Grade 3-5, 6-8

Do I Look Like I’m Made of Money?

Time: 45 mins,
Updated: March 5 2019,
Author: Chris Cannon


Students will be able to:

  • Identify potential jobs they could do to earn income.
  • Analyze the importance of earning income to acquire goods and services.

In this economics lesson, students will learn the importance of money as a medium of exchange.



Begin this lesson by asking the students to name something they wish they could have, more than any other.  This could be a material item or an experience like a vacation or trip to a zoo or Broadway show, etc.  Get a list of 10 – 15 items, preferably in different price ranges, on the board.  Ask students how they could obtain these goods and services. Students will most likely reply with money. Ask if they can think of any other ways (bartering, stealing, borrowing, etc).  Explain that today they are going to learn the importance of earning income and ways people earn income.

Continue by asking the students whether they have ever done a service for their parents or neighbors and, if so, what was their payment? Answers will vary, but will likely include low-income items like helping clean house, mowing lawn, etc.

Now refocus the students’ attention back to the items they said they wanted in the opening discussion. Ask them if they could go to the person who sells the item they want– a new-car salesperson, for example–and acquire the item by doing the same jobs they have performed in the past for their parents or neighbors. Maybe, but it would take a long time for some of the items. Emphasize the point that people earn income – money –  in order to buy the things they want and that sometimes it takes a long time to earn enough money to buy certain big purchases.


Cut apart the Bartering Cards and give one card to each student.  Have them read their card and make sure they understand that their card tells them one thing they want and one type of good or service they can provide using a certain set of skills (that you will get into later).  Explain that they will walk around trying to get the thing they want by finding a match with someone who has what they want and needs what the original student can provide.  For example, if student A’s card says they want their house painted and they are able to provide car repair services, they should pair up with the student’s card that says they are able to paint a house and need their car repaired.  They must stick to their cards strictly.  They are not allowed to “pay” for things with money, they must trade based on what their card says. Give the students up five minutes to wander around the room and try to find their match.  There are only five direct matches:

  1. House painted for car repairs
  2. Milk for corn
  3. Pizza for smartphones
  4. Desks for dog walking
  5. Soap for honey

However, students may make triads or groups of more than two in order to try make multiple trades.  In a small class of 15 or less you may wish to withhold several of the direct matches. Many students will not be able to get the things they want.

After five minutes, have students return to their seats and begin debriefing what they learned.  Ask how many students were able to get the things they wanted?  Only a few should have if any. Ask why this was the case.  Not everyone wanted what each other had, some students never talked to each other, some people had jobs that weren’t good for trading, etc. Point out that some things (like being President) are not actually purchased.  Emphasize that this problem demonstrates the importance of money in our society.  Discuss how money would have made this much easier.  With money, for example, people could pay one another for goods and services no matter what their skill set was.  Explain that adults typically earn money by providing a good or service that others want.  In order to provide this good or service, a “skill” is needed.  A “skill” is a mental or physical ability a person has that allows them to do certain things better than others or at a level that people are willing to pay for.

Have each student look at the part of their card that says what they are able to do.  Have them brainstorm at least one skill that would be needed to perform that job or produce that good or service. Explain that for most of the jobs on the cards, multiple skills are needed.  Some examples are:

  • Dog walker:  good with animals, friendly, on time, can walk long distances
  • Air conditioner repair:  knowledge of air conditioners, good with tools, can problem-solve
  • Pizza maker:  moves quickly, follows directions well, keeps a clean work area

Others, like “run really fast”, are the skill and students can try to figure out what jobs can be done with that.  Explain that people are born with some skills and others have to be learned.  Explain that in the next activity, students will learn about different types of jobs that are available for different skills.

Group Activity

Now that the students understand the importance of skills and earning income, give them 60 – 90 seconds to brainstorm a list of things people their age might do (jobs) to earn income and what skills would be needed to perform these jobs.  Students will likely remember many jobs from the activity they just completed.  If they have trouble, you may make suggestions from the “brainstorm list of jobs” resource.

Put the students in groups of three or four and have them share their list of jobs and skills with each other ensuring that everyone in the group knows what the other jobs listed are. Pass out the Jobs Listing Brainstorm Activity worksheet to each student.  Have the class work with their group to answer the questions.  After 15-20 minutes review certain answers with the class at your discretion. Emphasize that there may be some things they can do at their age to earn income, but as they get older and learn more skills, more income-earning opportunities will develop.

Individual Activity

Finally, direct the students to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Career Exploration. Ask them to click around on three or four jobs they are interested in and write down the following in their notebooks or on a sheet of paper:

  • Yearly salary
  • Level of education is needed
  • Future of the job looks like

For each job, brainstorm a list of 2-4 skills that would be helpful in completing this job.  Remind students about their list from the cards and that skills can be learned (like repairing things) or naturally acquired (being tall or able to lift heavy items).  This may be done for homework if needed.


Have students answer the questions below. Answers should include reference to employment as the most common and reliable way to receive income. Students should understand that their own labor, or human resources, provide a means to acquire income. Students should submit their answers before the end of class.

  1. What are ways people earn or acquire income?
  2. Which one seems to be the most reliable?
  3. What can you do to earn money, and why is that important?


Activity 1

Instruct the students to ask an adult and a friend (their age) how much of their income is received from gifts, lottery, jobs, etc. Have the students print out this Pie Graph Handout and use it to construct a pie graph representing the information they received from the people they interviewed. Make sure the students know that they are not asking the subjects how much money they make. They are asking only what percentage of the earnings in question comes from each of the methods discussed.

Call on student volunteers to show examples of their graphs. Discuss the graphs. Help the students analyze them to see whether there is a difference between the distribution of income students receive in exchange for working and the amount adults earn in salary or wages. Ask students how are they most likely to be able to gain enough income to support themselves as a teenager and as adults.