Top Teaching > Beth Newingham > My Classroom Economy: Bringing the "Real World" Into the Classroom

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My Classroom Economy: Bringing the "Real World" Into the Classroom

Customer While economics is considered part of the elementary social studies curriculum, textbooks and other social studies programs often neglect to incorporate economic instruction. The classroom economy can fill this void while serving as a fun way for students to act as both consumers and economists in a real world setting.  A well-run classroom economy has the ability to teach students economic principles while also serving as a behavior management system in which students are essentially responsible for themselves.

READ ON to learn about how I set up my classroom economy, watch a VIDEO of what it looks like in my classroom, and download tons of PRINTABLES that you can use to implement a classroom economy of your own!

 

Watch Our Classroom Economy in Action


 

How I Implement an Economy in My Classroom

My detailed classroom economy unit plan is available on the Scholastic Web site. It outlines specifically how I run a successful economy in my own classroom. However, you will find additional information and photos in this post as well as highlights from the unit. 

Unit plan


Lesson 1: Introducing the Classroom Economy (Highlights From My Online Lesson)


From the beginning of the school year, my students are immersed in our classroom economy. While it certainly runs itself after a while, students must first learn "What is an economy?" I use trade books, online resources, and class discussions to teach my students a bit about the history of money and the purpose of an economic system. Before implementing an economy, students must first become familiar with the economic system we have in place in our country. See my classroom economy book list for trade books that work well for introducing students to the concept of an economy, and read the full "Introducing the Classroom Economy" lesson plan.


Determining Classroom Jobs & Salaries

 

JobOnce students understand that they will be participating in a classroom economy, it is important to discuss how they will earn money.  Just as adults earn money by doing jobs in the real world, students will also be expected to complete jobs in the classroom as a way to earn money.  We spend time brainstorming the jobs that students feel are necessary in order to make our classroom run smoothly.

Check out my list of common classroom jobs.

 

 

Once the jobs are determined, students vote on how much money each job should earn.  Students rate each job based on its importance, time commitment, level of difficulty, etc.  The total points are tallied to determine the jobs that should earn the highest daily salaries and those jobs that should earn the lowest daily salaries.  Once students determine the top salary amount, we assign salaries based on the payroll voting results.

Payroll voting

 

 

The specific classroom jobs and their assigned salaries are posted in the classroom.  The jobs are changed each day so that students move through jobs quickly.  Students are paid for their jobs at the end of each school day if they have been completed successfully.

Jobs   Payroll

 

 

Credits and Debits

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    I do not give students actual money each time they earn pay.  I use a system called "Credit and Debits." Each student has a credit and debit log sheet where they are given tallies for the money they earn. Whenever a student earns a dollar, it is marked as a single credit in their log book by the teacher using a red pen.  This makes for a quick and easy way to pay students at the end of the day without having to count out bills. Learn how I use the credit and debit log books, and download credit and debit log sheets.

There are many ways to earn money (credits) in our classroom economy. Hard work, responsibility, good behavior, and academic achievements are rewarded in our classroom economy. Of course, poor behavior, lack of responsibility, and lack of effort are ways students can earn debits. Debits are subtracted from the total amount of money a student may accumulate during a given month. As a class, we create a list of ways students can earn credits and debits on a daily basis. Of course, as the teacher, I can choose to give credits or debits for anything I deem appropriate throughout the day. Below is a sign that hangs in our classroom as a reminder to students about how many credits they can earn for specific accomplishments and how many debits they earn for irresponsible behavior.

Earning credits and debits

  

Lesson 2: Grand Opening (Highlights From My Online Lesson)


Part of implementing a classroom economy is having a purpose for the money students earn throughout the school year. In my classroom the purpose is the privilege of shopping at the class store. Once a month, students are able to spend their money on a variety of goodies that I collect from dollar stores, request as donations, and purchase in bulk amounts online. Read the full "Grand Opening" lesson plan.

 

Class Money

 

5 dollarBefore students can shop at the class store, it is important to determine what students will use for money.  You can use play money, but it is exciting for students to have a special type of money used solely for the purpose of your classroom economy.  Each year our classroom money is named in relation to our class theme.  For instance, this year our money is called "Captain Cash" to go along with our "Pier 13" theme.  Students can help determine the name of the money and even create designs for the $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills.  Students can then vote to decide which design they want for each denomination. 

Money

Download the blank Money Template (for students to use to design their own money).

 Before the store opens for the first time, we read about the U.S. Mint to learn how money is made.  After copying each bill on a different color of paper, we turn our classroom into a mint for an hour as students help cut the money that will be used throughout the school year.

Money sheets

 

 

The Class Bank

 

Bank3 Bank4At the end of a pay period, students find their total amount earned by adding up their credits and subtracting their debits. Students then receive a check for their total amount of money earned. They take the check to the class bank where one or two students cash the checks and give their classmates the appropriate amount of cash. Read more about setting up a class bank.

 

 

Gift Certificates

 

In addition to earning money, I also create gift certificates for special occasions. Students receive gift certificates on their birthdays, as holiday gifts in the classroom, and for meeting their monthly reading goals. The gift cards can be used like cash at the class store.

Gift card Valentines day gift card

Download Christmas Gift Card (You must have Print Shop installed to open this file)

Download Valentines Day Gift Card (You must have Print Shop installed to open this file)
 

 

 

Student Wallets

 

Students keep their money in plastic index card holders that are used as wallets. They also keep their gift certificates in the wallet with their cash.

Wallet  Wallet3

 

Class Store

The class store consists of colored baskets filled with goodies for students to buy. Each basket is labeled with a price. Students use small shopping baskets to store the things they buy as they are shopping. I only allow four students to shop at one time. The rest of the class is working quietly at their desks on a purposeful activity often related to a previous economics lesson. Read more about setting up a class store.

Shopping 

 

Students use a shopping log to keep track of the items they are planning to buy. They must find the total for the items they are purchasing and show it to the cashiers when they check out.

Shoppinglog

Download a shopping log template.

 

Two students work as cashiers to check out student shoppers at the class store.  The cashiers use oversized calculators to double-check each student's shopping log. This job gives students good practice making change, a math concept that can be tough for third graders. Cashiers also keep track of what each student spends so that they can give that information to the Student Economist (see lesson 4).

Cashiers1 

Money exchange 

Download money spent log.

 

  Lesson 3: Using the Class Store to Teach Economic Principles (Highlights From My Online Lesson)


While the classroom economy is used as a form of behavior management, its real purpose is to help students learn necessary principles of economics. You can check out my suggestions for using the class store to teach students about spending vs. saving, opportunity cost, inflation, scarcity, the laws of supply and demand, and how advertising affects the law of demand. Read the full "Teaching Economic Principles" lesson plan.

Sale

 

 

Additional Economics Lesson on Inflation

Inflation is another economic concept necessary to teach students, but it is not included in the lesson plan referenced above. I teach an inflation lesson once students have earned quite a bit of money. Oftentimes students choose to save up their money over time. For that reason, many students become "rich," and they have lots of money to spend at the store. When this happens, I raise the prices at the class store without forewarning the students. While they are understandably disappointed with the increase in prices, it is a great way to explain the concept of inflation. This lesson shows students that the value of our class money decreases as the volume of money earned increases. I can't continue to sell my inventory at low prices when the students have earned so much money.

 

Check out my economics book list that includes a variety of trade books that can be used to teach economic principles including scarcity, supply and demand, spending vs. saving, opportunity cost, and consumer decision making.

  

End of the Year Class Auction

Auctions are another great way for students to take part in a real-world economic activity.  At the end of the year my students are able to participate in a silent auction by bidding on larger ticket items and class mementos. I ask parents to donate "desirable" items that are new or gently used for our end-of-the-year auction. I also include items like autographed class pictures, class books, hallway signs, and other theme-related classroom decor that might appeal to my students. Each item has its own bid sheet, and students are able to bid and outbid each other to get the items they most desire.

AuctionAuction1

Download a sample of the auction note I send home to parents and the silent auction bid sheet.

 

Lesson 4: The Student Economist (Highlights From My Online Lesson)

 

Each time the store is open, a selected student economist will study consumer behavior and economic trends based on his or her knowledge of previously taught economic principles.  The student wears a special visor labeled "Economist." Read the full "The Student Economist" lesson plan.

Economist1  Economist2

 

While students are shopping, the economist observes consumer behavior and keeps track of what she notices on the "Economist Report" sheet.

Economist Report

 

The student economist enters the amount of money each student spends each month into an Excel spreadsheet. Once the information is entered in the spreadsheet, we can easily create graphs to show the class spending trends.

Excel Screenshot

Earnings Graph

Download the economist spreadsheet and the student earnings graph.


The student economist uses the information he or she collected while observing consumers at the store to give an oral report to the class on the "state of the economy." This monthly economics report ensures that students are continuing to use economic terms and that the store continues to be a means of ongoing economic education throughout the year.

P1100584

 

 

Other Economics Resources on the Scholastic Web Site

What's That Economics Word?

Economics Printables

Books and Materials for Teaching Economic Principles

 

How Can I Help You?

Feel free to post any questions you might have about my classroom economy.  I am here to help!

Comments

  • #1 Karrah

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 07:04 AM

    Hello, I teach second and third graders. One class in the morning and one in the afternoon. I teach second graders reading, writing, and social studies in the am and then do the same with third graders in the pm. I was wondering if you have them brainstorm enough jobs for every student or do you just set a handful of jobs. I was thinking with my second graders I would have to have the jobs weekly but then some students would not have a job that week if you only did so many jobs. I would like to keep the same system for both grades so it would be easier to manage. Any suggestions?

  • #2 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, June 02, 2010 at 02:28 PM

    Julie,

    I'm not sure of the exact website where I got the nautical-themed backdrop, but I found a link to it at this website: http://www.bulkpartysupplies.com/store/p/85869-Nautical-Party-Supplies-Cruise-Ship-Deck-Backdrop-6-ct-.html

    Thanks for your comments!

    -Beth

  • #3 Julie

    Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 09:02 PM

    Hi Beth,
    Thank you for sharing all your wonderful ideas!I am truly inspired by your hard work!
    I loved your Pier 13 theme and was wondering where you found the backdrops for the pictures and hallway?

  • #4 Beth Newingham

    Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 07:10 AM

    Yolanda,

    You asked how you might be able to adapt the classroom economy concept with your first graders. Please check out my comment #32 on this post. There I addressed a similar question from a 2nd grade teacher. I hope my response in that comment is helpful to you as well!

    -Beth

  • #5 Yolanda

    Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 07:53 PM

    I teach first grade and I was wondering if you had any suggestions about using classroom economy with younger students?
    Thanks

  • #6 Yolanda

    Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 07:51 PM

    I love the idea of your classrom economy. I tach first grade and I was wondering if you had any suggestions about doing this with younger kids.

  • #7 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 02:38 PM

    Christina,

    The credit/debit system is our behavior management system, so a student who breaks the rules will receive debits. This, of course, results in a lower balance when it comes time for that student to get money from the bank before the class store opens. In some cases, certain students may be put on a separate behavior if the credits and debits are not working, but I have only had to do that a few times in the past 5 years.

    -Beth

  • #8 Christina

    Monday, May 17, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    Thank you for responding to my earlier post.

    I have another question that I forgot to ask earlier. What do you do about negative behavior or children who don't follow rules/procedures? Do you take money from them or do you have a separate behavior system in place (like a card pulling system or something similar)?

    I don't want to have several behavior systems in place as that can become too much for me to use consistently and can cause all to be useless in the end.

    Thanks for your sharing and suggestions!

  • #9 Beth Newingham

    Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    Brittany,

    You mentioned that you are interested in doing a classroom economy, but you are not allowed to have a class store. In that case, your "rewards" would have to be other things that are just as motivating to your students. Instead of a class store, you could create gift certificates that your students can purchase. They could include things like "Eat lunch with the teacher in the classroom," "Homework Coupon (good for one missing assignment)," "Movie during Lunch Recess," "Student Reader" (Student gets to do the read aloud one day), "First pick for playground balls," etc. Of course depending on the desirability of the reward, they would be of varied prices for students to buy. You could even ask your principal or other special teachers to join in on the fun by offering lunches with the students or extra art time during recess.

    I hope my suggestions have helped!

    -Beth

  • #10 Beth Newingham

    Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 09:31 AM

    Christina,

    I do think an economy would work with second graders, but your teaching of economic concepts would likely be less in-depth. I would imagine the general idea of students earning money for jobs and positive behavior would be the same as it is in the upper grades. I do think 2nd graders (with the help of the teacher) would be able to brainstorm a list of class jobs that should receive pay. However, you might want to do it on a weekly basis as opposed to a daily basis so that the students do not have as much money to count up at the end of each month.

    In terms of using the store to teach economic concepts, you would first need to determine what economic concepts your second graders are responsible for learning. They should be laid out in your state social studies standards. Once you are familiar with those concepts, you can decide how you can use your own classroom economy to help your students understand the necessary economic principles. You may also find that you need to be the banker or the cashier for the first few months before handing those jobs over to the students.

    Good luck with your own classroom economy. I'm sure your students will love it!

    -Beth

  • #11 Brittany

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 09:14 PM

    I love your idea and am going to model it in my classroom. However, we are not allowed to have class stores, candy, etc. Do you have any ideas for rewards when I can't do the store?

  • #12 Christina

    Monday, March 29, 2010 at 02:47 PM

    Beth,

    I "tested" out parts of your class economy with my second graders last year and loved it! Since our curriculum is for 2nd graders to learn coins and making change to $1, I changed your dollars all to cents. That was the first year that the kids really seemed to understand when they were counting and using money what each coin was and the values of each.

    I didn't use a class store since we didn't implement the economy system until the last month of school. We had the students working to earn certain amounts of money for "tickets" for things at our end of year party and for an auction on the last day of school.

    I would love to try to implement this system with my second graders at the beginning of the school year but worry that it may be overwhelming for myself and the students that early on. Do you have any suggestions on how to better implement your plan with second grade students?

    Thank you for all suggestions or help you can offer!

  • #13 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 08:43 PM

    Tara,

    Here are answers to your 3 questions about my classroom economy.

    #1. I used Print Shop to create my job photos.

    #2. The economy wheel is something that I purchased at trainerswarehouse.com I printed out the dollar amounts on clear removable labels and added the title "Economist Wheel" myself. However, I do not see the wheel on their website now. I purchased it about 4 years ago. I do see that reallygoodstuff.com has some spinners/wheels that could be used for the same purpose.

    #3. I ordered the economist visor a couple of years ago from a website that made personalized visors. I am not sure which company I used, but when I googled "personalized visors," many websites came up. I believe I paid less than $10 for it, and it has gotten a great deal of use! The student economist feels very important when wearing it!

    Good luck with your own classroom economy!

    -Beth

  • #14 Tara

    Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 08:33 PM

    Hi Beth!
    First of all, let me say thank you SO much. Thanks for being an educator who is inspiring and generous! I have been teaching many years but LOVE new ideas. I "stumbled" upon your website while researching reading genres and am so motivated! We presently have a very simple economy system using "scholar dollars" but after looking at your system, I think I want to make some tweeks and adjustments to my tired old system. I'm glad I read the blog also because you answered many of my questions already. I absolutely love how you change the "theme" each year and print new money that correlates. Three quick questions- do you use print shop for the job photos? Also how did you make the economy wheel? Lastly, how did you make the economist visor? Thanks for letting me pester you and again THANK YOU FOR BEING AN INSPIRATIONAL TEACHER! I'm sure the kids absolutely love being in your class - not to mention how much they are learning about the real world!! :)

  • #15 Beth Newingham

    Monday, February 15, 2010 at 12:53 PM

    Melissa,

    You asked about paying students for being banker and cashier when the store is only open once a month. The students who are chosen to be the banker, cashier, or economist when the store is open just get paid on that day. Those three jobs are not in our daily job rotation, as they are only needed once a month. I hope that makes sense.

    Thanks for posting your comment on the blog!

    -Beth

  • #16 Melissa

    Monday, February 15, 2010 at 12:23 AM

    Hi Beth,
    Thanks for all the wonderful tips and strategies for my classroom. I have a quick question about paying students for their job duties. You mentioned that jobs rotate each day, but you only have a classroom store open once a month. Do you pay the cashier, banker and economist everyday even though these jobs are only done once a month?

  • #17 Beth Newingham

    Monday, February 08, 2010 at 06:01 PM

    Angela,

    My Math on the Water Board is made up of reproducible charts and other resources from our Everyday Math program. I do plan, however, to do an upcoming post all about how we use the math board in our classroom. I will be sure to create some items from the board that you can download and use in your own classroom.

    Thanks for posting!

    -Beth

  • #18 Beth Newingham

    Monday, February 08, 2010 at 05:51 PM

    Mark,

    I am glad you are enjoying the blog. Hopefully you will continue to find my upcoming posts useful. Let me know if you have any questions! Thanks for the comments!

    -Beth

  • #19 Mark Clayson

    Monday, February 08, 2010 at 04:13 AM


    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  • #20 Angela

    Sunday, February 07, 2010 at 08:47 PM

    Hi Beth!
    I have a math question about your Math on the Water board. Could you post the items that you have included on this. Some of my teaching friends use something called "Mountain Math" but I do not like all of the parts of that set and would like to create my own (with some help)for next year.

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