Sunday, November 1, 2015


Who doesn't love hanging out at the mall, right?

Well, except when you don't have any money... then it's not fun.  Been there.  

When I'm planning a unit, I do everything I can to avoid death-by-worksheets.  I think learning should look like living, so I try to keep the connections high and the copies low.  As our first grade team sat down to collaborate around our economics unit, we brainstormed the idea of creating a real-life student economy within our own classrooms.  My intern took control of the project in our room and I marveled each day at the fun the kids were having not only learning about goods and services, but living as producers and consumers... earning money, designing products, establishing stores, creating ads, and more!

The ultimate plan was for the unit to culminate in the grand opening of our classroom mall.  (This was a lofty goal, but SO worth it... trust me.)  So one of the first tasks was to form teams of producers.  My intern and I researched dozens of kid-crafts, looking for 10 simple, low-cost items our teams could produce.  We had five student teams, but we chose 10 possible crafts so our production teams could choose from a variety of ideas.  Each team agreed on one item and then we began the work of learning about quality control, consistency, assembly options, collaboration, etc.  Here are some of our "producers" at work!  

This group is producing flowers using pipe cleaners and pom poms.

This team is making coiled pencil toppers using pipe cleaners.

Here, these producers are designing one-of-a-kind bookmarks.

And this group is making scented play dough using flavored extracts.

It was an extremely busy few days as each team remained focused on producing 50 quality items to sell later in the mall.  Plan to have each group elect a QUALITY INSPECTOR.  This person has the job of making sure each item is made well and has no defects.  :)

All along, we were integrating math as we coordinated our money unit with this social studies unit... it was a perfect fit!  Each child was given a brown envelope to decorate as a "wallet" and they earned small coins throughout the day for various behaviors.  This was a fun way to learn about the value of money.  As I began to run out of plastic pennies, I would ask the kids to trade with me so I could replenish my penny supply.  They quickly learned that five pennies were equal to a nickel, two nickels were equal to a dime, etc.  And, as you can expect, they were very motivated to earn more coins!

The progression of the unit had a very natural flow.  After learning about concepts like supply, demand, producers, consumers, goods, and services, we were ready to prepare our stores.  Each team brainstormed store names, designed signage, set prices, planned for special offers and sales, and considered display options.  (I can't describe how cute this was.  And you can soooo tell which children go shopping regularly with their moms!)

We opened our mall after about three weeks of hard work.  We let them design it using only what we had in the classroom... it was perfect in its simplicity. They rearranged the desks to make "stores" and set up the extra chairs in an area for people who got tired of shopping.  (They've obviously been shopping with their dads, too!)  Then, they split into shifts and took turns shopping.  We even had a small food court with just juice and cookies.  Here are some pictures of the culminating event:

"America's Cool Braslits" is open for business!

(In case you don't teach a primary grade, that's bracelets.)

It looks like someone out there is getting the hard-sell.
Her co-worker looks a little scared.  :)

Don't forget to provide shopping bags for your consumers to use.

The kids learned so much about adding numbers, counting on, and making change.

If you have done something like this in your classroom, share some tips or a story of your own in the comments below.  You just might inspire someone else to give it a go.  

Happy teaching!


  1. Do you have any more details about the possible crafts you chose from? We are starting our "Neighborhood at Work" unit and I realllly want to do this! I am just a little overwhelmed trying to figure out how to plan it all!

    1. Hi Laura,

      My intern researched a lot of the craft ideas on the Internet, mostly Pinterest. Search "Arts and Crafts for Kids" and see what comes up. You can sort quickly through them... the pictures usually do it for me. I definitely recommend keeping the projects simple. Have fun! :)