Think-pair-share: Functions of money

Julie K Smith, Lafayette College
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


In a think-pair-share activity, students first work independently determining how a list of items fulfill all or some of the functions of money in the US economy. Students are then paired to share and revise their answers before being randomly chosen to report their answers to the larger group.

  • This exercise is designed for a principles of macroeconomics course; however, it could also be used in intermediate macroeconomics and money and banking courses.

Learning Goals

Define the three functions of money (Proficiency: accessing existing knowledge)

Identify whether an item fulfills those functions (Proficiency: display command of existing knowledge)

Evaluate how well each item might function as money in an economy (Proficiency: displaying command of existing knowledge)

Context for Use

Knowledge required: This exercise is intended to be administered after introducing the concept of money in a principles of macroeconomics course by the instructor.

Class size: This exercise was originally designed for a class of 25 to 30 but could be adapted for larger and smaller classes.

Timing: It is designed to take approximately 15 minutes.

Description and Teaching Materials

Instructors need to generate a list of items for their students to analyze and display the list of items on the board, overhead or course management system.

An example list of items is:
  1. US dollar
  2. Mexican peso
  3. Chuck-e-Cheese token
  4. Cigarettes
  5. Gold
  6. Prepaid card
  7. Antique vase
  8. US government bond
Answer Key to Think-pair-share: Functions of money (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB May14 12)

Additional items can be added or switched based on your students' experiences. For example, when I use this activity at Lafayette College, I use specific Easton, PA and Lafayette examples such as Crayola Factory tokens, Pard-Card (student value-added card) and Lafayette's sword. The key is that the examples are varied enough so that some do and some do not fulfill all the functions of money. Giving examples that are context specific (Chuck-e-Cheese token) and location specific (Mexican peso) helps students understand that the idea of what is money is complicated and dependent on context and location. Finally, making sure the examples are nuanced to understand the unit of account function is critical.

Attached is the handout for students, if instructors prefer giving students a written assignment: TPS money handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB May31 12).

Teaching Notes and Tips

Class size poses no constraints on utilizing this exercise as it only requires that instructors facilitate the pairing of students after the initial independent work is completed.

The 15-minute exercise is comprised of the following think-pair-share time components: 3-5 minutes for students to work independently to answer the problem, 3-5 minutes to share and revise answers, and 5 minutes for reporting back to the larger class.
  • Announce to students that they will have 3 to 5 minutes to define the three functions of money, decide which functions of money each item fulfills and how well each one fulfills each function.
  • When time is called, students will take turns presenting the answer to each part of the problem and seeking feedback from their partner. The student in the pair that has the first letter of their first name closer to A in the alphabet will present the answers for numbers 1 to 4, seeking feedback from her partner. The partner will then present the answers for numbers 5 to 8, again seeking feedback.
During the think stage of the exercise students are asked to provide a carefully constructed answer. Requiring students to independently formulate a draft answer in this stage ensures individual accountability.

Student pairs are the mechanism by which positive interdependence is facilitated. In this exercise, since two students are working together towards a single answer, it supports positive interdependence through output goal interdependence.

During the sharing stage of the exercise students methodically take turns presenting their answers to different parts of the exercise (see logistics) as their partner reflects and asks questions of clarification through face-to-face (promotive) interaction. This also supports positive interdependence by explicitly generating role interdependence.
During the thinking and pairing stages of the exercise, it is imperative that the instructor move throughout the classroom checking in on students, monitoring progress, and intervening when necessary. Although instructors may be tempted to directly answer student questions during this period of time, student learning is enhanced to a greater degree if the instructor guides struggling students by posing reflective questions back to them.

Most students understand two of the functions of money (medium of exchange and store of value) but are less clear about the unit of account function. The key to making this activity successful is to pose reflective questions to students about the unit of account function. In my experience, students confuse that even if an item can be exchanged for or valued in dollars that does not mean if fulfills the unit of account function.
Conclusion to exercise:<a>
<a>Reporting back to the larger group can be facilitated by tossing a soft ball to a random pair and asking them to share part of their answer. Thereafter, students toss the ball to another group to share remaining parts of the exercise.</a>
Alerting students in advance that some pairs will be randomly called upon to explain their answers to the class at the close of the exercise helps to motivate students to work diligently on the task during class and - because the reporting out process occurs in this manner (via a somewhat random draw of students) - students are more engaged in the reporting out process.

Further considerations:
The main exercise is applicable to all institution types and levels.


This think-pair-share exercise is assessed using summative assessment by providing students with a problem set question that asks them to report whether an item fulfills the three functions of money and how well that item function as money in the United States.

References and Resources