Economics is a word that makes many adults start yawning and often sends kids scratching their heads with a mystified, "Huh?" But through literature, technology, art and role-play, your lesson plan activities on bartering, can demystify the topic and illustrate for students how a society's choice to trade through money systems or barter affects their everyday lives. Active participation in the ins and outs of how a barter society functions shows student the practical considerations that highlight the pros and cons of a barter system versus a monetary system.
Bartering in Literature
Introduce the concept of bartering through read-aloud literature such as "A Birthday for Frances" by Russell Hoban, "A New Coat for Anna" by Harriet Ziesert, "Saturday Sancocho" by Leyla Torres, "Jack and the Beanstalk" or "Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression" by Kate Lied. Discuss how the characters traded for the items they needed and compare the advantages and disadvantages of doing business through bartering or with money.
High Tech Bartering
Online games such as "Escape from Barter Island" from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland let students practice their trading skills during computer time. Such activities help students develop critical thinking and multistep planning as they navigate several tiers of trades to get what they need.
Advertising in Bartering
Challenge students to imagine life without money if they lived in a barter system. Traditional advertising techniques would be irrelevant in the absence of set prices and cash so how would store owners advertise their goods? Brainstorm ideas as a class. Ask students to choose a shop they might like to own in a barter system and create an advertising poster to entice customers to trade with you.
Hold a trading day in your class. Provide product tokens, bags of small inexpensive items or ask students to bring an item from home to trade. Set a spending limit of $1 to $2. Tell students it is up to them to decide if they want to trade or not, but set an objective to encourage vigorous trading. Each student can be given a card listing his goal, such as collect four erasers or three pieces of gum or four crayons in different colors or "You have eggs, but you need new shoes." Or, kids can have competing goals such as everyone trying to collect a full set of items but there is not enough for everyone to succeed. Discuss how the trades went, what happened when some people completed a set and wouldn't trade anymore or how it felt to not be able to accomplish your goal because you didn't have what other people wanted. Talk about whether they were happy with the trades they made, and why or why not. Ask if they were setting up their own society, whether they would make it a monetary or barter system and explain their choice.
- The Franklin Institute: Bartering Lesson Plan
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Bartering: A System of Exchange: Carlene M. White
- University of Delaware: Economics and Children's Literature
- EconFun, LLC: The Colonial Workers Web:
- Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland: Escape from Barter Islands
Tamara Christine has written more than 900 articles for a variety of clients since 2010. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in applied linguistics and an elementary teaching license. Additionally, she completed a course in digital journalism in 2014. She has more than 10 years experience teaching and gardening.