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Grade 9-12

Federal Budget: The Fiscal Ship Game

Time: 90 mins,
Updated: April 24 2019,


Students will be able to:

  • Analyze the economic and political impact of different fiscal policy strategies.
  • Apply their selected fiscal policy goals.
  • Understand the implications of their policy choices on the national debt.

In this economics lesson, students will evaluate fiscal policy objectives to learn the challenges of sustainable national budget formation.



Display the https://www.usdebtclock.org/ on a projector screen and view with students. Discuss with students what is causing the debt to continuously increase. Some examples include interest payments owed on existing debts, and new debt being issued to purchasers of U.S. government bonds. Then, ask students how the debt could be reduced or eliminated. Note: The goal of this lesson is not to learn all the arguments for or against the national debt, but students should understand that to reduce the debt Congress would have to increase government revenues, decrease government spending, or both.


Hand out a copy of guiding notes and questions (pgs. 1-2) from the Fiscal Ship Student Handout to each student. Use the lesson PowerPoint Slides to walk students through the background information necessary to understand challenges facing federal budget policy-makers given the size of recent budget deficits and the increasing size of the national debt. Review slides 1-17.

Group Activity

Hand out a copy of Select Your Governing Goals and Your Personal Governing Goals (pgs. 3-4) from the Fiscal Ship Student Handout to each student. Direct students through the presentation slides 18-29. Within this section, students will select three governing goals and engage in a pair-and-share discussion with a neighbor. Prompt students to discuss the questions provided on slide 23 and to record their answers to the corresponding questions on Your Personal Governing Goals. Working with a partner or in small groups, students should consider the perspectives of the centrist, the conservative, and the progressive as related to how governing goals may be determined by individual or group values.

Hand out a copy of Policy Options Evaluation (pgs. 6-7) from the Fiscal Ship Student Handout to each student. Students highlight policies in each of the 16 categories of policy options on the Fiscal Ship. These are the same policy options they will encounter during the Fiscal Ship game when they are balancing their own values with the fiscally sustainable goals of the government.

Individual Activity

Students will require access to a device which allows access to the Internet, preferably a tablet or laptop. Teachers should begin explaining the objectives of the game as stated on slides 32-33. On a projector screen, show the YouTube video How to Play the Fiscal Ship linked on slide 31. Students should be prompted to complete questions 6-8 on pg. 5 from the Fiscal Ship Student Handout before closing out of the Fiscal Ship Game application. Students will participate in a class discussion after the game experience as seen on slide 35. Provide students the link to play the Fiscal Ship Game. During the game, be sure students have chosen to select their own goals, and then to proceed selecting policies which will allow them to achieve their selected goals and to sustain the national debt levels, hopefully managing to achieve both objectives before submitting their fiscal budget plan.


Students should demonstrate new learning by completing a “5 Minute Write” in response to the prompt provided on slide 36 of the presentation. It states, “Now that you have played the Fiscal Ship game, how do you propose the federal government set the budget on a sustainable course for the next 25 years?” Collect the responses.


Activity 1

Read the excerpt from the Congressional Budget Office’s The Outlook for Deficits and Debt in 2018-2028. Students should read the article and then discuss some of the dangers of rising deficits and growing debt, such as: higher interest rates and less business investment spending, persistent “crowding out” which leads to lower productivity and wages, and less fiscal policy effectiveness if a sudden challenge were to arise.

Activity 2


Prompt students to complete the Political Typology Quiz by the Pew Research Center. This quiz determines student’s political typology and better understand how their values guide personal policy preferences. The Pew Research Center survey elaborates on the political spectrum by comparing student responses to actual survey data, allowing students to see the complex nature of policy-making given the difficulties of consensus building across many different political  groups and important social and political issues. Students should select the answer choices which best align with their views. The survey results will include the percentage of U.S respondents who are aligned with their view points (political typology considers alternatives being the simple conservative or liberal labels).