Grade 6-8

Agent Pincher: P is for Penny or Where did money come from?

Updated: August 7 2015,
Author: Abbejean Kehler

Over time everyone has had a pocketful of pennies, it’s not something we think about very much. But what if we woke up tomorrow and found that there were no more pennies? Or what if we found that money had disappeared altogether — not only from our pockets but from banks, stores and all the other places where we would expect to find it? While we are on the subject, just what is this thing called money? Everyone knows about money–or do they? Where did it come from? Why are a piece of paper and a metal disk money? Why not something else? Just how did this dollar or dime wind up in my pocket? This lesson will send your students on a mission to investigate the history of money. In a wrap-up activity, it will call upon the students to consider whether we should keep or toss the penny.


moneyThis lesson enables you to introduce the concept of money to your students. When they were much younger, your students probably learned to identify the different coins and their values. And they probably learned to count money and make change. This lesson addresses the origins of money and the forms it has taken as a medium of exchange. It concludes by asking the students to analyze an issue and take a position on it: whether we should keep the penny or eliminate it from our currency. In addition, this lesson promotes student guided research and review of information and data, you may wish to use this as a small group project or plan to extend it over several class periods as independent research.

Direct students to the following sites to learn more about money:
The New Currency: About the New $20 Notes
The History of Money

Learning Objectives

  • Research the history of coins, currency and paper money.
  • Define money and contrast it with a barter system.
  • Learn how coins are produced for circulation.
  • Create a record of their research.
  • Study the pros and cons regarding the movement to do away with pennies and formulate their own opinion as to whether the penny should be continued or not.

Resource List


  1. Introduce students to the student version of the lesson.
  2. Explain that the students will investigate something that they may think they know a lot about — money!
  3. Provide each student with a photo copy of a dollar bill, both sides (Be sure and make the copy at least 50 percent larger than the real thing. It is illegal to photocopy money at its original size, but super sizing is OK.) As a class, the students should list all the features that they find including phrases, numerals, symbols, etc.
  4. This activity is mostly student directed, through the student version on the web at EconEdLink, and through the Agent Notebook that can be printed to guide the students in their research. You may choose to group students into pairs to accomplish the research.
  5. The students are assigned to complete the notebook. This can serve as an item for grading. In their assignments they should complete their conclusions about whether or not to keep or toss away the penny as a coin.
  6. At the conclusion of the activity, select students to debate the issue. After the debate, take a vote and see if the debate persuaded the students to change their minds.

Agent Notebook Resource Sites

Assignment 1:

The Agent Notebook directs students to view the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis page on the History of Money to gain knowledge about money.

Assignment 2:

Students will use the following sites to complete the activities in their Agent Notebook.
Birth of a Coin
Fun Facts About Money

Assignment 3:

Students will read the Attitudes Toward the Discontinuation of the Penny article to see what other people think about pennies. This site is also necessary for the completion of assignment #4.

Assignment 4: Final Report & Recommendations to the Big Bosses.

Students will answer the questions provided below using knowledge gained from the resources previously viewed. After completion a printed copy will be turned into the instructor.

View Interactive Activity


  1. What is the production process for creating coins/minting coins? [Authorization, Drawing & Sculpting, Plaster Cast, Rubber Cast, Final (Epoxy) Cast, Transfer to engraving machine, Metal copy known as a die is made. Dies are checked for flaws, only best are used. Large metal rolls are cut into blank metal disks. Blanks are heated to soften, then cooled, washed and dried. The upsetting mill raises the edges, blanks are then pressed using the dies. Check for quality, counted and packaged in jumbo bags. Coins are loaded and sent to the Federal Reserve Banks who distribute them to banks. ]
  2. Pick three arguments for keeping pennies in circulation. [Merchants forced to create rounding system, fear of price increases, confusion.]
  3. Pick three arguments for eliminating the penny. [Most avoid use anyway, modernize coinage, too expensive to produce.]
  4. Give your opinion. How does it compare to the Gallup poll results? [Answers will vary.]
  5. Are you in the minority or the majority?[Answers will vary.]

Use the teacher's version of the Agent Pincher Notebook to check student responses.


Take a moment and have your students debate/discuss the pros and cons of the use of the penny. This activity requires your students to explore the basics behind the money they use every day. After learning about the functions and how money is produced, the extended consideration of the penny should bring lots of lively discussion to the classroom. The following activities should also be used to encourage students to enhance their writing and note taking skills.

Extension Activity

  1. As an integrated writing and social studies lesson, ask the students to create post cards expressing their views on the penny issue. One side of the post card could be a cartoon, drawing, slogan or saying. The opposite side would contain the usual message area and addressing.
  2. Collect the students’ research notebooks for evaluation.
  3. Ask the students to write formal memos to the "Big Bosses," using the information they gathered in their Agent notebook.


This lesson presents several opportunities for students review and assessment – the post cards, agent notebook, and the memo to the Big Bosses about the penny.