In this lesson, students play a game to guess which objects have been used as money throughout history. In the process, they learn several basic economic concepts. For instance, money must be a unit of account, meaning that it must be able to break down into smaller pieces that equate with the goods or services desired. They also learn that money must be a store of value; it must keep its value over time. Finally, the students will compare modern U.S. money with older versions of U.S. money using web sites and real coins and then use this new knowledge to design the money of the future.


Characteristics of Money


  • Compare old forms of money with modern forms of money.
  • Discover some characteristics that money should have.
  • Use their knowledge of money to design the money of the future.


In this lesson, students will play a game to guess which objects have been used as money throughout history. [Visit History of Money Timeline for teacher background information on money throughout history.] Students will learn that money should be a unit of account- a widely agreed measure to reckon prices of goods and services and comparisons between goods and services; it must be able to break down into smaller pieces that equate with the goods or services desired. Money must also be a store of value- money can be saved and used in the future; it must keep its value over time. You will compare modern U.S. money with older versions of U.S. money using web sites and real coins and you will use your new knowledge to design the money of the future.



  1. Have students look at History of Money activity. They should write a Y by each picture that they think was used as money at some point in history. They should write an N by each picture that they believe was never used as money. [All of the items were used as money
    • Paper, China c. 806 AD
    • Coins, Lydia c. 640 BC
    • Credit Cards, global c. 1900s
    • Tools, China c. 1000 BC
    • Sword Blade, Britian c. 55BC
    • Bronze Bars, Rome c. 275 BC
    • Cow, Global c. 9000 BC
    • Nail, Athens, Greece c. 500BC
    • Grain, Mesopotamia c. 3000 BC; Egypt c. 323 BC ]
  2. Look at the pictures in History of Money activity together. Were students surprised by any of the things that had been used as money?
  3. What are some problems with using a cow as money? Are cows easy to keep? Can you carry them around with you? What if you wanted to buy some bubble gum? Is a cow for bubble gum a fair trade? How do you trade part of a cow? [for kinesthetic learners: have students act out trying to buy a piece of bubble gum with a cow]·
    • Money must break down into smaller amounts to be useful. What smaller amounts can we divide a dollar into? [hint: what would you use to buy bubble gum?]
  4. What are some problems with using grain as money? [if students do not know what grain is, explain that it is a grass-like plant that we use to make bread and other food.] Will grain, or any food, keep for a long time? What happens when it gets old?
    • Money must keep its value over time. Is it easy to keep a dollar? A penny? What are some places we might store a dollar? A penny? Brainstorm.
    • How long will a penny last? Give each child a penny. Print these pennies onto overhead paper and use it to point out the location of the date on a penny. Help them read the date on their coin, if necessary. Who has the oldest penny? When was it made? Is it older than you? Your parents?
    • Check out this old coin site . What is the oldest coin at this site? How many years old is it? [teacher can demonstrate this as a subtraction problem on the board or count it out loud, ie. 1700, 1800, 1900 etc.] Put the age of the penny in context for students. [It is almost as old as the U.S., older than their great-great-great-grandparents]
  5. Compare one of the coins at the heritage site with a penny. How are they alike? How are they different? Write each similarity in blue marker on a separate piece of paper. Write each difference in red marker on a separate piece of paper. Are the coins more alike than different? Give each student (or as many as possible) a piece of paper with a similarity or difference on it. Have those written in blue (similarities) stand on one side of the room and those written in red (differences) stand on the other side of the room. Which group has more in it? Count the similarities out loud as a class, then count the differences. Which is greater?
  6. Will U.S. money ever change again? Explain that our money is in the process of changing right now. There are two versions of our currency in circulation. Visit New Currency from the Bureau of Engraving and create a Venn Diagram comparing the old bills with the new ones.
  7. Do we use anything other than bills and coins to buy things? Are checks and credit cards money? Did people have credit cards 200 years ago?
  8. How will our money change in the future? Ask students to design "future money" using art supplies. The greater the variety of supplies the better; see materials list for suggestions. Remind students that money must break down into smaller amounts and keep its value over ti


  1. How has money in the U.S changed? Visit Coin and Currency Collections from Notre Dame , click on colonial currency and then click on your state (or any other state if yours isn't listed) to see how money has changed over time in your state. Give each student a current coin. (New quarters with your state on them would be nice. Alternatively, use a Maryland quarter and an old coin from Maryland or a penny) Compare an old coin with the new one. Have each student or group of students fill in a New Coin Venn Diagram to show the similarities and differences.
  2. List, verbally or in writing, three ways in which money has changed over time.
  3. Choose between money made of metal and money made of orange peels. Defend your choice.


  1. Have each student briefly show and explain his or her "future money" design. What is it made of? Why? Will their money last? Does it break down into smaller units?
  2. How has money changed over time? List some types of money that are no longer used. Why not?
  3. Would it be easier to make money out of tissue paper or metal? Why do we use metal?


  1. Start a collection of new quarters. Have students put each quarter in its state on a U.S. map.
  2. Have small groups of students design skits showing what would happen if… they tried to buy things with various forms of "money". Encourage them to be creative and even silly! Some examples: what would happen if you tried to buy a game from a toy store with ice cream; or a hamburger from McDonalds with an elephant; or a lunch from the cafeteria with pieces of sand.
  3. Read the story and look at the coins at The Change in My Pocket Have students write, draw or tell a story about the coins in their pockets. What do they look like? What can they buy with them? Put these stories along with some coins into a time capsule.


  • “I have reviewed this lesson and love it! I can see lots of potential and am already brainstorming ways I can add to it in my classroom.”

    Peggy H.   POSTED ON June 21, 2004

  • “I have reviewed this lesson and just love it! The variety of material presented was very interesting to me and I know my students will love it as well. It was very educational along with entertaining. The information kept my attention and thus I am sure it will keep my students' attention. It contains historic along with present day information. I cannot wait to hear the questions my students will come up with after being presented with this lesson.”

    Joyce Werner   POSTED ON May 22, 2005

Add a Review