The Changing Face of Money


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In this lesson, you will play a game to guess which objects have been used as money throughout history. You will learn that money should be a unit of account- a measure to decide the price of goods and services and comparisons between goods and services that everyone agrees to; 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. Look at History of Money activity. Write a Y by each picture that you think was used as money at some point in history. Place an N by each picture that you believe was never used as money.

  2. 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?

    • 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?)

  3. What are some problems with using grain as money? 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? Your teacher will give you a penny or you can view the enlarged penny. What is the date your penny was made. Ask you teacher if you need help. Who has the oldest penny in you class? 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? It is almost as old as the U.S., older than their great-great-great-grandparents.

  4. Compare one of the coins at the heritage site with a penny. How are they alike? How are they different? Are the coins more alike than different?

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. How will our money change in the future? Design "future money" using art supplies that your teacher gives you. Remember that money must break down into smaller amounts and keep its value over time.


  1. Show and explain your "future money" design with the rest of your class. What is it made of? Why? Will your 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.  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.