Grade 9-12

Exploring Taxes

Time: 90 mins,
Updated: January 24 2022,


Students will be able to:

  • Navigate the IRS website for the purpose of locating answers to frequently asked questions about income taxes.
  • Define vocabulary terms related to income taxes.

In this personal finance lesson, students will explore websites to learn about income taxes.



Introduce the lesson by highlighting a point of contrast: Every year, Americans spend more on taxes than they spend on food and clothing, yet many Americans know very little about taxes. Mention the April 15th due date for IRS filings, and most adults get that deer-in-the-headlights look. It can be confusing and overwhelming to try to figure out what you should be doing as a tax-paying citizen, especially when you consider that U.S. tax code is now over 7 million words long (compared to a mere 1,300 words in the Declaration of Independence).

Tell students that there are, however, some helpful resources available to help taxpayers make sense out of all this. Ask them to imagine the following scenario: You have just been hired by the IRS to provide assistance to taxpayers. As part of your orientation you are expected to become familiar with some basic resources that will help answer taxpayer questions.


Introduce the class to the IRS’s website by displaying it on a projector screen. Print copies of Tax Time Worksheet for the group activity. Refer to question 1 on the worksheet. As a class, work together on question one, to help familiarize students with the site. Demonstrate how to locate the answer to the first question.

Provide students with a general overview of how a taxpayer can use the site to get help and information from the IRS. Point out search field, the Help page, and the submenu under Filing called Individuals, which is where most people filing for themselves or their family will find answers to their questions. Also show them the Free Tax Preparation Help button and the Get Answers to Your Tax Questions button.

Tell students that their orientation continues with the IRS’s social media team. The team has identified a number of tax terms that give taxpayers trouble. They have created a social media strategy to help raise awareness of these terms. Hand out the Social Media Terms Worksheet and ask students to create a tweet for each term that includes its definition. They can use a general online search or find the glossary of a financial services/news site. Be sure to tell students to record the site or sites from which they draw their definitions.

Give students 5-10 minutes to complete their tweets. When finished ask students to tell you their tweets and the sites the used to find the definitions. Use the Social Media Terms PowerPoint to review definitions to be sure that students have accurately conveyed their meaning in their tweets. Also, discuss their choices of sites used and provide feedback as to those sites’ perceived trustworthiness as a source of information.

Individual Activity

Hand out copies of the article Taxable vs. nontaxable income and what you can keep and explain to students that taxpayers often do not understand that while most income is taxable, there are some forms of income that are not, and that the next part of their orientation will help them understand. Ask students to read the article and then complete the What’s Taxable? game. When all students have completed the game, review the answers.

Group Activity

Break students into groups of 2-3 and tell them that the last part of their orientation is to familiarize themselves with the IRS website. Distribute copies of the Tax Time Worksheet to each group. Have the groups work through the ten questions in teams.


When all groups have completed the worksheet, have students go back to their seats. Review the answers as a class using the Tax Scavenger Hunt Answer Key. Have each student correct their own answers and collect the worksheets at the end of class.


A laptop, Chromebook, or desktop is necessary for this activity. Hand out the Tax Time worksheet that asks students to locate and browse another website that provides tax information. Depending on your students’ familiarity with Internet searches, you may want to give them some guideline about how or where to start looking. If your class includes some students who are computer whizzes and some who are not, you might want to put them in small groups for this project. Each person would still be responsible for one site, but they would have one or two classmates to support their search.

Personal Finance