An Introduction to Coins


Early elementary students will examine the features and values of pennies, nickels, and dimes. This lesson is part of the Unit Plan “Common Cents.”

Coin Type(s)

  • Cent
  • Nickel
  • Dime

Coin Program(s)

  • Circulating Coins


  • Students will examine different coins and identify their characteristics and value.
  • Students will place coins in order according to value.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Math

Minor/supporting Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts
  • Science


  • K
  • 1st
  • 2nd

Class Time

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


  • Whole group
  • Individual work

Terms and Concepts

  • Coins
  • Dime
  • Money
  • Nickel
  • Penny
  • Value


  • For each student: 1 mint or cough drop tin
  • 10 pennies, 5 nickels, and 5 dimes (real) for each tin
  • Large paper coins (for whole class instruction)

Lesson Steps

  1. Start this lesson by placing a handful of coins in a spot where all the children can see them. Ask your students what they see. Continue the discussion by asking what we use coins for, whether they ever use coins, and when they have used coins.
  2. Explain that over the next few days they will be looking closely at coins to learn how to use them correctly.
  3. Give each student a box of coins with the stipulation that the boxes stay closed until all directions are given. Also inform them that all the coins and boxes MUST remain in their work area (floor or desk) at all times. When they use the coins, they should take out only the number of coins they will need to do the problem.
  4. Distribute the boxes of coins, each with 10 pennies, 5 nickels, and 5 dimes.
  5. Show the students a penny.  Have them each take a penny out of the box and look at it.
  6. Ask several questions and chart their responses on a web graphic organizer.
    • What is this coin is called?
    • Just by looking at the coin, what can you tell me about it?
    • Whose face is on the coin?
    • What do you know about this person? (Build on this a little.)
    • For Lincoln Memorial cents:  Have you ever seen the building on the back of this coin (reverse)?  What is this building called?
    • For shield cents:  Do you know what that object is? What is a shield used for?
    • Does this coin have writing on it? What does it say?
    • What does “Liberty” mean? Why might this coin say “Liberty” on it?
  7. Direct their attention to where the coin says “One Cent” and explain that every coin has a value. Write "value" on the board and see if the students know what the word means.
  8. Have your students put the penny back in the box and take out a nickel to examine.
  9. Ask similar questions as asked in step 6, and chart the responses on a new web. See if your students can find the value of the nickel. If a penny is worth 1 cent, and a nickel is worth 5 cents, how many pennies equal a nickel?
  10. Have your students put the nickel back in the box and take out a dime to examine.
  11. Ask similar questions as asked in step 6, and chart the responses on a new web. Mention that there is a memorial to FDR in Washington, DC, but it is not on the reverse. What is on the coin’s reverse instead? See if your students can find the value of the dime. If a penny is worth one cent, and a dime is worth 10 cents, how many pennies equal a dime?
  12. Review the values of each coin and ask which coin has the greatest value? Which has the least value? Which is the largest coin? Which is the smallest coin? Does it matter which coin is biggest in size? Why or why not?
  13. Have the students lay out all their dimes in a row and count them. How many do they have?
  14. Now, have the students take out the rest of their coins and continue the row by placing the coins in order of the ones with the greatest value to the ones with the least value. What comes after dimes? How many nickels do they have? What comes after nickels? How many pennies do they have?
  15. As a class, count the value of all the pennies (1,2,3…10 cents). Do the same thing with nickels (5,10,15…25 cents) and dimes (10,20,30…50 cents).
  16. Discuss the fact that even though there are more pennies than dimes in the box, the dimes are worth much more than the pennies. And even though there are the same number of nickels and dimes, the dimes are worth more money than the nickels.

Differentiated Learning Options

To follow up this activity, give the students a homemade worksheet where they have to cut out and match the fronts and backs of the different coins. Have them paste their coin pairs onto a blank piece of paper and write the coin’s value by each pair, then check their answers with a partner.


Use the students' participation in the discussion, ability to differentiate between the coins and organize them, understanding of the meaning of "value," and learning of the value of each coin to assess whether they have met the lesson objectives.

Common Core Standards

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

National Standards

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–2

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.

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: All Communication
Cluster: Instructional programs from kindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to
Grade(s): Grades K–2

  • 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 Connections
Cluster: Instructional programs from kindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to
Grade(s): Grades K–2

  • Recognize and use connections among mathematical ideas
  • Understand how mathematical ideas interconnect and build on one another to produce a coherent whole
  • Recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics

Discipline: Science
Domain: K-4 Content Standards
Cluster: Science as Inquiry
Grade(s): Grades K–2

  • Ability necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understand scientific inquiry