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The Many Faces of Coins

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Students will examine and discuss the designs on the circulating coins produced by the United States Mint. They will read to learn about the woman and child featured on the Golden Dollar. They will then compare and contrast this coin to the other circulating U.S. coins.

Coin Type(s)

  • Cent
  • Nickel
  • Dime
  • Quarter
  • Half dollar
  • Dollar

Coin Program(s)

  • Lincoln Bicentennial Cents
  • Westward Journey Nickel Series
  • America The Beautiful Quarters
  • DC and Territory Quarters
  • 50 State Quarters
  • Native American $1 Coin
  • Generic


  • Students will examine, discuss and compare the designs on the circulating coins produced by the United States Mint.
  • Students will read about the woman and child who appear on the Golden Dollar and discuss her role in U.S. history.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies

Minor/supporting Subject Area Connections

  • Language Arts
  • Math
  • Science


  • Third grade
  • Fourth grade
  • Fifth grade

Class Time

Sessions: Two
Session Length: 30-45 minutes
Total Length: 46-90 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Pairs

Terms and Concepts

  • Cent
  • Circulating
  • Coins
  • Compare
  • Contrast
  • Design
  • Dime
  • Explore
  • Golden Dollar
  • Half dollar
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Nickel
  • Penny
  • Quarter
  • Sacagawea
  • Venn Diagram


For each student:

  • 1 candy or cough drop tin
  • 1 cent (penny), 1 nickel, 1 dime, 1 half dollar, 1 Golden Dollar (real or play) for each tin

For each student pair:

  • 1 Venn diagram worksheet

For whole class instruction:

  • 1 cent (penny), 1 nickel, 1 dime, 1 half dollar, 1 Golden Dollar (real)
  • 1 overhead or enlarged image of each side of each coin
  • 1 age-appropriate children’s text relating to Sacagawea’s involvement with the Corps of Discovery, such as:
    • Sacagawea: 1788-1812 by Rosemary Wallner
    • Truth about Sacagawea by Kenne Thomasma
    • Sacagawea: The Story of Bird Woman and the Lewis and Clark Expedition by Joseph Bruchac


 As preparation for this lesson, you could use an amended version of the Math lesson “An Introduction to Coins.”

Session One

  1. In front of the students, reach into your pocket and pull out a handful of change consisting of one penny, one nickel, one dime, one quarter, one half dollar, and one dollar coin. Place these coins where all the students can see them.
  2. Ask your students what they see. Continue the discussion by asking the students to list some ways we use money, and specifically coins, in everyday life.
  3. Distribute a small container (candy or cough drop tins work well) that holds one of each coin denomination.
  4. Have the students first remove a cent from their container, while simultaneously displaying an enlarged or overhead version of the coin for all students to see. Review the name of the coin and its value as it is displayed. Also review the designs on each side of the coin, paying particular attention to the individual whose image is on the coin. As the students speak, record the information they express on a piece of chart paper.
  5. In order of increasing value, have the students remove each coin from the container as you display its images and review the same information about each coin. Discuss why the individuals on each coin are important to our country, and add this information to the chart paper. After you’ve reviewed one coin, ask students to name the coin with the next largest denomination.
  6. When you get to the quarter, discuss the idea that there are different types of quarters. See if students can name the different types of quarters that they might find in addition to the eagle reverse such as the 1975-76 becentennial quarter, the 50 State Quarters® Program quarters, the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program quarters, etc. The last coin revealed for this session should be the half dollar.
  7. Collect the coins and tins for the next session.  Tell the students that they will explore the last coin in another session.

Session Two

  1. Redistribute the tins and coins.  Have the students remove all the coins except the dollar.  Review the common characteristics of the coins listed earlier (for example, each coin depicts only one person, that person is always a man, that person is always a president).
  2. Have the students remove the Golden Dollar from their container, while you display the coin. Ask if the students know who the people are on the coin.
  3. Have the students leave their coins on their desks and move to the classroom reading area. Read aloud the selected age-appropriate text that describes Sacagawea’s participation in the Lewis and Clark Expedition (some possible texts are included in the Materials section). Explain the historical setting and that the book has something to do with the coin they were just looking at.
  4. As a class, review who the people on the coin are. Discuss their involvement with the development of the United States.
  5. Have the students return to their seats and resume their exploration of the Golden Dollar. The students should discuss their observations about this coin while these comments are added to the chart.
  6. Divide the class into pairs and distribute a Venn diagram worksheet to each pair. Explain that Venn diagrams are used to compare and contrast information between two topics, and demonstrate how this is done with this particular graphic organizer.
  7. Above one of the diagram’s ovals, students should write the words “Golden Dollar.” Each pair of students should select a different coin to compare to the Golden Dollar.
  8. Allow students to work in their pairs to complete their Venn diagram.
  9. Have pairs present their work to the class.


  • Introduce the students to the Susan B. Anthony Dollar, and compare this coin to the Golden Dollar. Discuss what these coins have in common and how they are different.
  • Have students do independent research on Sacagawea using available classroom resources.

Evaluate the students' participation in the class discussions, their ability to differentiate between the coins, and their work on the Venn diagrams.

This lesson plan is not associated with any Common Core Standards.

This lesson plan is not associated with any National Standards.