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Grade K-2, 3-5

Booker T. Washington:”Fifty Cents and a Dream”

Updated: September 11 2015,
Author: Lynne Stover

Young Booker T. Washington had a dream. That dream was to use the resources at his disposal to earn the money necessary to get an education that would allow him and others to become financially secure. This lesson based on the picture book “Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington” by Jabari
Asim challenges young students to make connections between history and economic concepts.


The activities in this lesson are based on the early life of Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), who as a young slave growing up in Virginia, was prohibited from learning how to read and write. After Emancipation life was still difficult. Moving to West Virginia and working in a salt furnace and a coal mine were physically challenging jobs, especially for a child. Amazingly he found time to attend school after work and discovered a quest for knowledge. He soon heard of a boarding school called Hampton Institute that was offering to educate black students and he was determined to attend. His supportive friends and family gave him what little resources they had and he set off on the 500-mile journey that would involve hunger, exhaustion, and poverty. Overcoming these obstacles, he arrived at his destination with 50 cents in his pocket and his future ahead of him.

Learning Objectives

  • Listen to the story Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington.
  • Learn the concepts of human and capital resources.
  • Complete an activity sheet demonstrating understanding of the concepts of human and capital resources.
  • Participate in a creative problem solving extension activity based on specific information concerning jobs held by Booker T. Washington as a youth.
  • Compare the costs (what’s given up) in getting an education with the benefits from acquiring an education.
  • Demonstrate an understanding that producing goods and services requires both (physical) capital resource and human resources.

Resource List


1. Introduce the lesson by telling the students they will be learning about a person who was born a slave around the time of the Civil War.  As a slave he was not allowed to learn to read, but once he got his freedom he knew that he had to get a good education no matter how hard he had to work to get it. Teachers of older students may want to note that Booker T. Washington not only worked to pay for his education, but that his acquisition of new skills and experiences through his pursuit of education resulted in his having contributed to the economic growth of the United States. He founded the Tuskegee Institute, which provided an education for many African-Americans.

2.  Read the book Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim, Little, Brown and Company, 2012 to the students. (This takes between five and seven minutes.) If the book is unavailable, the teacher may share this brief biography with the students. Young Booker T. Washington a Dozen Facts (See edited attachment)

3.    Introduce the lesson by displaying the visual Productive Resources Visual "Fifty Cents and a Dream." Review and discuss the contents with students. (See edited attachment)                

Possible student responses include:

  1. What does the human resource in the illustration below do? The human resource is preparing food. He is a cook, chef, cooking teacher, or television cooking show host.
  2. What capital resources is this person using? Some of the tools being used include pots and pans, a ladle, a knife, a cutting board, and an oven.
  3. What skills must a person have to do this job?  A chef needs to know how to use the tools in the kitchen, different cooking methods, and how to follow a recipe.

4. Tell the students they will now be using the information they just learned to complete an activity based on the jobs that Booker T. Washington had when he was a boy. This activity may be done as a worksheet and/or an interactive "drag and drop."

5. Distribute the activity sheets or instruct the students to complete the activity on the computer. Students may work in pairs or small groups.

6. Review the directions with the students. Explain that some of the words in the word box can fit in several of the categories. However, each word may only be used once. Students should be prepared to defend their choices. This can lead to some interesting discussion. For example, is a “window washer” a person who cleans windows or a tool used to help clean them? Common responses may be found here: Productive Resources Common Responses.


Conclude the lesson by asking the students what capital resources Booker T. Washington would need once he became a teacher.  Possible answers include: books, school room, desks, etc.  Then ask the students what human resources, other than teachers, are necessary to run a school. Possible answers might include: principal, librarian, cafeteria workers, custodians, school nurses, etc.

Extension Activity

Prior to this extension lesson create the required job cards on card stock. These may be found here.

Introduce this activity by telling the students that Booker T. Washington, a human resource, had many jobs when he was young.  Ask the students if they know what a job is. Job can be defined as “A piece of work usually done on order at an agreed-upon rate. Also a paid position of regular employment.”

Hold up the prepared job cards and read them one at a time telling the students that these were the jobs Booker T. Washington had when he was young. Discuss what kind of work each of these jobs entailed.

  1. Book Carrier- Carried the schoolbooks to school for his master’s daughter. (He was a slave and did not get paid money for this job.) [Skills required include: physical strength and trustworthiness]
  2. Salt Furnace Worker– Shoveled, packed, and hauled salt in a hot factory. (He joined his stepfather at this job.) [Skills required include: physical strength, ability to use necessary tools, and dependability]
  3. Coal Miner– Went underground to dig coal. (This was a dangerous job for a man, yet he and his brothers worked hard mining coal to make money for the family.) [Skills required include: physical strength, ability to use mining tools, bravery, and dependability]
  4. Dock Worker– Hauled cargo off of barges. (He used the money he earned from this job to help him get to the Hampton Institute, in Virginia to go to school.) [Skills required include: physical strength, problem solving abilities, and communication skills]
  5. School Janitor- Cleaned classrooms, washed windows, and scrubbed floors. (This job helped him pay his school tuition.) [Skills required include: physical strength, ability to use cleaning supplies]
  6. Teacher- Taught students. (The money he earned was used to pay for his brothers’ tuition at the Hampton Institute.) [Skills required include: ability to read and write, communication skills, and reliability]
  7. Book Author– Wrote books. (His autobiography “Up from Slavery” became a bestseller.)[Skills required include: ability to read and write, communication skills, and creativity]

Distribute the cards to seven of the students and ask them to come to the front of the room. Propose the following scenarios and ask the students to rearrange themselves to reflect the ranking order. Allow for discussion as this is a creative problem solving activity and there are no right or wrong answers.

Possible rankings include:

  • Rank the jobs from the one you think is the safest to the most dangerous.
  • Rank the jobs from the one that you think requires the most physical strength to the least physical strength.
  • Rank the jobs from the one you think takes the most education to the least education.

Challenge more advanced students to use to cards to do the following tasks:

  • Rank the jobs according to their pay.
  • Identify which jobs still exist.
  • Identify which jobs have been changed by an invention or a new technology.
  • Identify which jobs may be replayed by technology in the future.

A print copy of this activity may be found here.


To test for student understanding, make copies of the activity sheet Productive Resources Assessment, distribute, and provide writing tools.  Colored pencils and/or markers are optional.  Read the directions to the students: "Draw a picture in each box that represents the resource that might be found at one of the locations where Booker T. Washington worked.  You may come up with your own ideas or use one of the suggestions at the bottom of the page."  Check finished work for correctness.  Students' work will display well on a bulletin board titled, "Learning About Productive Resources."