Grade 3-5

Booker T. Washington:”Fifty Cents and a Dream”

Time: 60 mins,
Updated: February 5 2024,


Students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of human and capital resources.
  • Compare the costs and benefits of having an education.
  • Relate the value of human and capital resources to the production of goods and services.

In this economics lesson, students will study Booker T. Washington’s life to learn about resources.



Ask students why they are in school. Explain that school is important to help them learn how to read, to write, and to learn other subjects like math and science. Remind them these skills are necessary for almost anything they want to do, even play video games. Ask students how they would feel if someone told them they could not go to school, and they could not learn how to read or write. Explain that people who were slaves many years ago were rarely offered an education, even when they wanted to learn. Tell students this lesson will focus on Booker T. Washington, a young man who was born enslaved but overcame many obstacles to pursue his dream of an education.


Introduce the lesson using the Booker T. Washington slide presentation.

  • Slide 2. Explain that Washington was born before the Civil War and lived his young years enslaved in Virginia. Tell students his strong desire to attend school — no matter how hard he had to work to get there — allowed him to have a very successful life. Even though he died over 100 years ago, his work and experiences have contributed to the economic growth of the United States and to the education of others. Tell students they will learn about his life from the following book: Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim, Little, Brown and Company, 2012 to the students. (Note: Read the book or watch a video of the book being read  As an alternative review the brief biography A Dozen Facts. This fact sheet may also be used as a review of the book.) Explain how important it is to have resources to produce goods and services, noting that having an education is investing in one’s human capital. By going to school, Washington was able to build his skills and expertise, then go on to start a school that continues to help others do the same. But he also used other resources (called capital goods) to achieve his dream.
  • Slide 3. Tell students that understanding these three terms will help them complete the activities in this lesson. Review the terms human capital, human resources and capital resources with students.
  • Slide 4. Have students answer the questions. What is the human resource in the illustration doing? What capital resources is he using? (cooking, baking, etc.) What skills does a person need to do this job? (how to prepare food, measure ingredients, read recipes, etc.) Would this person need training or education to do this job? (a home cook may not need specific training, but may learn from parents or others; however, a professional cook or chef generally needs an education or “on the job” training to be successful.) What good or services is he producing? (Food, desserts, etc.)
  • Slide 5. Review the definition of a job. Remind students that Booker T. Washington had several jobs in his life, even as a boy. Tell them they will be working in small groups to complete an activity identifying some of his jobs and the skills he needed to do them.
  • Slide 6. Discuss seven of the jobs that Booker T. Washington had in his life. Put students in seven groups and assign each group one job. Have them identify the skills he would need to complete that job.
  • Slide 7. Review their answers and answer any questions about the jobs or skills.

Group Activity

Put students into small groups and distribute one set of Job Cards to each group. Remind them that Booker T. Washington held several jobs to earn the money to go to school, and even after he finished his education. Explain that not all jobs are the same. Some may require more skills than others, some may be more dangerous than others, and some may pay more than others. Have each group rank the jobs that require the most skills on a scale of 1-7, with 1 being the job requiring the most skills and 7 being the job requiring the least. (Note: Answers will vary, but it is important for students to be able to explain their answers. Possible ranking is author, teacher, janitor, dock worker, coal miner, salt furnace worker and book carrier. Other suggested scenarios for this assignment include: ranking the jobs based on those requiring the most physical strength to the least physical strength or ranking the jobs based on the need for education.)
(Optional) Have students use the cards to complete the following tasks: rank the jobs according to their pay; identify which jobs still exist; identify which jobs have been changed by the invention a new technology, or identify which jobs may be replayed by technology in the future. (Again, answers will vary.)
Review and discuss student answers to debrief the activity. Students should be prepared to defend their answers.

Individual Activity

Hand out copies of Jobs and Resources and review the directions. After students have completed their work, debrief the activity by asking students the following questions: What have they learned about Booker T. Washington? (Answers will vary) What human resources did they use to complete this assignment? (writing, reading, etc.) What capital goods did they use to complete this assignment? (paper, pencil)


Distribute copies of the Productive Resources Assessment and colored pencils or markers to each students. After students have completed their assignments, check each sheet for accuracy and create a bulletin board display of their work. (Note: You may want to allow students to correct their assignment before posting.)


Activity 1

Have students research Booker T. Washington’s life after leaving the Hampton Institute to identify his contributions as a teacher and author. Have them list the human and capital resources needed to make these contributions. Also, have students discuss how his search for an education impacted the lives of future generations even today.

Activity 2

Have students apply their knowledge of productive resources by having them analyze the resources they would need to create a product to sell in the classroom or their community. (Note: go to, scroll down, and click on the task entitled “Do I Have the Resources I Need to Make My Product?” This lesson will assist in planning classroom mini-economy activities.)