Teaching Economics through Literature

By Charkins, Jim | Social Studies Review, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Teaching Economics through Literature


Charkins, Jim, Social Studies Review


One of the easiest and most exciting ways to get the basic messages of economics across is to use children's literature. An additional advantage is that teachers can implement both social studies and language arts standards at the same time. The following lesson exemplifies the use of literature in the early grades. For an explanation of ways that this technique can be expanded, see Donna McCreadie's article in this issue. For a more complete list of children's books see "Resources for Economic Teachers," also in this issue.

In the middle grades, historical fiction offers many opportunities to teach the fundamentals of benefit/ cost analysis, opportunity cost, markets, and human capital. For older students, a newly published book by Michael Watts, The Literary Book of Economics, is a veritable treasure chest of ways to help students understand economics with popular literature. One simple example is the use of Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken to illustrate the concept or opportunity cost but there are many more including an excerpt from Benjamin Franklin's autobiography to illustrate human capital. For a complete citation on the Watts book, see "Resources for Economics Teachers."

What follows is a simple lesson plan that uses the Three Little Pigs to teach some fundamental concepts.

Opportunity Cost and The Three Little Pigs

A Primary Lesson

Objectives:

Upon successful completion of this lesson, students will:

* Recognize the opportunity cost of decisions

* Use the concept of opportunity cost in making decisions

Prior Knowledge:

Scarcity, choice, alternatives, advantages and disadvantages, personal responsibility, resources, human capital

Economic Principle:

Principle 3: Every Choice Involves Cost

California History/Social Science Standards:

1.6 - Students understand basic economic concepts and the role of individual choice in a free-market economy

3.5 Section 3 - Understand that individual economic choices involve trade-offs and the evaluation of benefits and costs

Materials:

* A copy of the Story of the Three Little Pigs (Activity 1-1)

* A piece of paper per child and art supplies to enable the children to draw two pictures

Motivation:

Ask the children if they have heard the story of the three little pigs. If so, ask one of the children to tell the story to the class. If not, give the class a brief explanation of the story. "Three little pigs build houses. The first builds a house of straw and the big bad wolf blows it down. The second pig builds his house of sticks and the big bad wolf blows it down. The third pig builds a house of bricks and the big bad wolf can't blow it down." Explain to them that they are going to hear a slightly different version of the story today. Explain that a version is a different way of telling a story.

Teaching procedure:

1. Write the words "opportunity cost" on the board. Say the words and have the children repeat them. …

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