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Trading Pennies and Nickels

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Students will correctly identify each coin's value and will add pennies and nickels to arrive at a designated amount. This lesson is part of the Unit Plan “Common Cents.”

Coin Type(s)

  • Cent
  • Nickel

Coin Program(s)

  • Generic


  • The students will correctly identify the coins being discussed and each coin's value.
  • The students will add pennies and nickels to arrive at a designated total.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Math


  • Kindergarten
  • First grade
  • Second grade

Class Time

Sessions: One
Session Length: 30-45 minutes
Total Length: 0-45 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Individual work

Terms and Concepts

  • Addition
  • Coin combinations
  • Coins
  • Money
  • Nickel
  • Penny
  • Value


For each student:

  • 1 mint or cough drop tin containing 10 pennies and 5 nickels (real) for each student
  • Large paper coins
  • Large paper coin holder
  • 25 envelopes with change amounts written on them
  1. Place a pile of mixed coins (pennies and nickels) where all the students can see them. Ask the students several questions to initiate conversation.
    • What is this? (a pile of coins)
    • How much money is in the pile? How can I find out how much money is in the pile?
    • Do I count the number of coins, or is there something else I need to know about the coins to find out how much money I have? (You need to know the value of each coin and add the values together.)
  2. Review the two coins you will be working with (penny and nickel). How much are they each worth? Which is worth more?
  3. Review the rules of using coin boxes given in the lesson "An Introduction to Coins" with your students.
  4. Give each student a coin box. Have them add the values of their coins.
    • How much money do I have if I have one penny and find three more?
    • How much money do I have if I have a nickel and three pennies?
    Continue with a few more similar questions.
  5. Divide the class into pairs. Distribute an envelope to each student.
  6. Have the students use their coins to put the specific amount of money written on the front of their envelopes into the envelopes.
  7. Have the students trade envelopes with their partner, then check their partner's coins to make sure that the amount is correct.
  8. Have each student put coins in their partner's envelop that add up to the amount written on it, but using a different coin combination than their partner used.
  9. Have the partners trade envelopes again and check the partner's work.
  10. Have the students empty the envelopes, then trade envelopes with someone besides their partner so each student has a new, empty envelope. Have them repeat steps 6 through 9 with the new envelopes.
  11. Have all the students return their coins to their boxes.  Collect the boxes.
  12. Invite students to come to the front of the room to illustrate two ways of producing the same value using only the large paper pennies and nickels.
  13. Discuss the exercise with the class. Ask how it felt to figure out the amounts, whether it was easy or hard, and what coins they tended to exchange when they had to think of another way to express the same amount.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Allow students extra time.
  • Allow the use of charts.


Evaluate whether the students met the lesson objectives by observing the students' ability to work in pairs, follow directions, and develop different combinations of coins for the same amount.  Also note how hard or easy the task was and whether they recognized that 5 pennies are worth 1 nickel.

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

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: All Communication
Cluster: Instructional programs from kindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking through communication 
  • communicate their mathematical thinking coherently and clearly to peers, teachers, and others;
  • analyze and evaluate the mathematical thinking and strategies of others; and
  • use the language of mathematics to express mathematical ideas precisely.   

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: All Problem Solving
Cluster: Instructional programs from kindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving
  • Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts
  • Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems
  • Monitor and reflect on the process of mathematical problem solving

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: K-2 Number and Operations
Cluster: Compute fluently and make reasonable estimates.
Grade(s): Grades K–12

In K through grade 2 all students should

  • develop and use strategies for whole-number computations, with a focus on addition and subtraction;
  • develop fluency with basic number combinations for addition and subtraction; and
  • use a variety of methods and tools to compute, including objects, mental computation, estimation, paper and pencil, and calculators.

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: K-2 Number and Operations
Cluster: Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another.
Grade(s): Grades K–12

In K through grade 2 all students should

  • understand various meanings of addition and subtraction of whole numbers and the relationship between the two operations;
  • understand the effects of adding and subtracting whole numbers; and
  • understand situations that entail multiplication and division, such as equal groupings of objects and sharing equally.

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: K-2 Number and Operations
Cluster: Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems.
Grade(s): Grades K–12

In K through grade 2 all students should

  • count with understanding and recognize "how many" in sets of objects;
  • use multiple models to develop initial understandings of place value and the base-ten number system;
  • develop understanding of the relative position and magnitude of whole numbers and of ordinal and cardinal numbers and their connections;
  • develop a sense of whole numbers and represent and use them in flexible ways, including relating, composing, and decomposing numbers;
  • connect number words and numerals to the quantities they represent, using various physical models and representations; and
  • understand and represent commonly used fractions, such as 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2.