jobs and their corresponding salaries. Assign students to write job descriptions so that students know what is expected of them when performing each job.
Step 5: Create a rotating job chart. (I use pictures of students with magnetic business cards on the back, each day placing them under a new job title. The teacher's assistant rotates the jobs at the beginning of each school day.)
Optional: Brainstorm desired behaviors or achievements that are worthy of additional payment (e.g., no missing assignments for a week, perfect spelling test, perfect attendance, monthly reading goals, etc.), along with undesirable behaviors that warrant the students having to pay the bank (missing assignments, put-downs, etc.). Post the results in the classroom.
Step 1: Pass out a pre-made Credit and Debit Notebook to each student. Explain the system to your students, referring to the Credits and Debits Notebooks article as necessary. Students should keep their Credit and Debit Notebooks open on their desk throughout the school day.
Invite parents to come into the classroom and share what they do at their jobs. Encourage them to make a connection to the economic impact their job has on the community.
- It is the responsibility of the students to collect their paychecks at the end of each day and to complete their jobs based on the job descriptions agreed upon by the class.
- Do your students seem to understand the concept of an economy?
- Do your students need any additional instruction to help them better understand their roles in the classroom economy?
- What things are working well so far?
- What things might you change if you taught this lesson again?
- Are your students excited about earning credits and performing classroom jobs?
Assess each student's ability to do their assigned classroom jobs effectively.