Grade 6-8

Coming and Going: Imports and Exports Throughout the World

Time: 60 mins,
Updated: March 26 2019,
Author: Brett Burkey


Students will be able to:

  • Comprehend the benefits of trade between people and nations.
  • Recognize the efficiency of specialization.
  • Understand the costs when nations do not trade.

In this economics lesson, students will explore how nations trade by importing and exporting goods and services.



Before the lesson begins, have students spend five minutes exploring the origins of the clothing and school items in the classroom.  Have them check the tags on each other’s shirts and on the tongues of their shoes to find out where they were made.  Look at the tags on backpacks, pencil boxes, maps, flags and any other item within reach.  If available, look at technology items as well.  What will be discovered is that very few, if any, of these items are made in the U.S.A. Have students write down why they think so few of our everyday items are produced in the United States and how they think these items got here. Possible answers may include that it is cheaper to make these items elsewhere, our labor force works at other types of jobs and few workers are in factories anymore, or an increasing number of Americans are going to college preparing for different types of work like doctors and lawyers.


Open the PowerPoint Slides and project the slides provided.  Use the speaking notes in the PowerPoint slide for discussion points.

Group Activity

Assign or allow students to choose a partner to work with. Distribute a copy the Top Five Exporters to the U.S. handout to each student. Have the students work in pairs to respond to the assessment questions at the bottom of the page. The handout provides specific information about the top five countries the U.S. relies on for most of its imports.  It also conveys the top goods the U.S. exports to these countries. The students should apply their understanding of comparative advantage and specialization to express the reasoning behind these nations choices. Review the answers as a class using Top Five Exporters to the U.S. Answer Key.

Individual Activity

Assign students to complete the Mapping Exports activity. Students will use their knowledge of the U.S. and its largest trading partners to identify the countries of origin for most of America’s imports. The activity highlights China, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Germany as well as the array of products and resources produced in those countries for export.  The students will drag and drop products to import into the U.S., and then complete a writing prompt to justify the import decisions they made.

Distribute copies of Which Country Imports What. Students will complete a table of countries/continent, products, and the year the products were imported. Students will find this information on the United States Census Bureau: Foreign Trade U.S. Imports. Review the answers as a class using Which Country Imports What Answer Key.


Have the students complete the Imports and Exports Throughout the World Quizlet Set.


Activity 1

Have students consider where their comparative advantage might exist.  Have them exhibit their understanding of the concept by answering the following questions:

  1. Lebron James is arguably the greatest basketball player ever and makes $30 million a year.  Why shouldn’t he mow his own lawn? Possible answers include that the time required to complete the job would result in a greater loss of income and productivity than the cost of hiring someone else to do it.  At such a large salary, an hour of Lebron’s time is valued at an astronomically higher amount than the cost of an hour of landscaping.  Lebron has a comparative “disadvantage”.
  2. At this stage in your education, think about the skills that are beginning to take shape.  Have you begun to notice areas of your studies where you are strong and areas where you are less confident?  What subject in academics, the arts, or sports do you have a comparative advantage in when compared to your peers?  If you were assigned with three others to produce a group project that required writing, research, calculations, and illustrations which are would you specialize in and why?  Explain why you feel this way using the concepts of specialization and costs.  Students answers will vary but they should illustrate a skill where their proficiency exceeds others; solving math problems, drawing a caricature, or researching for background information.