A World of Money


Students will identify, recognize, and appreciate continuing global traditions related to the creation of national currencies. They will evaluate and analyze the role currency plays in shaping a national or regional identity. They will discuss and predict how regional, cultural,and national identity influences the designers of world currency.

Coin Type(s)

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

Coin Program(s)

  • 50 State Quarters


  • Students will identify, recognize, and appreciate continuing global traditions related to the creation of national currencies.
  • They will evaluate and analyze the role currency plays in shaping a national or regional identity.
  • They will discuss and predict how regional, cultural,and national identity influences the designers of world currency.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies


  • 9th
  • 10th
  • 11th
  • 12th

Class Time

  • Sessions: Four
  • Session Length: 45-60 minutes
  • Total Length: 151-500 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Individual work

Terms and Concepts

  • 50 State Quarters Program
  • Medium of exchange
  • Legal tender
  • Commemorative
  • Motto
  • Emblem
  • Symbolism
  • Nationalism
  • Patriotism
  • Circulating coin
  • Obverse (front)
  • Reverse (back)
  • Bust
  • Designer


  • Chalkboard or whiteboard
  • Chalk or markers
  • Chart paper
  • Packets of U.S. coins including: 1 Lincoln cent, 1 nickel, 1 dime, 1 bicentennial quarter, 1 other quarter, and 1 Kennedy half-dollar or 1 Susan B. Anthony or golden dollar (1 per group)
  • Packets of quarters including your state's quarter, if available, and 2 other new quarters (1 per group)
  • Copies of the "QuarterInformation" sheets on pages 46 to 57 (1 packet per group)
  • Packets of a variety of foreign currencies or photocopies of the images of these currencies(1 per group)
  • Copies of the "Research Homework" page (1 per student)
  • Classroom text (1 per student)
  • Lined paper (1 piece per student)
  • Copies of the "Quarter Information" packet on page __ (1 packet per group)
  • Packets of a variety of foreign currencies or photocopies of the images of these currencies (1 per group)
  • Copies of two "Euro in Western Europe" case studies, developed using the "Sample Template" (1/2 class set)
  • Copies of two "Former Soviet States and Their Currencies" case studies developed using the "Sample Template" (1/2 class set)
  • Unlined paper (several sheets for each group)
  • Black magic marker (1 per group)
  • Copies of the "Quarter Information" sheets on pages 46 to 57 (1 packet per group)
  • Copies of the "North American Intra-Continental Currency" scenario (1 per group)
  • Copies of the "Currency Design Checklist" (1 per group)
  • A reserved computer lab with Internet access
  • Research material on Mexican currency, such as those available at:
  • Research material on Canadian currency such as those available at:
  • Access to United States Mint information found at www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/
  • Copies of the "Quarter Information" sheets on pages 46 to 57 (1 packet per group)


  • Copy necessary materials.
  • Bookmark related Web sites.


Worksheets and files (PDF)

Lesson Steps

Session 1

  1. Post the following terms and concepts on the chalkboard; medium of exchange, legal tender, commemorative, motto, and emblem. Direct students to describe these terms in their own words, giving an example of each. Review student responses and attend to any student questions.
  2. Introduce the lesson with a discussion on the symbolic value of currency in the United States. Make it clear to students that symbolic value is not the same concept as face value or spending power. Encourage students to discuss whether a dollar bill is more, less, or similarly symbolic of America than the United States flag. Have students consider what makes a United States one-cent coin (penny) more "valuable" to someone from the United States than a similar-looking Canadian one-cent coin. Challenge students to generate a list of features on our currency that identify it immediately as American.
  3. Write the title "Symbols" at the top of a piece of chart paper. Create a 3-column chart and label each column "Circulating Coins," "Circulating Quarters," and "Foreign Currency," respectively.
  4. Compile and display a list of the specific symbols that students suggest best represent America. (Encourage students to think of symbolic objects such as "eagle" or "Statue of Liberty" as opposed to symbolic concepts such as "freedom" or "patriotism.") Writethese responses in the column labeled "Circulating Coins."
  5. Divide the class into groups of 4 and distribute one packet of U.S. coins to each group.
  6. Direct groups to inspect the coins and list the specific characteristics they find that could be "symbolic" of America. Direct students to write as a group a brief explanation of the national or cultural significance of each of these symbols. Challenge students to consider if there is any symbol of cultural significance unique to America.
  7. Distribute one packet of new quarters to each group. Allow students an appropriate amount of time to compare the new quarters to the other American coins. Give each group 5 minutes to generate 3 distinct American symbols found only on the quarters.
  8. In the "Circulating Quarters" column of the chart, record the groups' findings. Ask your students to observe the findings and determine whether there is a common theme that runs through the responses. Discuss why a government would choose to change the look of its official currency and why the United States minted the new quarters.
  9. Have students list and explain what the students like and do not like about the new U.S. quarter designs, writing their thoughts on their own paper. Encourage students to share their responses, and compile a " pros and cons" list on a new piece of chart paper to keep track of student input. Ask students to discuss what one can tell about a particular state just from looking at that state's quarter design.
  10. Distribute one packet of foreign coins and/or bills (or images of these currencies) to each group. Direct groups to inspect and analyze the foreign currency.
  11. Have each group generate a list of symbols they find on the foreign currency and predict what cultural or national significance the symbols may represent. Write student responses in the "Foreign Currency" column on the 3-column chart.
  12. Ask students to consider what is similar or different from the symbols represented on American currency. Have students observe whether or not there is a common theme found on much of the currency (both foreign and American) and what that theme might be.
  13. Ask students to also examine what that common theme might suggest about governments in general.
  14. Distribute one "Research Homework" page. Introduce the students' homework assignment by explaining that they will be exploring the history of one nation among those represented on the examples of foreign coins in class today.
  15. Assign a different foreign country to each group (representing each country of the foreign currency) as a topic for their research. Allow students to use the remainder of class time to begin the assignment.
  16. Save all chart paper for use during the next session.

Session 2

  1. Review the concept of symbolism and the role it plays in shaping a national identity. Discuss values that many nations seem to share with each other and whether those values are universal to all nations. Review how symbols and mottos are used on currency to represent a nation's values.
  2. Divide students into their groups from session 1 and distribute to each group one packet of United States coins, one packet of new quarter samples, world currency samples or images, and lined paper. Direct the students to also retrieve their "Quarter Information" packet from the previous session. Each student should have the completed research assignment from the previous session.
  3. Post the chart papers from session 1 while students are gathering materials.
  4. Use the packet of quarter designs to spark a discussion on the reasons that currency tends to feature certain symbols and not others. Review the "likes" and "dislikes" chart from session 1.
  5. Have students examine which symbols represented on the new quarters are meaningful to all Americans and which symbols would be more meaningful to Americans from a particular region. Ask students if regional identity is more important to Americans than a national identity, or if they can think of a time in our nation's past when regional identity has been more important than national identity.
  6. Have students summarize if that issue was resolved and how. Challenge students to examine how the use of symbols encourages patriotism and what evidence they can use to support their response.
  7. Write "E Pluribus Unum" on the chalkboard. If necessary, define the Latin saying ("From Many, One") for the students. Under the motto, draw a T- chart for listing the positive (+) and negative (-) aspects of having each represented on our own national currency.
  8. Direct the students to generate responses in their notes for each chart. Share student responses and record them on the chart.
  9. Lead a class discussion by asking students why we should have a Latin saying on our currency and what the tradition of using Latin might say about American values. Ask students to consider if this value is still relevant today. Have students argue whether or not we should simply use the translation, since few Americans understand Latin.
  10. Encourage students to spend a few minutes sharing as a class their research from the night before. Have students list on their own papers any common themes related only to the symbols represented on world currencies. Discuss which types of symbols are most frequently used and what might explain the popularity of certain symbols. Consider whether the symbols are consistent among nations throughout a geographic region and what languages, cultures, or traditions the nations might share.
  11. Distribute the case studies to the groups; half of the groups should receive two "Euro in Western Europe" case studies. The other half of the groups should receive two "Former Soviet States and Their Currencies" case studies. Explain that the students will be considering the unique circumstances of their assigned regions.
  12. Give groups 5 to 10 minutes to analyze the case studies and write down specific problems they find with the currency system illustrated in their case study.
  13. Reconvene and allow students to share their findings. Explain to students that the former republics of the Soviet Union moved from a common currency (the ruble) to independent national currencies while Western European nations were giving up independent currencies in favor of a common currency (the euro).
  14. Have each group spend 3 to 5 minutes preparing an outline to explain the benefits and drawbacks of having a common currency. Instruct students to identify the major issues individual countries in Western Europe face when making the switch to a common currency and any issues of national pride and identity that must be acknowledged. Have students analyze the role that nationalism plays in the creation of an independent currency in a multiethnic nation and how a nation would decide which symbols would be meaningfulto everyone who would have to use the currency.
  15. Ask the students to decide whether the average American identifies more with Europe's concept of a common currency or with the former Soviet Republic's concept of an independent national currency. Encourage the students to use the new quarter samples in their response.
  16. Allow groups to use the remainder of the class time to brainstorm possible responses to the following question: Do the benefits of a common currency outweigh the drawbacks of independent, regional currencies? Students should prepare both affirmative and negative responses for a mini-debate to take place during the next session.

Session 3

  1. Have students review their arguments from session 2. Write the mini-debate question on the board. "Do the benefits of a common currency outweigh the drawbacks of independent regional currencies?"
  2. Stage at least 3 student volunteers for both affirmative and negative positions in the front of the classroom. Tape one piece of chart paper to the chalkboard for each group and one piece between the two groups.
  3. Allow the affirmative group 3 minutes to present their case. They should list their main support items on their piece of chart paper.
  4. Allow the negative group 3 minutes to present their case. They should list their main support items on their piece of chart paper.
  5. Discuss with the entire class the merits of both arguments and allow students to decide for themselves which side made the better case. Leave the sheets on the chalkboard for later use by groups.
  6. Divide the class into their groups of 4 from session 1. Distribute to each group unlined paper, markers, and the 3 currency packets (U.S. coins, quarters, and foreign currency).
  7. Direct the students to retrieve their "Quarter Information" packets from session 1.  While the students are gathering materials, post the chart paper from sessions 1 and 2 about common currency symbols.
  8. Distribute to each group one "North American Intra-Continental Currency" scenario sheet. Introduce the activity by explaining to students that the scenario will require them to create a common currency between The United States, Canada, and Mexico. Explain that the students must review and incorporate each of the lesson terms from session 1 into their currency design proposal. Inform the students that each group membershould represent the interests of only one country. The fourth student in each group should act as a mediator.
  9. Visit the computer lab with your students. Allow students 3 to 5 minutes to brainstorm a list of major historical events, figures, or symbols that would have significance to one or more of the three nations and would therefore become potential ideas to incorporate into a new currency design scheme. Allow them to use their classroom text, the Internet, or their own research in brainstorming these topics.
  10. Distribute one "Currency Design Checklist" to each group. Review the checklist with the students, outlining the elements each group must produce.
  11. Allow the students time to research and prepare drafts of their proposed currency designs. Encourage groups to keep their ideas to themselves to prevent duplication among groups.
  12. Inform each group that their final design proposal should be ready for presentation during the next session. Remind the students that each member of the group should assume responsibility for some part of the assignment.

Session 4

  1. Review the scenario from the previous session. Remind students that their group is pretending to be an international committee formed to design and produce a common currency for the North American countries of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
  2. Ask students to share any major issues they had to resolve before actually drafting a coin or bill. Discuss with students what strategies they used to overcome these obstacles.
  3. Have students meet in their groups and direct them to prepare for the group presentations.
  4. Divide the class in half (leaving all groups intact). Direct each group to present its currency design proposals to its half of the class. Allow the students just 15 minutes to complete all presentations.
  5. Have the students nominate the three best coins and two best bills from all the presentations they heard. The students must include any necessary support or reasoning for the nominated currency.
  6. Assign (or have each group select) one spokesperson from each half of the class to present one currency design proposal to the entire class. Allow each spokesperson just 4 minutes for the presentation.
  7. Allow students 3 minutes for open discussion on the merits or problems of both proposals.
  8. Have students focus on specific issues. Have students determine if all of the coins and bills are representative of all three nations and/or if all groups, genders, or races are equally represented. Have students analyze the symbols or mottos to determine if they are culturally or regionally biased in any way.
  9. Assess the 10 separate "currency samples" and choose (randomly or not) 3 coins and 2 bills for "minting" and/or "printing." Allow students time to inspect your choices and comment on the final selection process. Discuss with your students whether a small committee should be charged with the task of designing an international currency without input from the citizens. Ask students what currency designers must consider in regard to regional, cultural, and national identity. Have students generate ways that designers can reach out to all groups without alienating any one group.
  10. Direct students to look at their own designs. Ask them to critique their own creations for regional, national, or cultural bias. Challenge any student who feels that their design would better represent a common currency than the one selected to defend their rationale.
  11. Return students to their groups of 4 and distribute one United States currency packet and one packet of U.S. quarters to each group. Direct the students to retrieve their "Quarter Information" packets from session 1. Have each group review the displayed chart papers from session 1. Having thought about giving up our national currency for one that incorporates two very different countries, ask students how their feelings toward the new quarters have changed. Looking at the chart of likes and dislikes, have students discuss whether this chart is still an accurate representation of their opinions. Discuss with your students whether our national currency includes enough symbols that are meaningful to all Americans.
  12. Assign the students a short essay on their evaluation of the 50 State Quarters Program and similar programs in the future. Suggest the title "Changes to make in the next 'quarter century.'"


  • Have students prepare an argument supporting a major change to our national currency. The argument should include the specific changes the student would make and concrete support that could justify the change.
  • Have students research specific examples of commemorative coins to show regional or national symbolism.
  • Introduce students to older American coins. Invite them to explore the "Coin of the Month" section of the United States Mint H.I.P. Pocket Change™ Web site at www.usmint.gov/kids/index.cfm?fileContents=/kids/coinnews/cotm/cotmppp.cfm, or provide them old coin auction catalogs, with the goal of determining which symbols have been used since the beginning of our nation and how they've been represented in different ways.
  • Allow artistically gifted students the opportunity to re-design the final currency proposal into finished products for display.
  • Ask students to develop a public relations campaign to raise support for the new international currency.
  • Allow students to create a commercial as part of the advertising campaign for the new currency.
  • Invite your students to explore the Citizen Coin Advisory Committee run by the United States Mint. How does one become a member of this committee? For what is this committee responsible?


Use the worksheets and class participation to assess whether the students have met the lesson objectives.

Common Core Standards

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

National Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any National Standards.