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Teaching Guide

Teaching Economic Systems

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If the only economic system your students are familiar with is ApplePay, it's time for a crash course.

In this guide you will find

  • a review of the four types of economic systems.
  • an activity exploring America's mixed economy.
  • discussion questions analyzing America's economic history, health-care legislation, and socialism.

Maybe we shouldn't have said crash course when it comes to the economy…

What's Inside Shmoop's Economics Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring economics to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 4-10 activities to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

In this group exercise your students will consider how people’s lives are shaped by the economic systems in which they live by writing and performing short plays chronicling the lives and deaths of individuals living under different systems.

1. Sort your students into four groups and assign each of them an economic system: traditional, free market, command, or mixed.

2. Ask students to write a short play entitled "The Life and Death of John/Jane Doe" that chronicles the life of an individual under their group's assigned economic system. Encourage them to think about the full scope of this individual’s life.

  • Where was he or she born?
  • Who paid for his or her delivery?
  • Where did he or she go to school?
  • Who paid for his or her education?
  • How did he or she select a college and a career?
  • How did he or she find a job?
  • Did he or she enjoy career advancement or not?

The play should end with the death and burial of John or Jane. Encourage your students to think about, and incorporate into their plays, both the good side and the bad side of life within their assigned system. Suggest that it might be wise to allow a narrator to tell much of the story, but all of the students should participate in the play’s performance.

3. Following the performance of these plays, you may want to tie up this activity by asking the audience to write a brief "reviews" of the other groups’ plays. These should emphasize the accuracy and scope of the plays.

Instructions for Your Students

How would your life be different if you were born in the Soviet Union in 1940? Would you look forward to same set of career options if you had lived in a remote Italian village in 1930? Clearly, the times in which we are born affect the courses of our lives. The economic system in which we live influences our lives just as profoundly. What exactly would life be like under a command or traditional economy?

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