The year of virtual learning has reminded us all of the importance and necessity of hands-on learning. Students learn best when they can touch things, build things, discuss things, etc. Knowing this, today I’m going to give you a very hands-on way to teach economics. It is a very simple game called Snakes and Donuts that uses playdough and unsharpened pencils (or markers with the lids) to teach kids economics. While kids are playing this game, they naturally do things that mimic real life economics. As a teacher, all you have to do then is lead a discussion giving terms to the concepts they have already discovered by themselves.
How do you play the game Snakes and Donuts?
To play snakes and donuts, you will follow these steps:
1.) Gather your materials. You will need playdough – the more colors of playdough you can use, the better the game goes, unsharpened pencils (or markers with the lids on), a timer and the recording sheets found in this free resource.
2.) Students will play in multiple rounds. Each round will have different rules. State the rules at the beginning of the round. Play each round as many times as possible before moving on to the next round.
3.) During each round, students will use the playdough to create snakes – which must be as long as the unsharpened pencil (or markers with the lid on), and donuts – which is a complete snake wrapped around to make a circle.
4.) You can change rounds as quickly or as slowly as possible. You can play all on one day, or play one round a day, depending on your schedule.
5.) After students get the general concept, you can introduce different point values for different size snakes and donuts, or different colors of playdough. My students then moved on to a 2 minute round – 1 minute of trading and 1 minute of creating. Students can also play rounds where they work in pairs or groups. Each round is outlined for you in the free resource guide.
6.) After each round, stop and have students (and teacher) take notes on their observations. Then lead a discussion based on these. This is the time to introduce that economic vocabulary and concepts: natural resources, human resources, trade policies, supply and demand, value etc.
How do I get my kids to discuss economics?
Throughout the games students will make discoveries without any guidance. For example, during the partner round, my students learned that one student could roll the snakes and the other could form donuts, making the process faster. This led us into a discussion about division of labor and assembly lines. During one of our trade rounds, students automatically want to make trades with their friends first. This led us into a discussion on how networking and relationships play a part in economics.
Students do all of these things naturally, but how do we get them to notice them? My strategy is to have a 2 minute reflection time after each round. For one minute, students are to think about what has happened and what they might have learned. Then, for the second minute, they jot down notes on their recording sheet. By having students do this, they are able to contribute more to the group discussions. I also take notes on my sheet – normally while students are playing the round. I use these notes to make sure we discuss those economic topics and introduce that terminology. Then, I encourage students to use these terms going forward in the following rounds.
Download the rules, rounds and a recording sheet from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.