1. Ask students if they get an allowance, or if they receive money from their parents, for their birthdays, or for other holidays from time to time, or if they sometimes earn money.
2. Ask students to assume that they have received $20.00. Out of this $20.00, they must allocate funds to the following items:
- Snacks or gum or candy
- Entertainment (movies, CDs, videos, games)
- Gifts (for family birthdays, etc.)
- Toys (or other items they want, but do not need)
3. How much of the $20.00 would they allocate to each item? This list would be their budget.
4. Ask students to share their budgets.
5. Now suggest to students that, because of the high price of gasoline, their income (from whatever sources) is going to be reduced by 10% ($2.00 of their $20.00). Have students re-calculate their original budget.
6. Engage students in a class discussion about their budgets and how the income reduction affected them and their future plans. Then suggest to students that the classroom has a fund where students can borrow funds if necessary. Ask how many students wish to borrow money to meet their budgets. Ask how they intend to pay back the loan.
7. Explain to students that the national debt is the amount of money that the federal government needs to “pay back” because it has borrowed money to maintain its budget.
8. Divide students into five groups, and assign each group the task of researching the following questions, using the websites listed below:
9. Discuss with the group possible solutions to paying off the national debt. Draw a link between their own re-calculations of their budget and re-calculating expenditures in the federal budget. Explore with students the actual federal budget, using the graph outlining the actual federal budget expenditures. When students understand where the money currently goes, ask them where they would make cuts to balance the budget.
- What is the national debt?
- How much is a Trillion? (give examples)
- What has happened to the national debt since 1900?
- How is the federal budget defined?
- Where does federal revenue come from and where does it go?
10. Evaluate their understanding by having them write individual proposals (short) for balancing the budget.
How Much is a Million?
What is the National Debt?
History of the National Debt (20th century)
The National Debt Clock
What Is the Budget?
Where the Money Comes From and Where It Goes
The Actual Federal Budget
A WebQuest Concerning the National Debt (background for teachers, or students if the teacher wishes to use the WebQuest)
This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University.