A Yen to Trade Curriculum Unit

Teach trade, comparative advantage, and barriers to trade with A Yen to Trade Curriculum Unit.

A ¥en to Trade is a set of lessons for students in the middle grades—grades 6-8. These lessons are written to help students understand the basic rationale for making trades, the gains that are possible from trade, and how trading is done between people of different countries. Each lesson teaches fundamental economic concepts such as scarcity, economic wants, resources, goods and services, opportunity cost, and money, as well as international trade concepts such as exports, imports, tariffs, quotas, exchange rates, and trade routes. Most lessons employ simulations and other active-learning strategies to engage students in the learning process and to provide experiences to help them discover why things happen as they do. Students do everything from taking on the role of traders in the real markets to jumping hurdles (to learn about trade barriers) and tossing a ball (to learn about trade routes). Activities integrate other curriculum areas including math, language arts, and geography.

These lessons were originally developed by Dr. Curt Anderson, professor emeritus, University of Minnesota—Duluth. We are grateful that he agreed to let us revise and post the lessons for teachers. We have revised them to include compelling questions, links to national standards, and assessments. The unit can be taught in its entirety; however, the lessons are written to stand alone.

Download the complete curriculum unit or individual lessons.

Lesson 1: Ringgits, Rupees, and Rials

Students engage in a scavenger hunt to find the exchange rate for the currency of 24 countries (one for each letter of the alphabet, except W and X). They use the information and other resources to answer questions related to the geography, trade, and currency of these countries.

Lesson 2: Let’s Make a Deal

Students bring in items from home to trade in a class flea market. In this activity, they learn what conditions are necessary for two people to agree to a trade and how trading makes people better off. They also discover that the more people they are allowed to trade with, the more likely they are to find a beneficial trade. These ideas are the basis for international trade among countries.

Lesson 3: The Tortoise and the Hare

Pairs of students play the roles of the tortoise and the hare, working together to win a contest. Through trial and error, they discover the benefits of specialization, and they determine who has a comparative advantage. They then generalize this knowledge to countries.

Lesson 4: Making Magic

Students read a story about how a boy and girl appear to use magic to solve a problem their village has. But all is not as it seems as their magic is revealed to be nothing more than good economics. Word games and a simple math exercise illustrate the benefits of trade.

Lesson 5: Tricks of the Trade

Students play the role of citizens of two fictional countries who make and love to eat pies and brownies. They face choices because of limited time and oven space. They investigate how these choices would change if they were allowed to trade with each other. They see that, through trade, everyone can get more pies and brownies.

Lesson 6: Trading Circles

Students draw ever larger circles on a chart to observe how the size of one’s trading area affects what goods and resources are available to them and how exports and imports are defined.

Lesson 7: Trading Hurdles

In this very active lesson, students represent goods being traded among countries. As the students move in trade, they encounter physical barriers (long-jump, hurdle, and limbo bar) that represent natural and government-imposed trade barriers. Through the activities, students see that trade barriers reduce the flow of goods and services among countries and, as a result, reduce the gains from trade. Because of the activities in this lesson, it might be good to work with the physical education teacher.

Lesson 8: Pieces of Paper

Students play the role of traders in both a simple barter economy and an economy that uses money to see how much easier trade is with money. Students explain why countries would want their own money. Then, they design paper money for North America.

Lesson 9: The Road to Riches

Students move a tennis ball around the room, learning that the way people move themselves and things around determines the location of trade routes. They also see how changes in the way people and goods are transported changes trade routes and even trading partners.

Lesson 10: Trade Connections

Students wear clothing and bring goods from other countries for an International Goods Day. Students review basic ideas about international trade from previous lessons.


Students will be able to

  • define currency, exchange rates, and money;
  • recognize that there are many countries in the world and that most have their own money;
  • explain why people in a country want to be paid for goods and services in their country’s currency; and
  • compare the value of goods and services in different countries.

Compelling Question:

How do people buy goods and services from people in other countries?


This lesson received the 2020 Curriculum Gold Award of Excellence from the National Association of Economic Educators.
Read more about our award-winning resources »


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Education Level: 6-8
Subjects: Economics
Concepts: Trade/International Trade
Resource Types: Instructional Guide Lesson
Languages: English
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