What Would You Do With Twenty Dollars?

K, 1, 2

This lesson introduces children to the understanding that people have different ideas/priorities about how to spend money (or time) as well as the value of money (or time). Students compare ways they would like to spend money (or time), and consider perceptions of money around the world.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • evaluate personal priorities with money (or time).
  • compare personal perceptions of money with classmates and people around the world.
  • gain empathy for the differences in basic needs and wants.
  • describe why it is important to respectothers.
  • name currencies from around the world.

optional: a $20 bill as a visual prompt

Teacher Preparation 

One of the questions in this lesson depends on children having some prior knowledge of the needs of children in a developing country. Prior to this lesson, talk about developing countries that are in the current news and the needs of children and families in areas where resources are not available to meet basic needs. Or, read aloud a book that provides some background knowledge of children with limited resources, such as Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams.

  • wants: desires for goods, services, feelings, and other things we would like to have but do not need
  • needs: things we must have to survive, such as food, water, and shelter

OANDA. Currency Converter http://www.oanda.com/currency/converter/


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Hold up a $20 bill an ask children to think about what they would do with $20. (Note: As an alternative discussion, ask what they would do with three hours off.) Tell them the money is theirs to spend how they like. Do not give suggestions that might influence their response. Ask them to reflect quietly and be ready to share their response with others in the following activity.

  2. Tell them they are going to mingle around the room slowly, and when you call a number, they are going to quickly join up with nearby children to form a group with that number of people, all without talking.

  3. Start the game by telling students to mingle. When students are randomly spread around the room, call the number three. Watch them quickly form groups of three, assisting as needed.Now tell the groups of three to discuss the question, "What would you do with $20 if you had it to spend on anything?" Tell them to be respectful of others, responding politely to different responses. Give them enough time so each child has a chance to share in the small group.

  4. Ask a few individuals to tell the whole group what they said they would do with the money.

  5. Tell them to mingle again. This time, call the number four. The children form random groups offour cooperatively and quietly. Now tell the groups of four to discuss the following question: What do you think a child in [namea developingcountry that is in the news or that they have some knowledge of from family or classroom study--make sure there is some prior experience with a country] would propose doing with this amount of money. Why? Give the groups a few minutes to discuss and then tell them to look at the facilitator.

  6. Ask a few individuals to tell the whole group what they saida child from the other country would do with his or her money. Have children sit down. Debrief by discussing how children around the world may have different ideas about how to spend money. Tell the students that people have different needs and wants. Some people already have what they need, so they can spend time and money on fun and games. Other people do not have what they need, and $20 could buy neededfood, clothing, andbooks.Ask them to share their feelings about these differences. This may lead to a discussion about empathy and sensitivity for others.

  7. Ask childrento describe why it is important to show respect for others, especially when they have different opportunitiesor make different choices. Ask them to describe how they showed respect for others in their group when they described different things to do with their $20.

  8. Ask the children if other countries use dollars and cents. Have them name other currencies they are aware of, if possible. Then (to raise awareness of differences) name some currencies from the following list (or website) and locate the countries/continents on a map:

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Explain the difference between wants and needs.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.2 Discuss the importance of respect for others.