Money Systems Unit


Grade: 3-4 grade


Author: Sean Speckart is a student at Utah State University (Logan, UT.), majoring in Elementary Education. Additonal ideas for activities and resources were contributed by J.R. Klinger.





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People use money all over the world. Money has changed many times before it is what we have today. Before it was created, people used to trade "goods" for other "goods". Trading began because things that other people wanted were things that others had. Farmers and craftspeople could not use everything they grew or made, so people began to trade things that they had too much of or that they couldn't use themselves. Objects such as salt, grain, metal, livestock, and nails were used as trading "goods". This trading of "goods" is called bartering. For bartering to work, the person trading an object had to be in agreement with the other person who was trading. Trading and bartering occurred in big towns and cities in markets where people could barter their "goods" to other interested parties.

Bartering worked for some but not for others. It posed some problems. Many times the value of an object was different from the values of another object. There were, also times when no one wanted to trade, with someone else, because their product didn't benefit them at all. For instance, some valued grain more than fabric because they practiced farming rather than making clothes. Things like salt were used as money because it was a valuable resource to flavor food. However, when people traveled from place to place to trade, things like salt would spill or spoil along the way. Other things that people used for money were blankets and teeth. These also had their problems when it came to travel. Blankets became heavy and bulky, and teeth were sharp and pointy.

Solutions to these problems lead to a medium of exchange. A medium of exchange is where a group of people agreed on something that was valuable and had certain worth and traded that for the objects that they desired. The Chinese used smooth shells as a medium of exchange. In Asia, tea was very valuable and in high demand, so Asians traded tea leaves as a medium of exchange. There were problems with trading these items. They could easily be damaged and spoil. Livestock that people used to trade would get sick or not make it to the market for trading. People of the world then, needed something valuable and durable to use as a medium of exchange. This is how metal money started. Some believe that metal money originated from Mesopotamia or Greece, where they flattened and stamped nuggets made of gold, silver, and bronze.

The Sumerians had their own ideas for bartering. They began to use silver in exchange for goods. They formed silver into small bars. Each bar had a different weight. Knowing the weight of the silver let others know how much they received in exchange for the "goods" that were traded. In time, people from Lydia and other countries put animals, symbols, and other figures of importance on the silver. The metal money came in many shapes and sizes and was used as a medium of exchange. This is how the idea of coins originated.

The invention of metal coins made bartering and trading easier, but it too, came with problems, which made money change even more. For instance, if a person had too much metal money it would weigh them down and become to heavy to carry. Another change would occur to this medium of exchange. It evolved to the concept of paper money. It was introduced so people wouldn't have so much to carry to market. The first paper money originated in China around 1300AD because they didn't have a big supply of metal. The paper money was authorized by the government to have a certain value. As long as the government sanctioned the money, the people trusted it.

Most paper money was made in the form of banknotes. Banknotes were issued by a bank to pay money to the customer in exchange for valuables that were sold in markets. Banknotes also had problems; sometimes banks didn't carry enough gold and silver to pay for the notes. Other times, banks would not accept notes from another bank. In 1861, the United States government chose to stop the printing of bank notes, and began to print their own money. They called the money that they used greenbacks. This is because the mint that printed the money made the back of each currency green. The engraver used special paper and ink to print the money. On money today, they put a watermark on the currency. This allows you to see a certain mark, if you hold it up to a light. This method help stops the act of counterfeiting and duplicating money.

Countries around the world started to develop their own unique form of money. They each had different values than the American dollar. Sweden was one of the first countries in Europe to establish a paper currency. Native Americans used beads woven together called wampum. Traders accepted wampum because coins were scarce.

As mentioned before, mints were built to produce money. Mints are factories, owned by the government, where people make coins. The first mint was opened in Philadelphia in 1792. It made gold and silver and copper coins. Today there are mints in Denver and Philadelphia. They are the largest mints in the world. Each coin minted in the U.S. has the words E PLUBRIS UNIUM ("out of many" in Latin) on one side and IN GOD WE TRUST on the other.

With the outbreak of technology and computers money has changed drastically from what it once was. No longer is money needed in exchange for "goods" or merchandise. Banks can establish accounts where customers can give their money to the bank and hold it until they need it. They can retrieve it by way of a check or an ATM (Automatic Teller Machine). Credit cards are also a convenient way for people to pay without money. A credit card company issues the credit card to you and receives money each time you use it. When you make a purchase with a credit card, you agree to pay for all the purchases you make. You pay the credit card company with money from your bank account. It all works with a computer. A computer can transfer money to a person anywhere in the world, in seconds.

Although money has changed in various forms, it is still traded or bartered, as it was so many years ago. Some areas of the world still use bartering and trading to exchange "goods". The majority of the world find that a money system is more convenient and worthwhile than bartering. Where will money be in the future? Only time will tell what we will be trading next.


(Sean Speckart wrote the background, with ideas from the books: The "Story of Money " by Betsy Maestro and "Money" by Adele Richardson.)




Maestro, B. (1993). The Story of Money. NY. Mulberry Paperback Books. (Picture storybook)

This narrative book tells about the history of money from start to finish. From bartering to electronic money, this will tell you why money was important to settlers and people everywhere. It also gives interesting facts and pictures. It also shows the origin of different currency and the countries they came from.

Richardson, A. (2000). Money. Creative Education. (Expository text)

This book gives a broad view of money and how it has developed into what it is today. It has columns on each page with additional facts about money.

Burns, Peggy. (1995). Stepping Through History, Money Thompson Learning. (Teacher resource)

This book talks about the origins of money to what money is like today. It also mentions counterfeit money and how different cultures use money. Great book for informing younger students of the important aspects of money.

This web site has several links for students to learn the history and value of money. Penny and her Dad come up with questions and answers children might come up with on money.

This web site allows students to go on an adventure with cartoon figures. They learn concepts like how to profit, invest, value, save, and use money wisely.

Confused on how to teach money in your class? This web site offers lesson plans and resources for teachers on how to teach and use US money and money from other countries. Children will be able to count and recognize U.S. currency. This is a good book to integrate math with social studies.

This web site reviews a book by Glyn Davies called History of Money. It talks about the history of banking, how Vikings used money, how the world wars have had an impact on money and many other interesting facts. Check it out!

Parker, N.W. (1995). Money, Money, Money: The Meaning of the Art of Symbolism on United States Paper Currency. NY. Harper Collins. (storybook expository text)

This book describes different symbols on a dollar. What is a dollar made of, why money is green and other questions about paper currency. This very imaginative book has many pictures and explanations of US currency.




Adams, B.J. (1992). The Go-Around Dollar. New York: Simon & Schulster books for Young Readers.

 This book could be used to teach how money is circulated. It also can be used to teach facts about symbols and security traces that are found on money.

 Leedy, L. (1992). Monster Money Book. New York: Holiday House.

 This book teaches the value of working hard to earn money. It also teaches the importance of saving money.

 Hall, D. (1979). The Ox Cart Man. New York: Viking Press.

 This book teaches the concept of bartering. It is the story of a farmer who collects all of his goods then takes them to market. This book won a Caldecott Medal.

 Armstrong, J. (1993). Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat. New York: Crown Publishers.

 This book teaches how other cultures transport their money. It also discusses some issues that relate to poverty.

 Shwartz D, (1989). If You Made a Million. Lothrope & Shepard books.

 This book helps students understand the value that money holds and how much it is worth. It also talks about saving, investing, checking, and how to save money.

 Tololwa, M. M. (1999) My Rows and Piles of Coins. Clarion Books. ISBN 0-395-751886-1.

 This is a good book to teach diversity with students. It is about a boy who lives in Tanzania Africa with his mom and dad. He finds an African market where he is tempted to spend his money, but saves it instead. It teaches the importance of saving and what markets are like in other countries. It has a glossary for African vocabulary words that might be hard to understand.

 Viorst, J. (1978). Alexander, Who used to be Rich Last Sunday. Macmullin publishing Co.

 A good book to teach children how saving a money is better than spending it. It also shows how fast a dollar can go in a week.




1. Students will learn about U.S currency and how people have used it in the past and how they use it today.

 2. Students will buy and sell goods in a market setting. They will understand what happens when you barter and trade and how supply and demand works.

 3. Students will learn and discover how money has changed and why it developed into a system of coins and paper.




Name of Activity: "Sand-dollar" (Simulation)

Time Needed: Activity is integrated into a regular day in the classroom

Materials Needed: Sand, some type of measuring device like a teaspoon or tablespoon

Brief Description: Any time a student wants to sharpen a pencil, use the bathroom, or read a book during class time, it will cost them some sand. The teacher gives sand to students to use. This shows how something similar to salt was used as a medium of exchange.


Name of Activity: "Symbols on Money" (Simulation)

Time needed: 20-30 minutes

Materials needed: foreign currency, paper, pencils

Brief Description: In small groups students will study and discuss symbols and designs on paper money of foreign currency. The students will develop a list of traits that suggest what the symbols on the money, might tell them about the country. Students then report their findings to the rest of the class.


Name of Activity "Country Inquiry" (Inquiry)

Time needded: 1 hour in class; students will do most of this activity out of the classroom

Materials needed: Internet, encyclopedias, magazines, resource books or text books, sisscors and ruber cement or glue  

Brief Description: Students will study various countries and focus on what different countries produce and export to obtain money (resources). For example, Japan produces cars and various electronic components. Encourage students to make a collage of the resources that the country produces. They then share their collages with the class.


Name of Activity: "Traveling Money Systems" (Inquiry)

Time needed: 20-30 minutes

Materials needed: Money currency from different countries or copies of them. These can be found in books or on the Internet.

Brief Description: A discussion of U.S. currency and its symbols is needed before this activity.The students will assemble into groups of 4 to 5 children. Money is passed to them with no explanation of where it is from. They are to figure out what country the money comes from based on the language, pictures on the money, and knowledge of U.S. currency.

Name of Activity: "The Go-Around Penny" (Writing Activity)

Time needed: 20 minutes

Materials needed: pencil & paper

Brief description : The students will write a story about how a penny circulates. For example, they could write that they were given money as birthday present. Next, they bought a toy with the money. Then the store cashier gave it to another customer as change. The idea here is to show how easily money can be exchanged.


Name of Activity: "The Go- Around Dollar" (Story Mapping)

Tmie needed: 30 minutes

Materials needed: book "The Go-Around Dollar" by B.J. Adams.

Brief Description: Read the book "The Go-Around Dollar." The students will then draw a map of the places mentioned in the book (like a story map for reading). Students can share their drawing and discuss things they learned with the class.


Name of Activity: "Differences in Coins" (Inquiry)

Time needed: 10-15 minutes

Materials needed: play coins or real ones

Brief Description: The students are in groups and the teacher distributes two different coins (like a penny and a quarter) to each group. The students play "Mind-Boogle" to generate a list of all the differences a coin that they have with another coin. This is how "Mind-boogle" is played: Each group tries to out think the other group by putting something on their list that they think no one else will think of. The group gets a point if no one else found the same difference that they did.


Name of Activity: "Making Money" (Creativity)

Time needed: 20-30 minutes

Materials needed: paper, pens, crayons, computers

Brief descriptions: As employees of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, students are to design a new paper currency. They will describe the meaning of the symbols, colors and any slogans used. Students may also list security measures incorporated into their currency design. At the end of the activity, they will share and display pictures with the rest of the class.


Name of Activity: "Coin Collecting" (Guest Speaker)

Time needed: 20-40 minutes depending on grade level

Materials needed: speaker KWL (What students know (K), What they want to find out (W), and What they have learned (L)) questions.

Brief Description: The students will generate a KWL before the speaker comes. They can ask questions when appropriate. The speaker should discuss their reasoning behind coin collecting, the reasons why they collect coins and what they have learned while collecting coins.


Name of Activity: "A Trip to the Bank" (Field Trip)

Time needed: 45 minute to an hour depending on travel time

Materals needed: transportion for students, permision slips, 3 x 5 cards, emergency phone number to call in case of an accident, cell phone if availible, safest and most efficient way to travel to the bank.

Brief Description: Call the bank a few months ahead of time to arrange a field trip for your class to visit the bank It is good to prepare students before the trip. Discuss with them the itenerary, field trip behavior, accountabilty for each other, transportation rules and any other instructions that students might need at this time. The students will visit a bank close to the school and look for the various services that a bank offers to its customers. They might even be able to go inside the safe where most of the money is stored overnight. They can ask questions that they have prepared before hand on 3 x 5 cards.


Name of Activity: "What Happens at the Bank" (Writing Activity)

Time needed: 20 minutes (good to do during a writers' workshop)

Materials needed: paper and pencil

Brief Description: A follow up to the field trip to the bank. Students will generate a " writers' web" of the things that they learned and dicovered while on the field trip. For example they can start with the word "bank " in the middle and then branch out to aspects of a bank like checks, money circulation, security...etc. They will then write a paragraph or two of what they leaned about money.  


Name of Activity: "You Can Buy A lot with a Dollar" (Simulation/ Inquiry)

Time needed: 10 minutes for reading and a couple days for investigation

Materials needed: book "Alexander who Used To Be Rich Last Sunday," one dollar for each student (depends on school budget and your own) notebook, pencil

Brief Description: Read the book to students. Distribute a real dollar to each student at the begining of the week. Tell them that they can do anything they want with the dollar as long as they record what they do in their notebook. On the Friday of the end of the week, ask students to share what they did with their dollar. You can give a small prize to the students that saved their dollar and brought it back. Also be aware of students who were able to buy a lot of items for their dollar.


Name of Activity: "Inflation" (Simulation)

Time needed: 30-40 minutes depending on grade

Materials needed: play money, different types of candy, a balloon

Brief Description: The teacher blows up a balloon and explains that inflation is like a balloon. As the balloon expands, so do the prices. The same is true with demand. Just as demand increases, so will the prices. Give the students some play money. This part of the activity is done in two rounds. In the first round the students will pay a dollar for a piece of candy. In the second round the price goes up to 2 dollars. See how students react with the prices going up. In a discussion, tell students the same thing happens with gasoline and other products of demand.


Name of Activity: "Mary Poppins and the Tuppins" (Decision Making. Investing)

Time needed: 30 to 40 minutes

Materials Needed: "Mary Poppins'' VHS (Disney), TV, VCR, paper and pencils

Brief Description: Watch the scene in Marry Poppins where Michael is deciding whether he should invest his "tuppins" in a bank account or to feed the birds (this is towards the end of the movie). Explain what it means to invest money in a bank account. Students will pretend they have to choose for Michael whether to invest his "tuppins" or not. Have students get into two groups. One group will discuss why it is good to invest money in the bank. The other group will discuss why it is not good to invest money in the bank. You can also come up with real life situations where its is better to invest rather than to spend money.


Name of Activity: "Money Jeopardy" (Game)

Time needed: 30-45 minutes depending on how many questions you generate

Materials needed: chalk, chalkboard or whiteboard (whiteboard markers), questions from discussions of money

Brief Description: Students are split into two teams. This can be done by having students line up and go "one two one two" until there are two teams. They then play jeopardy based on questions that are from discussions or books that they have read or from other activities.The studetns take turns answering questions or they can use their group for help. Remember that answers have to be in the form of a question.


Name of Activity: "Trade Day" (Decision Making/ Understanding Supply and Demand/Culminating Activity)

Time needed: one hour

Materials needed: 3x5 cards, pencils

Brief Description: The teacher explains that they are going to have a trade day where they barter and trade with the money that they made earlier in the "Making Money" activity. They will bring items from home to trade with. If they decide to go to a store to purchase their items, they will have a dollar spending limit. Students then trade and exchange with other students using their money that they made. Have a discussion afterwards that focuses on problems they had in getting the things that they wanted. This could be a good time to discuss what they learned about money in this unit.


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