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Should I Save or Should I Spend? Getting Elementary Students to Think and Talk About Financial Literacy

by Jennifer L. Altieri
 | Apr 09, 2013
p: Tax Credits via photopin cc

I am really starting to think the math folks know how to celebrate their content area. Many of us were just recovering from celebrating Pi Day (3/14) when April, Financial Literacy Month, arrived. Of course, as literacy professionals, we don’t have to miss out on any of these celebrations. Financial Literacy Month provides another opportunity for us to focus on making powerful connections with literacy and the content areas.

I probably don’t need to explain why it is important that we start discussing financial literacy with our youngest of students. So many adults are struggling with debt, and it is getting worse. There are so many temptations out there. There are credit card offers, refinancing options. With the click of a computer, anyone can enter a virtual shopping mall and buy almost anything from almost anywhere. Most of the time, we don’t even have to click on a website, because the advertisements target our interests.

With the technology available, people are going to have to work harder and harder to manage their finances—and it’s never too early to get them thinking about what it means be to be financially literate. Here are some activities that can engage elementary students and introduce the topic.

Students might begin by talking about the difference between needs and wants. For many children, there is a very fine line between the two. Ask students to divide a sheet of paper in two. On the left side, needs can be listed; wants can go on the right.

Then students can take their lists and create a word shape at http://www.tagxedo.com/. At the website, students can type in their needs and select a shape from numerous ones available for the final word shape. Another option is to have the words put into the shape of the word NEEDS. The same activity can be done for their wants. Students can share their creations in groups and discuss the terms they put in the shapes.

Next, select a text to read aloud and discuss with students in order to communicate the importance of money and using it wisely. JENNY FOUND A PENNY (Harris, 2008) is a narrative text I have used with children as young as kindergarten age. Throughout the book, Jenny is trying to save money to make a purchase. As the young girl saves money, the reader can see the coins (both the front and the back) and continue to add Jenny’s savings. Students will enjoy the rhythmic writing and the rhyme found on the pages of this text.

Of course, with the current emphasis on informative text, you may want to read aloud WHAT DO WE BUY? A LOOK AT GOODS AND SERVICES (Nelson, 2010) and WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH MONEY? EARNING, SPENDING, AND SAVING (Larson, 2010). The ELA Common Core State Standards (ELA CCSS) recommend using at least 50% informational texts with children. Introducing these informational texts is a great way to reinforce key linguistic features found in the texts, increase prior knowledge about saving and spending, and build students’ vocabulary of technical terms related to financial literacy. Words such as producer, consumer, income, saving, spending, earning, and donate are all introduced through the pages of the texts.

We can also take the opportunity to create student interest in figurative language. Beginning in first grade (L.1.5), the ELA CCSS expect children to examine figurative language. The following are just a few phrases which relate to the topic of financial literacy:

Bet your bottom dollar  In the red  Nest egg 
Not worth a cent  Pay an arm and a leg  Break even 
Save for a rainy day  Pinch pennies  Keep your head above water 
Money burns a hole in your pocket    Money doesn't grow on trees 

Let small groups of students research the meanings to some of the phrases (or, with younger children, research as a class). Talk about the literal and figurative meaning for each phrase. If something burns a hole in your pocket, what happens? The object falls right through. How does that relate to the figurative meaning of the expression? What would it be like if money grew on trees? (Would there be plenty of money?) Children can also create illustrations which represent the figurative meaning and write the literal definition.

There are a couple of different ways we might choose to end the month. After the students have learned about financial literacy and saving and spending, they might create a second word shape at http://www.tagxedo.com/ to see if their thinking on needs and wants has changed. Hopefully, some of their needs may now be viewed as wants. Another possibility is having students create a class “_____ Is” poem on financial literacy, where each line defines the topic. The poem might look something like this:

Financial Literacy is…
knowing when to spend and when to save
learning that producers sell and consumers buy
important to paying bills
being able to have money left for the future
important to even adults

The goal of the culminating project is to have children reflect on the topic and what they learned.

Let’s take advantage of Financial Literacy Month to make important connections. We can create math and literacy connections so that our students are not only strengthening their literacy skills, but also building their content knowledge. These activities also enable us to connect our activities with the ELA Common Core State Standards. Finally, financial literacy month can help children connect what they learn in the classroom with their lives outside of school.

We can take this opportunity as teachers to seek powerful connections between literacy and the content areas and to create student interest in financial literacy. Students will (hopefully) realize the importance of saving money and that saving money is a lifelong skill.

Personally, I cannot think of a more valuable skill that they will need for the rest of their lives.

Jennifer L. Altieri, Ph.D. is the Literacy Division Coordinator in the School of Education at The Citadel in Charleston, SC, and the author of CONTENT COUNTS! DEVELOPING DISCIPLINARY LITERACY SKILLS, K-6. Jennifer will be speaking more about putting the L in stem as part of the Carolina curriculum leadership series at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in April. Her presentations will focus on helping teachers link literacy with science and math. Contact Jennifer at jenniferaltieri@bellsouth.net.

© 2013 Jennifer L. Altieri. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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