Teaching Economics in Upper Elementary

Teaching economics in upper elementary provides students with a strong foundation for understanding how money works and will help them make smart money choices as they get older.

Where did you learn about money?

Did you have a paper route when you were younger? Did you mow lawns? Were you given an allowance or maybe your great grandma sent you $100 on your birthday every year. 

As adults, we understand that money management and basic economic knowledge is important to making decisions about how to spend money and how to make more money. 

Historically, economics was primarily taught in high school or college, but students show signs of understanding economics at much younger ages. In fact, students are often excited to begin learning about economics in upper elementary.

Consider this student. Jacob comes to school with 5 pieces of gum. With those 5 pieces of gum, Jacob is able to exchange one piece for a sucker, he gives away 2 pieces to his best friends, and he saves one piece for the next day. 

Although Jacob only consumed one piece of his gum, he essentially used the rest as currency. He used that gum to buy, give, and save. Sound familiar?

Although Jacob is obviously fictional, we all know that student, and we could totally see our students doing exactly what Jacob did with his gum.

Although we often think that our elementary students are too young to learn about economics, in reality, they already understand the gist of it. In fact, from the moment we give a student their first positive behavior coupon or classroom cash to ‘buy’ something, we are laying the foundation for understanding economics.

Leveling the playing field

Although it is hard to say, the reality is that if we aren’t teaching kids about economics and how money works, then they may not get any education about it at all. 

As teachers, we know that students come in with different levels of knowledge and skills in all subject areas. Some students come to school already reading and writing. Others aren’t exposed to letters and numbers until the day they walk through the school doors for the first time.

The same goes for money. Some students have parents or relatives who take the time to teach them how to handle money and some don’t. By teaching economics in upper elementary we are providing equity among our students. We teach all students about the letter A, so why wouldn’t we teach all students about the value of a dollar bill?

Even if parents are providing some of this education at home, they are often thankful that students are learning about topics like needs and wants in a formal educational setting as well. 

What should we cover?

Now that we know why teaching economics is important, we just have to figure out how to teach it. 

We want learning economics to be fun, and we don’t want to overwhelm our students with jargon or money situations that are above their heads.


When I considered all of the vocabulary I would want students to know (i.e. needs vs. wants, goods vs. services, imports vs. exports, etc.) I knew that finding a way to organize all of those terms, while also providing interactive examples, would be important. 

I often find myself relying on physical manipulatives such as paper bag books, lapbooks, envelope books, and accordion envelope books, so I immediately started considering which of these was the best for economics. Thus, the Economics Bag Book was created!

The Economics Bag Book is an organized way to teach students all about the basics of economics while covering the important vocabulary including but not limited to…

  • Needs vs. Wants
  • Goods vs. Services
  • Producers & Consumers
  • Supply & Demand
  • Imports & Exports
  • Renewable vs. Nonrenewable Resources

The main focus of the vocabulary lessons stems from reading passages that explain each concept used in conjunction with an activity that models the concept.

Situational Spending

In addition to covering vocabulary, students also need to be exposed to situational spending. Taking time to consider what they would do when given a specific amount of money. 

One of the activities within the Economic Bag Book asks students to consider choosing between two items and explaining their choices based on what they know about needs vs. wants. 

Smart Consumerism

When teaching economics in upper elementary we also want to spend some time considering smart consumerism. This includes knowing where your goods come from and what it takes to replace those goods. 

We’ve all heard that there is a ‘best time to buy’ certain products due to low demand, but do students understand that?

Being a good consumer means being a smart consumer and looking beyond the price to make sure that we are getting a good deal. That is why we’ve included activities based on supply and demand, imports and exports, and renewable vs. nonrenewable resources in the Economics Bag Book.

They’re ready!

Although our students seem young, they are perfectly capable of (and often excited to) learn about spending money and the study of economics. They often use the information they learn in this unit to consider their own spending habits and what they ask their parents to buy for them. 

They’re ready…are you? 

If you are considering teaching economics in upper elementary, make sure to take a closer look at the Economic Bag Book in the Undercover Classroom store!

Want to learn more about how to make bag books and why they work so well for organizing information, check out this post!

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