TeachingEconomics.org - The Ten Chairs

Musical chairs in High School? Absolutely! This is a terrific lesson plan from Teaching Economics As If People Mattered where the students act out the distribution of wealth in the United States. What is wealth and who owns how much of it? What are assets and debts? What changes have families seen in their economic condition between 1976 and today? Those are just a few of the questions that will be covered in Lesson 10 which includes a very popular activity known as the "Ten Chairs."

The following information will help you, the teacher, prepare to have a lively, engaging, and effective hour of learning with your students. This page includes an animated presentation which introduces all the concepts taught in the lesson and shows you, step-by-step, how to prepare for and teach the lesson. Print out the lesson plan and charts and then launch the animated overview (below).

Learning Objectives

This lesson, which takes approximately one classroom hour (55 minutes) has the following learning objectives:

  • Define the concepts of wealth and assets
  • Compare wealth and income
  • Apply an understanding of the definition of wealth by providing examples of wealth for different income groups
  • Dramatize the shift in wealth from 1976 to 2004
    • Links to recent articles below allow you to have more recent information

Concepts and Key Terms

The following concepts and key terms are covered in this lesson:

  • Wealth
  • Wealth compared to income
  • Current concentration of wealth in the United States
  • Shift in concentration of wealth in the United States from 1976 - 2004
    • Links to recent articles below allow you to have more recent information

Download Lesson Plan, Charts, and Student Placard

This file requires the Adobe Acrobat reader. It is available for free from Adobe Systems.

Overview Presentation

Before viewing this presentation, you will need to download and print out the lesson plan, charts, and student placard (above) and you also need to have two pieces of writing paper and a pen or pencil. The presentation includes a voice-over so please turn your computer speakers on. The presentation provides an overview of the concepts covered in the Ten Chairs as well as step by step instructions for carrying out the lesson plan in your classroom. The entire multimedia presentation takes approximately 15 minutes, but if you are in a hurry, there's a button you can click that will take you directly to the demonstration of the ten chairs exercise which only takes a few short minutes (and is a lot of fun to watch).

Click here to view the presentation

Articles and Other Web Resources

While the lesson plan provides everything you need to carry out the lesson in your classroom, you may want to familiarize yourself with recent articles and web resources concerning the issues raised in this lesson. We have selected several for you and have linked to them below. We encourage you to explore other resources and ask that you let us know of other links we should add to this page.

National Standards Mapping

This specific contents and discussion topics provided for in this lesson map into the following National Council on Economics Education (NCEE) standards:

  • Standard 11 (the role of money)
  • Standard 13 (the role of resources in determining income)
  • Standard 16 (the role of government)
  • Standard 20 (monetary and fiscal policy)

United for A Fair Economy (UFE) and Tamara Giecek created a High School curriculum based on many of the popular seminars and programs UFE delivers to adults across the United States. The entire curriculum is available in book form through the Reach And Teach Store.

Reach And Teach, UFE, and Tamara Giecek are working together to update the curriculum and create an on-line version of all the lessons similar to the lesson we have provided on this page. We are currently working with various foundations and private donors to raise the money needed to bring this wonderful educational opportunity to the web. Teachers across America will be able to use the overview presentations to prepare to teach and then download the lesson plans, share ideas with other teachers about new ways to teach the lessons, and recommend additional lesson plans to the Teaching Economics team.

Would you like to help make this a reality? If so, click here to make a donation to United for A Fair Economy and click the Ten Chairs box to designate your donation to helping us get the rest of the Teaching Economics lessons on the web!


And..... while we're on the subject of people really mattering......... Reach And Teach would also like to suggest you consider this incredible math book by Edward Zaccaro. Students typically are not given the opportunity to see the wondrous side of mathematics because it is often taught as all scales and no music. Help your students:

  • Discover the power of mathematics as the danger of short-term loans is exposed in a dramatic fashion
  • Investigate math mistakes in news media and their potential consequences
  • Watch as mathematics shows the futility of depending on corn-based ethanol to lower our dependence on oil imports
  • Learn the surprising answer to how much money a hybrid car will save its owner because of reduced gasoline usage
  • Discover what mathematics tells us about teenage drivers.

These and other fascinating math investigations will allow students to see the power of mathematics as it cuts through deception and flawed thinking to reveal the truth. Click here to check out this book!