“Show me the MONEY!” (Do you now have the scene from Jerry Maguire playing in your head?🤣) Money… it is a favorite math unit in any classroom. Why? Because kids love money! Let’s take that enthusiasm and dive deeper into money skills practice. Let’s use these 23 money activities for primary students to create engaging, no prep lessons, and small group centers practice.
When the money manipulatives come out, you immediately hear cheers and of course, at least one student asks “Is this real money?”. I even had one student count out their plastic coins and take them to the book fair in hopes of buying a book. The librarian was so impressed with the exact change he brought in that she gave him the book and snuck the coins back into my mailbox afterward. 😉
There are so many money activities that you can incorporate throughout your lessons to help your students develop a strong understanding of economics. Money instruction doesn’t only have to happen during your math block. Check these ideas out and see how easy it is to add them to your current money unit.
Money Activities for Primary Students: Identifying Money
The first skill we have to teach our students is to identify the coins. There are a variety of ways that you can do this. They can explicitly learn about each coin. Your students can sort the coins into groups. You can even create a center where they are grabbing a handful of coins, sorting, and then graphing how many they grabbed of each coin.
During the first few days of our money unit, we watch a video or two and then complete a variety of activities that help us identify and name the different coins. Integrate these activities into your whole group, independent practice, and small group centers to cement money identification concepts.
1. Start with a Video on Money Identification
I like this video from Homeschool Pop that introduces all 6 different U.S. coins. Each coin is described, as small facts are given and the value of each coin is discussed. It is a great way for your students to be introduced to money before really digging into your unit. Also, consider pairing this video with an explicit explanation of each coin. You can use large magnet coins (aff) that can be placed on your whiteboard. Play a guessing game and give table points to those groups who can identify which coin you put on the whiteboard each time.
2. Sorting Coins
Now that your students have a basic understanding of the different kinds of coins they will be working with during your money unit, it is time to apply that knowledge. I like to do this activity whole group as a follow-up to the video above. Each student gets a money sorting mat and then grabs a handful of coins from the bucket of manipulatives in the classroom.
They sort out the coins onto the mat and then count how many they have of each coin. Among their table groups, they can compare who has the most pennies, dimes, etc. Do any of the coins have equal groups?
In small groups, we take it up a notch and put a similar activity into their center, but this time they grab a handful of coins, sort them, then graph how many of each they have. From there, they will answer questions based on the results of their graph. For younger students, I recommend combining both of these mats in the center to help keep them organized.
4. Sing Songs About Money
Here I am with the videos again, but this time they are fun songs and dances your students can do to help them remember the names of the coins and their values. There are quite a few you can find when you do a search on YouTube, but I have a few favorites you can check out here.
These money activity songs can be used as a quick brain break before math starts to get the blood flowing and the wiggles out so your students are ready to learn all about money!
- Money Song – Counting Coins with Gracie’s Corner
- “Coins!” by ABCMouse
- Counting Coins Song for Kids (recommended for older students)
- The Money Song by Jack Hartmann
5. All About Coins Printables
A great way to refocus your students after they have sung a song or two is to have them record everything that they know about each of the coins. You can create an anchor chart that can be used throughout your money unit, while your students work on All About (coin) Worksheets. Place these printables into page protectors and your students can practice money identification as early finishers, or if you have students’ work mat binders or math toolkits, put this work mat in them for continued money practice.
6. Make It Fun
Now that your students can identify all of the coins, you can bring some fun activities into their independent practice, early finisher work, center activities, and homework. These activities take money instruction to a whole new level (and will keep your students engaged because they are FUN!)
- Hidden Picture Coins – using the Color Code, students will color each square differently based on the coin within it to uncover the hidden picture
- Color by Coin – similar to the Hidden Picture, your students will use the color code to complete the picture
- Identifying Coins Cut and Glue – for our younger learners, practice some fine motor skills while they cut out the coins and then glue them under the correct labels
- Penny and Nickel Maze – follow and color the correct coins to find your way from one end of the maze to the other; you can also grab this activity for the dime and dollar
Money Activities: Adding Different Coin Values
Let’s take things up a notch by teaching our students how to add together different coins with different values. They now have a firm understanding of the basics (coin identification and value for each). This is a great way to practice the counting on strategy, as your students have to hold a coin value in their heads and then add more to it. You can work on this skill in a variety of ways, and since your students are playing with “money”, they will enjoy buying things. (You can even work a student store into your unit for some real-world applications.)
7. Buying Items
One of my favorite whole group money activities is our classroom auction lesson. I grab a whole bunch of small items (enough for every student to have one) and then give each student a handful of coins. Then I start the auction. I put a group of my special items on sale for a certain amount of money. The students who want the item have to count out the correct change in order to purchase it.
Note to remember: have multiples of each item, so that any student who wants that particular item can buy it. I always make sure to have extras so that everyone gets what they want to buy.
Once the whole group lesson is over, you can follow it up with a price tag independent practice. You can also put any of these worksheets in a center with plastic coins and your students can practice making exact change all week long.
After practicing in whole group making exact change, take it to your small group centers. As shown in the picture above, this no-prep center includes a variety of mats your students can use to practice adding different values of money together. After looking at the coins they have, they will add up the values and see if they have enough money to purchase the given item. I recommend adding some plastic coins to these work mats within page protectors. Your students can model the money shown for each item and then determine if they have enough.
Laminate and cut apart the cards in this center while your students play their own version of “store”. Instead of having them draw the coins only, put plastic coins in the basket and have them model the value before they draw it. You can turn it into a partner activity. One student will choose an object from the store pile to “sell” to their partner. The partner then has to count out the change needed to purchase the item. The seller checks the amount and if correct, they switch roles. It is a definite low prep center for you that will keep your students engaged while you work with small groups.
10. Flip and Cover
Bust out with the BINGO Daubers, money cards, and printables for this fun center. You decide which coin you want your students to work on. The nice thing is that by focusing on one coin, you are also practicing counting by a certain number… (1s – pennies, 5s – nickels, or 10s – dimes). Place the printables in the basket with the cards and worksheets. As your students flip over the cards, they find the value that matches and then daub it with their BINGO marker. You can use this center over multiple days as the coin focus can be switched out.
Another option is to take this independent activity and make it a collaborative partner game. As pictured below, your students can pair up and use chips or double-sided counters as markers on the game board. Each student takes turns flipping over the card, identifying the value, and then covering it on the board. When the last card has been flipped, the student with the most covered money values wins.
11. Money Puzzles
A great money activity for primary students as they build fine motor skills by working on putting together puzzle pieces. Laminate and cut apart the pieces of the puzzle. (I recommend making enough sets for the number of students you have in each small group.) Your students will practice matching the coin to its value.
⭐️ Pro-Tip: I put stickers on the back of each set for easy sorting by your students when it is time to rotate. (Example – one set may have all fish stickers on the back and another may have frogs, flowers, butterflies, etc.)
Get your students up and moving around during one of their center rotations. Write the Room is a favorite in my classroom, and I can differentiate it to meet the needs of my students. I recommend laminating the cards you are going to place around the room so that you can use the center year after year.
The card set that you choose to use can be differentiated depending on your students’ needs. Set 1 has cards with the same coin on them and your students are going to practice counting by a certain number (1s, 5s, 10s, 25s), to find the total coin value on each card. Set 2 has different coins on each card. Your students will have to identify each coin, and its value, then add those values together to figure out the sum.
Money Activities: Partner Games
Centers are great, but students always seem to be more engaged when they can complete those activities with a partner. Besides working on essential money skills, your students will also be learning how to take turns, cooperate with their classmates, and cope with winning or losing.
13. Coin Riddles
Can your partner guess the riddle? One classmate selects a card from the pile. As the other listens to the riddle, they will use plastic coins to see if they can solve their partner’s riddle. Once they have, that student will draw the coins needed on the recording sheet and the two partners switch roles.
Give each pair of students a game board, something to use as a placeholder, and a die. One student will roll a die and move their placeholder that number of squares around the game board. Once that student has landed on a square, they will add up the coins to find the total value and then daub or cover that value on the game board. Then it is the next student’s turn. The game continues until one of the students has 5 in a row covered on the game board. This is a great early finisher activity to use during your money unit.
Take the fun from a partner game to the entire class participating. Print, laminate, and cut apart the game cards. Pass out a card to each student. The person who holds the card that states “I have the first card.” begins the game and reads the second half of their card “Who has…?”. From there, the rest of your class has to listen very carefully to the clue from their classmate to see if they have the next card. Play continues until you get to the student who has the “This is the last card.” card in their hand.
This game is a great way to build active listening comprehension and classroom community. It’s an activity you can save for a canceled special or rainy day recess, or use during one of your community circles while working on your money unit.
16. Measuring with Coins
Coins can be used to practice other skills too. Give your students plastic pennies and have them measure classroom objects and record the lengths in the number of pennies. How long are their pencils, notebooks, crayons, and scissors? Put this activity in a center as an accountability sheet and follow up to this lesson.
You can also extend this lesson by having students measure the same object with different coins. How many pennies long is the pencil versus how many quarters long? This is where the idea of “the unit of measurement” becomes so important. An object with a length of 5 pennies is much different than an object with a length of 5 quarters.
17. Coins can Help with Sight Words?
How about using coin values to practice sight words? Assign each letter of the alphabet a monetary value. As your students spell the word, they are adding up the value too. Extend the lesson by seeing who can create the most expensive word, or make it harder by seeing if they can come up with a word of a certain value. You can ask, “Who can make me a 54-cent word, 39-cent word, etc.?”
18. Use Money in STEM
Let’s ditch the plastic coins and bring out the real money! How many pennies do you need to create a bridge? This money activity for primary students is sure to be a class favorite. Start the lesson by reading the book The Luckiest Leprechaun by Justine Korman. From there, your students can hypothesize how many pennies they will need to create a bridge. Then comes the fun part… constructing the bridge! Extend the lesson by asking them to build a bridge over a pencil, crayon, marker, or glue stick. Does their bridge have to get larger depending on the object? Lastly, have your students reflect on the challenge. What worked, and what needed improvement?
So, remember that “take the skills and apply them” thing that I mentioned above… we are going to use all of those amazing money skills your students learned and dig deeper. You can extend your students’ learning by applying money concepts to economics. And no, I am not talking about the boring high school class that we all had to take. This economics unit is jam-packed with fun, engaging, and relevant information your students are sure to want to dive into.
19. Extending the Learning Starts with Direct Instruction
Start extending your basic money concepts into economics with direct instruction. By following a series of strategic lessons, your students can dig deeper and make connections from hands-on money skills to abstract economics concepts. Discussion questions, key vocabulary words, videos, and student practice activities help to cement and expand on the information learned.
20. Using Classroom Management to Teach Essential Lifeskills
Do you have student jobs in your classroom? Or maybe you use a token economy as part of your classroom management system? Have you thought about embedding economics skills into your daily routine?
You can easily teach your students about saving, spending, and having a job without changing your system. First, they can apply for a classroom job by filling out an application. Then after they’ve been hired, they get “paid” and can choose to save their earnings or spend them in your student store or treasure box. You are exposing your students to valuable skills they will use throughout their life.
With that being said, you are preparing your students for career readiness. They learn to be responsible citizens in their classroom community. By having “a job”, they feel more connected to your classroom, therefore more likely to attend school daily, put forth more effort academically, and diminish unwanted behaviors. All skills that they will need later on in actual jobs.
21. Helping Students Understand Wants and Needs
I have to chuckle when talking to my students about wants and needs. They always tell me that video games and toys are “needs”.
Pass out a certain amount of money and have your students prioritize what they would spend their money on. If they choose to buy toys, what will they do for food or clothing?
You can link this discussion to the importance of saving and spending. It helps students learn how to be responsible consumers in their communities.
22. Salaries for their Future Career…
How many of you ask your students to write about what they want to be when they grow up at some point in the year? Yes, they can write a few sentences about what that person does, but let’s take it a little deeper. Using an interactive notebook activity, your students can explore the things they are good at. What kind of career lends itself to those strengths? What do they want to learn from their career? Are there any values this type of career will instill in them? What are some things they definitely do not want to do?
You can use this activity as a planning guide to a much more in-depth piece of writing. Each section of the interactive notebook could be a paragraph for older students. You could even make it a little more fun by having your students take an attributes test. Does their dream career match, or is the test way off?
23. Apply it All with a Classroom Economy PBL
Let’s wrap up all of these money skills into a project, shall we? Remember the whole group store activity I talked about in #7? What if you put the power of buying and selling in the hands of your students? This is by far the coolest money activity we do in my class all year! Your students will create their own classroom economy.
Individually or with a partner, your students will brainstorm an item or service to sell. Have them keep it simple, such as making bracelets, bookmarks, or keychains. Or maybe they can sharpen pencils or fill water bottles for classmates as a service.
From there, they will develop a business plan.
- How much will the materials cost?
- How much will they charge per item?
- What is their marketing plan?
- Do they foresee any problems that will need troubleshooting?
Give your students time to produce their items and create their marketing materials. Then comes the day of the Classroom Market! Add to the learning by having your students draw a card that states their paycheck for the day. That is the amount they can spend in the market. Then let them shop til they drop!
After shopping, your students can reflect on the experience, thinking about the concepts of supply and demand, saving and spending, and consumer choices.
This project may seem like a lot of work, but I have broken it down for you in small manageable chunks through a PBL journal. This is one of those money activities your students are guaranteed to remember for years to come after leaving your classroom.
Incorporate any or all of the above money activities for primary students when you are working on your money unit. By using hands-on approaches in an intentional sequence of instruction you are ensuring academic success. Let me know if you have a favorite money activity in your classroom. I would love to add it to my unit too!
Written by: Janessa Fletcher
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