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TFAS Offers Online Economics Lessons and Resources for High School Students


As the spread of COVID-19 causes high schools across the country to close their doors, TFAS is providing resources to help our teachers and parents continue the important task of educating our nation’s future leaders.

View our Economics Lessons of the Week

Many online lessons contain video demonstrations to help you teach concepts. This one is from the activity, “The Bread Market.”

Through our high school programming division – the Foundation for Teaching Economics (FTE) – TFAS offers a plethora of online lesson plans, readings, handouts, video demonstrations and hands-on activity guides to teach the “economic way of thinking” in engaging and relatable ways.

These resources include:

Economic Reasoning Propositions: The Foundation for Teaching Economics’ Economic Reasoning Propositions (ERPs) are a guide to the “economic way of thinking.” They empower students to view the world through an economic lens and provide a tool kit to solve economic mysteries, understand social phenomenon and make sense of current events.

TFAS High School economic lessons demonstrate how economics is part of our every day lives.

Lesson Plan Database: This searchable database enables teachers and parents to find lessons and educational activities by topic, Economic Reasoning Propositions (ERPs) and by content standards. All lessons are correlated to the National Voluntary Content Standards in economics, the Common Core, and when possible, to the individual state standards. Our searchable interface facilitates alignment of lesson content and activities for standards- and mastery-based instruction.

Economic Barometer: This series of benchmarks provides an overview of the U.S. federal government’s latest quarterly economic data. Each one is accompanied by its definition and explanation of its composition and use. These benchmarks, especially in combination, are intended to help teachers and students and others readily locate and observe the fundamentals of the evolving national economy.

In the coming days and weeks, we will highlight and promote these lessons with teachers and parents within our network. Please, if you know of a teacher or parent who is educating high school students, share these resources with them as well.

Thank you for helping us continue our important mission through these trying times. We look forward to rising to the occasion and finding new and innovative ways to teach economic reasoning to our rising generations.

Apply for High School Economics Programs

Applications are now open for a number of Summer 2020 FTE programs for high school teachers and students. Please see below for more information and to begin your application today.

We are continuing to closely monitor the spread of COVID-19. The safety of our students, faculty and staff are our first priority. Some FTE programs have been moved to online only. Learn more.

High School Economics Lesson of the Week


As the spread of COVID-19 causes high schools across the country to close their doors, TFAS is providing resources to help our teachers and parents continue the important task of educating our nation’s future leaders. Each week, we’ll feature a different lesson from our high school programming division – the Foundation for Teaching Economics (FTE)

Economic Growth and Scarcity

In this lesson, students are introduced to the concept of economic growth through the story of human progress and changing standards of living over time. Video clips, historical examples and a mini-activity engage students in the discovery of the institutions that foster economic growth.

Opportunity Cost and Incentives

This lesson uses examples, videos and three mini-activities to teach concepts such as opportunity cost, incentives, pricing, marginal benefit and cost, rationing, supply, demand and sunk cost. Downloadable lesson guides and slides provide instructions.

Open Markets

During this lesson, students make connections to their real-world interactions in markets to better understand the role competition and prices play in guiding market outcomes. Fun video clips and a mini-activity help students discover how discover how open competitive markets can promote economic growth.

Markets in Action

This lesson has two goals. The first is to expand students’ understanding of markets by discussing government-imposed frictions that affect the market-clearing price and quantity. The second is to involve students in analyzing examples of economic reasoning using problems and activities. Through two optional mini activities and a 1 vs 100 Game Show, students practice applying the tools of supply and demand analysis real-world scenarios.

Labor Markets

The focus of this lesson is on the choices made by buyers and sellers of labor services, and the factors and constraints that affect these choices including wages, technology and demand. Downloadable lesson guides and slides provide instructions.

Incentives, Innovations, and Roles of Institutions

This lesson uses examples, video clips and a risk-reward mini activity to teach the relationship between innovation and economic growth. Downloadable lesson guides and slides provide instructions.

Property Rights: Is the Environment Different?

In this lesson, students apply the tools of economic analysis to environmental problems. Through the analysis of historical and contemporary environmental problems, students discover the value of looking at environmental issues as problems of incentives and institutions rather than blaming them on “bad people doing bad things.”

Setting the Rules: Costs and Benefits of Government Action

This lesson gives students the opportunity to apply the economic way of thinking to the political arena. After exploring differences between private and public choice they will apply public choice theory to understand why “bad economics” often makes for “good politics.”

Money and Inflation

In this lesson, students learn that anything that performs the functions of money can be money (even macaroni!). As they use their macaroni to bid on items during an auction, they learn that the value of money depends on the quantity of money relative to the quantity of goods and services they can buy with that money.

International Markets

In this lesson, students apply the model of supply and demand to international markets for goods and services and currencies. Interactive online resources, videos and discussion of contemporary trade issues connect the students to the larger (and sometimes invisible) world in which they exchange.

The Magic of Markets

This lesson involves students in a trading simulation designed to illustrate a complex marketplace in which goods and services are traded. Students use this experience to investigate the conditions that encourage or discourage trade among individuals. Downloadable guides, videos and a group activity introduce new concepts such as trade, voluntary exchange, costs, benefits and property rights.

In The Chips

This week's lesson is "In The Chips," an activity that simulates a market for computer chips. Students, acting as buyers and sellers, will experience the competitive nature of markets. As a result, they will see how competition influences the price of goods and the decisions of buyers and sellers. Students will be introduced to concepts including supply, demand, equilibrium price (or market clearing price) and competition.

The Job Jungle

This activity allows students to experience a labor market firsthand and ultimately discover how wages are determined. A video, handouts and teacher guide explain the set up and goals for the activity. Students will explore labor supply and demand, why profit-maximizing employers will not offer more than the value of a worker’s marginal product, and the opportunity cost a worker faces when considering whether to accept a wage offer.

Cartels and Competition

This week's lesson is "Cartels and Competition." Through this activity, students experience the interdependent decision-making characteristic of oligopolies, and see firsthand the impact that incentives and competition have on the market. A downloadable guide, instructional video and handouts help instructors facilitate the activity.

The Wheat Activity

In this simulation, students act as workers producing wheat. The students will use their available capital (pencils) to produce wheat by writing the word “w-h-e-a-t” as many times on the piece of paper (land) as possible in a given time period. Each round more students are added to each team which will slow down production and show how even as total product increases the marginal productivity of workers does not increase at that same rate. Students will use this activity and marginal decision making to understand how companies make decisions to hire based on marginal productivity.

The Fish Activity

The activity introduces the "free-rider problem" that occurs when resources are owned in common – what we refer to in economics as "the tragedy of the commons." In this simulation, students act as fisherman who harvest fish for profit and incentives. Students will explore economic concepts including, "the tragedy of the commons," property rights and market approaches to conservation and environmentalism. This lesson teaches how well established property rights increase the value of investments that pay off in the future.

Farmers & Fishers

In this group activity, which can be used for in-person or online instruction, students are given role cards and must play the game as either a farmer or fisher, with both parties looking to harvest for profit. In the scenario, we imagine farmers own the water rights where they must grow crops and where the fishers must harvest fish. The farmers’ decision on whether or not to irrigate with the water could hurt the fishers and help the farmers in a “low water year.” Students review U.S. Water Rights law and are tasked with coming up with solutions that will benefit both parties. The key takeaway from the lesson is the importance of property rights.

A Pollution Solution

In this activity, students acting as owners of companies emitting proscribed substances engage in a market for tradable pollution credits. So-called “cap-and-trade” programs have been used successfully to meet pollution standards while incorporating incentives to find least-cost solutions.

Foreign Currency and Foreign Exchange

In this simulation, students are given copies of Saudi Arabian Riyals, and must find a way to convert them into "Classroom Bucks" in order to purchase candy. Through this activity, students learn that in a foreign exchange market, importers often must obtain the currency of the exporter’s country to purchase the goods to be imported.

The Bread Market

This lesson simulates a bread market that undergoes an unpredicted shock and the emergent order that follows. Over the course of the simulation, students acting as buyers and sellers develop expectations about the price of goods in the market. Once a demand shock occurs, students must use their knowledge of past price predictions along with their own willingness to buy or sell to experience how the market adjusts to an increase in scarcity.

The U.S. Airline Industry... Fight or Flight!?

In this lesson, students will explore the concepts of international trade, trade barriers, balance of trade and public choice theory. Through a comprehensive lesson plan and related classroom activities, students will analyze the impact of Open Skies agreements on American jobs as well as the unseen costs being borne by U.S. consumers and businesses.

Property Rights and U.S. History – Jamestown Simulation

In this activity, students will simulate the experience at Jamestown before and after the arrival of Sir Thomas Dale. The students will become colonists who are expected to work to pay the price of their passage to America. The game is played over several rounds, each of which can last up to two minutes. In the early rounds of the game, students are not rewarded for working hard. Instead, three student managers are rewarded for whatever the students create. In the later rounds of the game, students are rewarded for what they create and, consequently, get involved in creating more.

Indentured Servitude – A Colonial Market for Labor

This activity will demonstrate to students, using the context of colonial markets for indentured servants, that prices emerge from the choices made by individual people. As students participate in this simulation, they will discover that the specific time period of indentured servitude is determined by an agreed upon price that emerged spontaneously from the voluntary actions of people as buyers and sellers in the market.

Transaction Costs and Currency – 1808 Road Trip

In this activity, students are given a “purse” containing one of four types of bank notes and are sent off on an imaginary 1808 journey from Richmond to Boston. As they stop in several cities along the way, students realize that businesses in some states accept only the notes issued by a local, well-known bank. Through a series of rounds, students are given the option to exchange notes with a notebroker or trade in their money for the notes of the Bank of the United States. As they experience the frustration of trying to obtain the notes needed for their purchases, students explore ways to reduce or eliminate this “transaction cost,” a commonly overlooked concept when studying markets.

The Oklahoma Land Rush – Property Rights on the American Frontier

In this 45-minute activity, students will work in family groups of four while simulating the rationing of land in American history on a “first-come, first-served” basis, as it was rationed during the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893. As student “Boomers” engage in the chaos and excitement of racing for land, they participate in a common experience they can analyze and evaluate afterwards. This helps them sort through the historical experience, highlighting the exorbitant and unrecognized costs of rationing property rights in the American West.

A Question of Trust

The purpose of “A Question of Trust” is to let students simulate the origins of the era of trusts in American economic history. Acting as “captains of industry” they, too, will try to create monopoly power within their classroom oil industry. Their experience will challenge the common belief that the era of trust formation was evidence that Adam Smith’s analysis of capitalism was flawed.

Show Me the Money! A Fractional Reserve Banking Simulation

In this activity, students will learn how to calculate the amount of money created by banks in the classroom economy, appreciate the role of banks as creators of money and understand the importance of fractional reserve banking in the process of money creation.

The Great Depression – A Family's Choices

In this simulation, students play the role of families in a small town, trying to deal with the changes in income they experience a a result of the Great Depression.

Women and Work in American History – The Opportunity Cost of Staying Home

In this activity, students assume the roles of married women in the 1930s and 1940s in the United States. As they play their roles, they learn to identify the opportunity costs involved in choosing whether to stay home or go to work. Successive rounds of the activity incorporate changing societal values and wage rates, both of which influence their choices about whether or not to enter the labor force and take jobs outside their homes.

Are Disasters Good for the Economy?

In this activity, students will analyze and reconcile data to arrive at a group consensus on the impact of disasters on an economy. Following the activity, students will consider factors that determine how much an economy can produce, what happens to an economy's resource base during a disaster, the impact of a pandemic on GDP, and more.

When Disaster Strikes, What Can Markets Do?

In this lesson, students proceed to examine the institutional tools available to societies and nations to deal with the blows that nature occasionally deals us. By looking back on historical and recent examples of disasters, students will determine what markets can – and can not – do in the event of a disaster.

When Disaster Strikes, What Can Government Do?

In this lesson, students will explore examples in history and determine how governments should respond, and how government should not respond in the event of a disaster. Through a series of case studies, students will learn that big problems like natural disasters cannot be best dealt with by big institutions.

When Disaster Strikes, What Can We Do?

In this lesson, students will learn the role private citizens play in responding to disasters. In performing an institutional analysis of disasters, students will learn that people who want to help can be most effective when they work through the institutions that form the framework of society.

The Future of Water – Crisis or Cooperation?

In this activity, students will act as Oyster Valley farmers under an appropriation system. Students will then analyze the fair and desirable outcomes of water appropriation as they consider alternative water allocation methods that could help increase the sum of total revenues to all farmers.

Yours, Mine, Ours: The Rules of Ownership

In this activity, students will analyze problems that arise over ownership and use of water. Through a series of discussion sessions, they will explore the privileges and limitations of ownership, the definition of property rights, and the transfer of goods and resources.

Bag and Baggage

In this activity, students will explore the economic concepts of opportunity cost, scarcity, rational choice, and cost-benefit analysis. As one of the many variations of the well-known “bag game,” this lesson teaches students that voluntary exchange creates wealth and that wealth-creation is enhanced by opening the market to more traders.

How Clean Is Clean?

In this lesson, students will explore the economic concepts of marginal analysis, opportunity cost, sunk cost, marginal cost and benefit, and total cost and benefit. Through various activities and lesson guides, students will gain an understanding of how economic reasoning teaches us that the economic perspective is preferable to the all-or-nothing approach to pollution clean-up that is sometimes adopted by environmental activist groups.

Using Markets to Reduce Pollution

In this activity, students will explore the scarcity of resources needed to reach a certain level of environmental quality. They will also learn the externalities that make achieving this goal difficult. Through a series of discussion sessions, students will determine that the same incentives that lead markets to produce more goods and services for lower cost can help us to achieve greater environmental benefit at lower cost.

The Environment Is An Economic Good

In this workshop, students will look at the environment as an economic good. They will look at the scarcities and limitations of the environment, exploring how people's choices about the environment are affected by incentives. Students will also look at the consequences of choices regarding environmental issues, gaining an understanding of how to anticipate the potential unintended, secondary effects.

Inflation and Unemployment

This lesson goes beyond the data and terminology of measuring inflation and unemployment to look at the impact on the economy and on individuals of changes in the levels of prices and employment.  By acknowledging the continuity of change, focusing on how change redefines winners and losers in the economy, and by pointing out that things are not always what they seem, lessons on employment and inflation can demonstrate how economics education adds value to people’s lives.


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