Teaching Economics:Student-based Instruction

This page is authored by Andrea L. Ziegert, Denison University.
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


College students in an intermediate micro-economic theory class teach economic concepts to elementary students. Elementary students create a fictional town where they assume the role of town shopkeepers, public servants, and not-for-profit managers. The college students become economic consultants to their younger student in their particular endeavors.

Learning Goals

1. By teaching the material, economics students will solidify their own understanding of basic economic concepts

2. By working with younger students, economic students will think more deeply about the intuitive and common sense nature of economics

3. By working with younger students, economics students will have additional opportunities to apply economic concepts in practical 'real-world' settings.

Context for Use

This type of student based instruction is appropriate for either advanced introductory or intermediate level theory students. If college students are to mentor younger students, optimal class size should match the number of elementary students in a range of (economics students to elementary students) of 1:1 or 1:2. If a mentoring is not part of the student-based instruction, teams of college students can work together to teach an elementary school class.

Description and Teaching Materials

First, college economics students decide which economic concepts best fit the learning goals of the elementary class

Second, college economics students review existing grade appropriate elementary economic curriculum (see resources below) or develop their own materials to teach the economic concepts.

Teams of economics students teach the necessary economic concepts to the entire class

Third, individual economics students develop the necessary materials to help their elementary student understand the economic issues they face in their job in the their created town. For example, mentors might help shopkeepers with the pricing of their products, firefighters or librarians with tax issues to fund their activities, etc.

Finally, economics students reflect on their teaching experience to better understand the use and applicability of economic concepts and theories.

Teaching Notes and Tips

In preparing for the activity, it is helpful to have a discussion about the learning styles and educational issues of younger students. A visit from an elementary school teacher or a child development specialist from your college campus before the service activity can help college students understand the best ways to help younger students learn.

There are a number of logistics in developing this service-learning experience:

The schedule of potential meeting times must take into consideration the scheduling constraints of the local elementary school; generally the best times for younger students will not coincide with college class periods. Arranging the schedule in advance at the beginning of the semester can facilitate making the necessary accommodations.

Spring terms can be especially challenging from a scheduling perspective due to potential weather related school closings, and potential differences in spring break for college and elementary students.

If a mentoring relationship is established, college students need to follow through with their commitment to their younger student; a failure to do so can be very disappointing to a younger student.

Transportation between the college and elementary school need to be worked out in advance.


College economics students are graded on the quality of their teaching materials both for the overall economic concepts and for the materials for their individual student. They should be graded on accuracy of content, age-appropriateness and creativity of materials.

College students can be graded on 'pre-presentation of their materials before the service activity itself.

College students reflective essays are graded on their insights on the use and applicability of economic concepts.

References and Resources


The Council for Economic Education offers comprehensive K-12 economics and personal finance education programs, consisting of teaching resources and nationally-normed assessment instruments.


A sub-link of the Council of Economic Education, econedlink is a source of internet-based economic lesson materials for K-12 teachers and their students.


This site has numerous links of interest to K-12 teachers, including curriculum materials, web teaching ideas, standards, discussion lists, and more.