Grade 3-5

If I Ran the Zoo – Economics and Literature

Updated: June 27 2019,

Welcome to the Zoo! In this two-day lesson you will use Dr. Seuss’ If I Ran The Zoo book to introduce the economic concepts to your students. You will also get the chance to use actual zoo criteria to help a zoo “choose” new animals.


duckWelcome to the Zoo! In this two-day lesson you will use Dr. Seuss’ If I Ran The Zoo book to introduce the economic concepts to your students. You will also get the chance to use actual zoo criteria to help a zoo “choose” new animals.

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize common economic concepts.
  • Apply economic terms to the book If I Ran The Zoo by Dr. Seuss.

Resource List

  • Virtual Zoo: This web page offers information on almost any animal that can be housed in a zoo. The site is divided into sections for different species and it is easy to use. The teacher can assign different species to groups of students and the students can easily find out information about the animals. Because of the immense amount of information the teacher may want to give the students specific animals to research or have the students come up with a list of four animals before they get into the site.
  • If I Ran the Zoo Interactive: This is an interactive used in Activity 1 to help reinforce the understanding of the economic concepts used in the lesson.
    Economic Concepts Activity
  • Lincoln’s Children’s Zoo map: This map can be used by the student in Activity 1, Post Reading, Question #1 to help them complete the activity.
  • Guidelines for the Acquisition and Disposition of Animals: These guidelines can serve as a basis for the student to follow in Activity 1, Post Reading, Question 2.
  • If I Ran the Zoo: Here is a thorough preview of the book provided by Google Books, as well as a link to purchase the book from the Dr. Seuss website.
    If I Ran the Zoo Preview
    Purchase If I Ran the Zoo
  • Decision Making Grid: The students use this grid to complete in Activity 2 so that they can decide what animal they want to have in their zoo. Using this format helps the students in making decisions, and it limits conflicts among them.


Activity 1: Day One

Pre-reading: Discuss/review basic economic concepts that will be used in this unit.

Use these concepts:

  • Choice – the decision made from alternatives.
  • Consumer – One who may receive or is receiving health services. While all people at times consume health services, a consumer, as the term is used in health legislation and programs, is usually someone who is not associated in any direct or indirect way with the provision of health services.
  • Demand – The willingness and ability to buy a range of quantities of a good at a range of prices, during a given time period. Demand is one half of the market exchange process;the other is supply. This demand side of the market draws inspiration from the unlimited wants and needs dimension of the scarcity problem. People desire the goods and services that satisfy our wants and needs. This is the ultimate source of demand.
  • Opportunity cost – The highest valued alternative foregone in the pursuit of an activity. This is a hallmark of anything dealing with economics–and life for that matter–because any action that you take prevents you from doing something else. The ultimate source of opportunity cost is the pervasive problem of scarcity (unlimited wants and needs, but limited resources). Whenever limited resources are used to satisfy one want or need, there are an unlimited number of other wants and needs that remain unsatisfied. Herein lies the essence of opportunity cost. Doing one thing prevents doing another.
  • Price – An asset or item voluntarily exchanged in a market transaction for another asset or item. This item or asset is usually, but not necessarily, money. A barter transaction occurs if money is NOT one of the assets or items exchanged. In a standard market diagram, price is displayed on the vertical axis. Price takes on several specific roles in the functioning of a market. On the demand side, the price reflects the willingness and ability of the buyers to purchase a product which is based on the satisfaction received (the demand price). On the supply side, the price reflects the opportunity cost of production (the supply price).
  • Resources – The labor, capital, land, and entrepreneurship used by society to produce consumer satisfying goods and services. Land provides the basic raw materials–vegetation, animals, minerals, fossil fuels–that are inputs into the production of goods (natural resources). Labor is the resource that does the “hands on” work of transforming raw materials into goods. Capital is the comprehensive term for the vast array of tools, equipment, buildings, and vehicles used in production. Entrepreneurship is the resource that undertakes the risk of bringing the other resources together and initiating the production process
  • Scarcity – A pervasive condition of human existence that exists because society has unlimited wants and needs, but limited resources used for their satisfaction. In other words, while we all want a bunch of stuff, we can’t have everything that we want. In slightly different words, this scarcity problem means: (1) that there’s never enough resources to produce everything that everyone would like produced; (2) that some people will have to do without some of the stuff that they want or need; (3) that doing one thing, producing one good, performing one activity, forces society to give up something else; and (4) that the same resources can not be used to produce two different goods at the same time. We live in a big, bad world of scarcity. This big, bad world of scarcity is what the study of economics is all about. That’s why we usually subtitle scarcity: THE ECONOMIC PROBLEM
  • Supply – The willingness and ability to sell a range of quantities of a good at a range of prices, during a given time period. Supply is one half of the market exchange process; the other is demand. This supply side of the market is directly connected to the limited resources dimension of the scarcity problem. Folks who have ownership and control over resources (labor, capital, land, and entrepreneurship) use them to produce the goods and services that satisfy other’s wants and needs. Ownership and control of resources is the ultimate source of supply.
  • Shortage – A condition in the market in which the quantity demanded is greater than the quantity supplied at the existing price. A shortage occasionally goes by the terms excess demand and sellers’ market. A shortage causes an increase in the equilibrium price.


sealDiscuss these concepts with your class, or have the students get with a partner and discuss the above concepts then have them use the activity Economic Concepts to reinforce the understanding of the above concepts.

Get the students thinking and talking about how these concepts might deal with animals to give them a basis for what they will be discussing in the class. Discuss how people choose pets, how do these concepts go into their decision making?

Read the book

If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss (New York: Random House, 1950, 1977)

These links can be used to preview or purchase  the Dr. Seuss book, If I Ran the Zoo.

Before you read, ask the students to think of how the economic concepts discussed at the beginning of class are used in the book and tell them that they will be discussing them after they are done reading.

Post Reading:

  1. Discuss how the concepts were used in the book. Write down concepts and have the students give examples of each.
  2. Hand out the supplied through the Folsom’s Children’s Zoo and discuss each criterion to make sure that the students understand the importance of each. Relate this back to the selection of pets. Did the students use the same types of criteria?
  3. Explain the size of the Zoo. Any zoo can be used (keep the same criteria) . The Lincoln Zoo is quite small, and built so that small children and their parents can easily see the entire zoo in a short time, but it has a nice diversity of animals and plant life. Lincoln’s Children’s Zoo map
  4. Using the Zoo’s criteria, the pictures and descriptions of “animals” from If I Ran The Zoo, and the virtual zoo have the students choose the animals they think would make the BEST exhibits in a children’s zoo. Have the students be prepared to back up their answers,explaining why they chose certain animals and did not choose others.

Activity 2: Day 2

giraffeBuilding on your instruction from yesterday to do today’s lesson, tell the students that the Children’s Zoo called you last night and asked you to have your class help them to choose four new animals for exhibits at the Zoo!

The students can be divided into small groups, with each group assigned to focus on a species of animals. From their assigned species, the students should select four animals they think will work well in the Zoo.

Hand out the Decision Making Grid handout to the groups and have them fill in the names of the animals on the left hand side under alternatives. Under criteria, have the whole class choose four of the six guidelines of acquisition, then write them down in these blanks (going left to right). Then have the students use the site listed above to research their animals and fill out the chart, x-ing the blanks that meet the criteria, and leaving any squares blank where the criteria and facts don’t match. This chart will allow the students to see which animal will be the best match for the zoo.

Then have each group present its findings and have the class decide on four animals to be recommended to the zoo for acquisition.

[NOTE: A trip to the zoo would help the students realize how large a project like this would be and what kind of an impact it would have.]


The students should have now become more aware of how economics affects decisions everywhere, even the zoo. Teachers who wish to extend the activity might ask the students to think of other places in which the same concepts would help to explain the choices people make.

Extension Activity

This lesson could easily tie into a section on ecosystems and which animals can survive the great variations in Nebraska weather.


Have the students write a letter to the “zoo” telling them the zoo keepers which animals they chose and why.