Exciting lesson ideas, classroom strategies, book lists, videos, and reproducibles in a daily blog by teachers
























Host a Reality Fair

By Angela Bunyi on May 20, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12


Your school probably hosts a Career Day each year, but what about a Reality Fair? If you haven't heard of this before, it's a wonderful addition for grades 5 and above. I have never seen any other event hit home like this does with regard to selecting a profession and trying to work with a budget. Read on to see how our fantastic school counselor organized and created our Reality Fair to give our students a taste of reality. This could be a wonderful addition to your scheduled school events next year.

Photo: Students meet with a university advisor about college costs and entrance requirements.


So, What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Our school counselor prepared students for our Reality Fair through two whole-group counseling sessions. The first session focused on different professions and how region and experience can affect pay. The second prepared students for the actual event and gave them the tools needed to attend. During this session students completed online research and submitted professions. Our counselor did a fantastic job of discussing desires to be actors, professional athletes, and other professions that are statistically hard to attain. Not only did she show that the average pay was lower than expected in many cases, but she provided alternative jobs that fell under the same umbrella. Professional athletes had to consider being a coach or an athletic trainer, too, for example. 


Time for the Real World

Students were asked to bring a pencil and calculator to this ninety-minute event, which was limited to three classes at a time. Students were greeted with a personalized clipboard that provided the students' profession, number of children, and marital status. Even if a student received a spouse, the students still had to be the sole provider. From here, students used their financial log and brochure (shown below) to visit and navigate the booths including:


Photo: This Reality Fair brochure (Publisher) was provided for each student. 

Photo: A sample Reality Fair financial log (doc).


  • A home booth to research available homes and apartments for rent or purchase. An advisor helped make sure there were ample bedrooms for children and that monthly rents were within budget.
  • An electric department booth for students to get electricity up and running. The booth featured real prices, real brochures, and real workers, who, most importantly, treated students like real customers. 


  • A water and sewer booth. Again, real employees with real prices and information.


  • Competing Internet and phone companies. Students quickly started to compare deals, and surprisingly, many opted out of text messaging plans or cell phones due to costs they deemed "out of control."


  • Local insurance companies for home and family coverage. Having insurance helped when unexpected sicknesses and illnesses were handed to them by helpers. Students who were not covered had to deal with debt problems rather quickly.
  •  A college advisor booth was available for students wanting to go back to college or enter college for the first time. Advisors shared regional university costs and average student loan debt, and students could play a simple game sorting out the least to most expensive colleges. Here is some more information, provided by our counselor, regarding student loans:

The university advisor calculated the payback cost for various degrees and loans from undergraduate programs at each of the schools displayed. We assumed that our students were out of school and already having to pay back loans. For students that attended graduate school and beyond we calculated it to be about 12% of their monthly income which is a national average- as well as a percentage. It's suggested to students that they should never go above this number.


  • One of our local grocery stores, Publix, did a great job setting up shopping lists based on family needs and helped students create a realistic budget for monthly food costs. All students were provided with a nice backpack filled with various items and samples.


  • A coupon booth was located on the other side of the room. Many coupons had been cut out and were spread out on a large table. Students had to come with their grocery shopping list prepared. If they could find a coupon that matched an item on their list, they received credit for that coupon. Many students said they wanted to help their family clip coupons after visiting this booth.


  • A clothing booth included several clothing ads and two volunteers that assisted shoppers in shopping for all family members (if applicable). It was common to see items such as "Pair of shoes for wife" recorded on the log. 
  • A local salon assisted students in budgeting hair needs. This included highlighting, hair color, and basic hair cuts. Several male students informed me that they'd rather budget for personal tools instead to cut hair at home. 
  • A medical and pharmacy booth allowed students to address unexpected illnesses. Again, it was manned by real workers who named real prices. If students lacked insurance, they quickly found they were in trouble.


  • Students were able to research various forms of transportation, including the purchasing of a car. Car payments were determined using real ads and likely interest rates and payment plans. Some found out all too quickly that downsizing might be helpful.
  • A daycare booth really shocked many students (average in our city is $100-$125/child a week). They could not believe the prices. One student said they wanted their mother to retire so she could watch her kids. Oddly, research shows this as a growing trend.
  • One of the riskiest booths was our crystal ball station. Our librarian allowed students four visits to the crystal ball. Here, unexpected fortunes and losses were revealed, as with the Chance cards in a Monopoly game. Students had to address a need for new tires, speeding tickets, small lottery wins, and IRS tax returns. Students steered away from the booth when funds were low, which was a nice surprise (and evidence that the fair worked).


Photo: A student finds unexpected fortune in the crystal ball.

  • A booth that made me feel sad was our loan department, where there was a line. Before any loans were provided, a financial consultation was required. Many students had to return items or downsize instead of receiving a loan. Realistic interest rates often led to a visit to the college career booth.
  • One booth that you would have expected students to be swarming by the dozens was our entertainment booth. This included real brochures and prices from local entertainment venues. A Titan's football game, bowling, a trip to the movies — the possibilities were endless. However, when prompted, many students answered seriously that they couldn't afford much of that in their budget. 

What Students Learned . . .

After our time was up, students were asked to provide feedback on what they had learned. Here are some of the thoughts gathered by our counselor.

My favorite part about Reality Fair?

-buying things
-choosing how to play out my life

Least favorite part?

-the part where I went bankrupt
-losing money

What did I learn?

-couponing is the best
-that life is expensive
-budgets are hard to keep up with
-parents do lots of hard work
-that you need to know the plan you have and make it good
-I don't want to be a grown-up
-money goes a lot farther if you spend it wisely
-go for the cheap stuff 

And there you go. There was a real tone of intensity as I walked around and observed. Several students stopped me and said it gave them a nice feeling because they felt like it was real. And it was, in fact. I witnessed a teaching peer of mine discussing bundle packages with the intention of setting up service later. After a night of storms and lost TV reception, I wondered why I hadn't taken that booth a little more seriously myself. . . .


As always, you are free to share your thoughts below. You are also welcome to visit our class anytime.


Photo: Students sign up for insurance.


Photo: A student investigates medical costs.


Photo: A student looks at phone and cable options.


Photo: A student is led through financial consultation for a potential loan.


Photo: Students search for coupons that match their shopping lists.

Comments (6)

AZING! Of course, I am not surprised that your student and presenter evaluations were so positive. I can't wait until we have this event again next year. :)

Much respect,


Hello Megara,

Let me clarify. There was only one area of competing businesses, but considering it is for students I couldn't imagine it being a problem (what a pity if it was).

The bigger problem- only problem- which I did not even know or notice were vendors who agreed to come that simply did not show up. I would have never guessed based on the great representation of folks that day. Mrs. Filtness, our school counselor, arranged for other companies to show up that did not though. All the basics were in place, so I didn't see a problem myself. FYI- I may need to remove the Comcast icon. I am not sure they supported this event.



Thanks Mrs. Bunyi! This was such a fun and wonderful event for our students, but I couldn't have done it without the support and patience of our teachers, community, and an amazing parent (Mrs. Robertson). Ideally we would have had more time, but with lunch schedules that was hard to do. The biggest problem getting the competing companies to come was getting them to come at all. It took a lot of surprise drop in visits, phone calls, and e-mails to get Comcast and AT&T to respond. I asked Comcast to represent cable/internet and AT&T to represent phone. When they came they brought all of their pricing- it was sneaky on my part, but to be honest I didn't hear a complaint at all from them. Each presenter filled out an evaluation and neither wrote anything negative about the competition. Next year I am thinking of having students create a budget before hand and then after the event compare/contrast their expectations vs reality. We had lots of great feedback so I hope to make this event bigger and better next year.

You had no problem getting competing companies to come together? I would think there might be some discomfort there, with kids comparing, maybe negatively. They don't mind?

I agree! The typical career day is fine for K-4, but the reality fair takes it to a new level. I have never had students say so many positive things about an event before. I doubt there was one complaint given to our counselor, Mrs. Filtness. She rocks! You may want to forward this on to your counselor for next year plans. :)


WAY COOL !! I love this idea. What a good way to get the community to invest in our student's future.

Post a Comment
(Please sign in to leave a comment. Privacy Policy)
Back to Top