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Markets and Basic Economics #4: The Money Tree, by Sarah Stewart and David Small

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Lesson Overview:

This lesson invites students to reflect on the value of money and its role in our lives.  In the markets and economics unit, students typically get very excited about making and selling goods and services.  They learn about running simple businesses and usually have a chance to sell their own products.  My experience in international schools is that students come from affluent families.  They have not yet imagined a world where earning power, money, and displays of wealth have little, if any, value.  Sarah Stewart and David Small’s book, The Money Tree, cleverly engages children’s thinking about money.  With this plan, your lesson will have both literary and content links.  However, from a PYP perspective, the real value is the key concept of Reflection.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



Using role play, students will decide whether to let their money tree grow or to cut it down for use as firewood or timber.  (AASL 4.1.8, “Use creative and artistic formats to express personal learning.”)

Suggested Time:

45-50 minutes

Success Criteria:

Acting in their assigned roles, students in groups will decide whether to grow or chop down their money trees.  Their decisions will be expressed on a personal reflection sheet at the end of the activity.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Ask the students to give you a few of the highlights from their current unit.  They might share ideas from some of the markets they visited from the “Markets Around the World” lesson, they might talk about producers and consumers, or they might talk about products and services.  Take everything they share, then tell them that today they are facing a big challenge and it has to do with markets and economies.

Using a flip chart or interactive board at the front of the room, sketch a simple tree trunk but do not add any leaves.  Ask the children what normally grows on trees.  Ask the children a few unusual things that grow in trees.  Ask whether trees are ever grown as a business.  (Answer: Yes!  Tree farmers support the lumber and paper industries.)  Explain that today they will hear a story about a most unusual tree, one that they have never seen before.   Tell them that they may have to use their imagination, but that they should to think about business and trees as the story unfolds.

Before beginning the story, have the children number off from 1 to 4.  These numbers will be important later for the role play activity.

2. Main:

Teach The Money Tree by Sarah Stewart and David Small.  Check for understanding as you go.  I usually ask questions such as:

  1. What is most important to Miss McGillicuddy?  How can you tell?  (Hint: Think about where she lives, how she spends her time, what you can see in her home, her hobbies, and her companions.)
  2. How does the author show the reader that time is passing?
  3. How does the illustrator show the reader that time is passing?
  4. Why do neighbors, town officials, and strangers come to pick leaves off the tree?
  5. Are money trees real?
  6. What does the expression, “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” mean?

Activity:  Ask the children to recall their numbers.  Reveal the role play assignments which are:

Number 1:  Miss McGillicuddy

Number 2:  Neighbor Children

Number 3:  Town Official, Mayor or Chief of Police

Number 4:  Strangers

Ask the children to form themselves into groups.  Each group should have four members, one from each of the assigned roles.  If the number of children is not a multiple of four, some groups could have three children.

Once in their groups, pass out the play money sheets (attached).  Explain that Miss McGillicuddy really wants to chop the tree down.  Miss McGillicuddy will need to explain her thinking.  But, the neighbor children, town official, and strangers have their own, different ideas.  Children assigned to those roles should represent those characters in the discussion.  Give only ten minutes for this role-playing group activity.

Use the play money as follows:  Every time a neighbor, town official, or stranger comes up with a unique reason to let the tree grow, they should write that reason on the back of one of the play banknotes.  For example, the town official might write, “Pay for ten new street lamps.”  Another banknote could say, “Pay for a new school,” or “Build a new recycling center.”  The strangers might say, “Repair my car,” or “Take a vacation.”  Children might say, “Build a playground in every neighborhood,” or “Buy every kid a bicycle.”  Each group should faithfully represent his or her assigned role.

Miss McGillicuddy’s role is different.  She will not fill out any banknotes, but should have a separate sheet of blank paper to list a few reasons why she will chop down the tree.  Hopefully your children assigned to Miss McGillicuddy can stand up to the pressure!

After ten minutes, call time.  Ask all children to return to the circle or storytelling area.  Every child who has filled out banknotes should tape them to the Money Tree.  The money tree will sprout leaves very quickly!  Tape the banknotes on so that they can be flipped over and read.

Next, ask the Miss McGillicuddy students to come forward.  Ask each of the Miss McGillicuddys to read a few of the reasons the children, town officials, and strangers want to keep the tree.  Collectively, the Miss McGillicuddy children will decided to either keep the tree or chop down the tree.  If the Miss McGillicuddy children decide to chop down the tree, tear off the bottom part of the trunk or draw an ax into the picture.

3. Conclusion:

Pass out the reflection sheets.  Ask each child to write down his/her thoughts about the book and the activity.  This should be simple and straightforward once the discussion has wrapped up.  Collect the reflection sheets and have a look at them before returning them to the classroom teacher for inclusion in the UoI notebooks.

Send the class Money Tree back to home rooms with the children as evidence of learning and a successful collaborative library integration project.

  1. The Money Tree by Sarah Stewart and David Small.
  2. Copies of the Play Money sheet (attached)
  3. Copies of the Student Reflection Sheet for this lesson (attached)
  4. Flipchart paper and markers, or smart board
  5. Scissors and pencils
  6. A few sheets of blank paper.

Because the text requires abstract thinking, this lesson is more difficult with younger children.  Ideally, I’d use it with Grades 3 and above.  As an international school librarian, I prepared the lesson with expatriate children in mind.  Think carefully before using this lesson in cultures or communities where children are living in poverty and suffering the very real deprivations of not having enough.  I believe it can be done, but you would have to know your target audience exceptionally well to anticipate the effect the story would have.

Recommended books for this lesson:

The Money Tree by Sarah Stewart and David Small

Key Terms:

Money, Trees, Seasons, Sarah Stewart, David Small, Wealth, Values

Play Money for The Money Tree

Student Handout, The Money Tree