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Coming and Going: Imports and Exports Throughout the World

Students will study various imports and exports to and from different regions in the world. They will then compare the imports and exports to determine the importance of each.


cookiesImagine that you are baking cookies for your family. Your next-door neighbor drops by and tries the cookies. She is very impressed with how tasty the cookies are and she realizes that they are much better than hers. She also realizes that she doesn’t have the ingredients necessary to make her own cookies: flour, sugar, eggs, and chocolate chips.

She asks if it would be possible for you to make her cookies; she offers to pay you for the ingredients, time, and labor necessary to bake them. You say "No problem", knowing that it would be easy for you to bake some more.

Show the students the PDF document titled "Exports and Imports of Goods by Principal SITC Commodity Groupings – 2002 and 2001 Data" . This is on the U.S. Census Bureau website. In this document, students can see the types of products and resources which are imported to and exported from the United States. They do not need to be able to understand all of the information in the chart. However, they can compare the numbers in the "cumulative export" and "cumulative import" columns for each product or resource to see if a particular product or resource is imported or exported. For example, if they look at coffee, they will find that much more coffee is imported than exported. Discuss which products and resources show the largest discrepancy between imports and exports. Ask the students to compare the soybean imports and exports. Does the United States import or export more soybeans? [Export]. If you grew soybeans in another country and wanted to export them to the United States, would that be a good idea? [No] Why or why not? [There is not a need to import soybeans into the United States because they grow well here].

When the students complete the following activities they should be able to explain the difference between an import and an export and explain why countries trade. Make sure that the students understand the definitions of import and export. The definitions of both can be found at Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online . Allow the students time to look up the definitions.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an import as to bring from a foreign or external source; especially to bring (as merchandise) into a place or country from another country. Export is defined as to carry or send (as a commodity) to some other place (as another country).

[NOTE: The students will be looking up import and export in Activity One of the Process step.]

Learning Objectives

  • Define import and export.
  • Describe the importance of international trade.
  • Identify goods to import into the United States.

Resource List


Activity 1

[NOTE: Prior to this activity, collect several toys or objects manufactured in different parts of the world. Many of the objects can be found in your classroom. Make sure that there is a clear indication somewhere on the object of where the object was manufactured. Suggested products include: Plastic toys, desks, chairs, and desk accessories.]

toys_graphicTake a look at the objects your teacher has gathered. All of these objects were manufactured in another country but purchased in this country. For each of the objects, quietly consider the following:

  • What materials is the object made of?
  • What unusual characteristics does that object have?
  • What country might have those materials or characteristics?

[NOTE: At this point, discuss the students’ findings and reveal the places from which the objects were exported.]

It would be helpful to have both community maps and local phone directories on hand to help students locate community services in the evaluation activity.

Activity 2

In the interactive activity "Mapping Exports", you will figure out which places in the world offer which exports. You will then decide which exports you would import into the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau: Foreign Trade Statistics website will help you find out about the exports from other countries.

As students are working on the interactive, circulate and monitor students’ understanding of the difference between "product" and "resource." If students are struggling with this concept, remind students that products are created and natural resources are found in nature.

[NOTE – The students may find it difficult to actually find the information needed to tell whether or not the country or continent imports the goods provided. Go over the website with the students and how to find out the necessary information on the countries within the continents. An answer key has been provided.]


mapLook at your list of products or resources you imported into the United States. Next to each product, tell whether the import is a product (something created by people) or a natural resource (something that is found naturally).

Then, answer the following:

  • Why did you select each of the imports?
  • Are any of those imports also built or found in the United States? If so, why did you choose to import them?
  • What might happen if those imports could not be imported into the United States? Could we live without them?
  • Which import on your list do you think is most important? Why?


Have the students trade their responses and answer the following:

  • What is the difference between an import and an export? [An import is something that is brought into a country; an export is something that is sent out of a country.]
  • Did you and your partner select the same import as being the most important?
  • Why might a country want to export products to the United States? [Since the U.S. is a wealthy country, a lot of money can be made by selling products to people in the U.S.]