• Bring in guest speakers from local banks

  • Get the basic information and vocabulary using a learning walk activity

  • Have you seen the YouTube channel Two Cents yet? It’s a core resource in my class.

  • If you had to hire a service provider, wouldn’t you do some research first? Teens need to learn how to do this.

Teaching kids about types of banks, credit unions, and account options doesn't need to be as boring as we traditionally make it. In the beginning, I stood (sometimes I changed it up and sat!) at the front of the room and spewed out information about the different types of banking options students had and the accounts they all offered. They wrote it down… and then never looked at it again. It was, as you can imagine, totally boring for the students and it never inspired them to open accounts or make changes to their existing banking. This wasn’t working for me and the whole unit of banking needed a reboot to bring the excitement and engagement that I strive for in my classes. I did this with a combination of external resources and ones I created myself. I have them all linked below for you!

Bring in guest speakers

An easy way, in most cases, to liven up a topic is to bring someone else in who knows more about it or at least an equal amount than you do. The change of voice and presence in the room is enough to lift a crowd and pique their interest. I’ve been inviting speakers from the local regional bank and credit union to come in to speak for several years now and it has been awesome to have the relationship. A local bank or credit union typically has a great interest in supporting financial education and community growth at the micro level compared to national banks which have financial education programs at a nationwide, macro level, but are harder to convince to care about the smaller situations (in my experience). I have always found Middletown Valley Bank, Nymeo Credit Union, and Woodsboro Bank so much more responsive and willing to collaborate than say PNC or Bank of America when I reached out to our local branches. 

Getting guest speakers to come out at the perfect point in your curriculum is a challenge, particularly if you tend to meander through the course like I do, following side conversations and student interests in depth before returning to my course calendar. I try to get on my guest speaker’s calendar as soon as possible in the semester to see if I can lock them in around the point where I’ll be addressing that topic in my curriculum. Banking is a little easier since it’s at the beginning of the course, so I know pretty accurately when I’ll be getting to that topic. 

Talk with your speakers beforehand to make sure they are clear on what you need. You want them to talk about what a bank is, what functions and purposes it has in the community, the services it can provide to a member of the public, and the products they offer in terms of accounts. We want to go into how a bank makes money and what makes banks different from one another, particularly based on size and physical/digital presence. 

My speakers will typically touch on credit, credit scores, and loans since that naturally comes up when speaking about the services they provide. Then it’s over to the students to ask questions and to try and gather information. I started providing a Student Response Google Form this year that students had to complete during or after the presentation to get a grade. It improved attention and allowed them to have their devices out during the presentation without seeming rude to the presenter!

Let’s take a walk

In my school, we do a block schedule of 4 classes a day, with a small study hall period in the middle. Classes are 80 minutes long and quite often students sit for that entire time and then trudge for 2 minutes down the hall to their next class before sitting again. We also start at 7:30am and I have my seniors for personal finance at this time, so they’re not the most awake bunch in the world. Like the 4-Corners Game from a previous post, I look to build in movement and changes to routine as much as I can (which is still not enough, but we’re improving each year!). 

To teach kids about different types of banks and accounts, I use a learning walk activity called Banks and Accounts Learning Walk, which moves the students to a new location (the hallway outside my room) and has them on their feet as they read articles, watch videos, interpret infographics, and discuss topics related to banking. 

I like this one because it gets kids moving, they are learning from doing the activity, and they are talking to each other about banking and money as they go. Win-win-win.

Banks and Accounts Learning Walk

In this activity there are 13 different stations, each with a unique poster. The poster has a banking-related title, QR code (URL also provided) and a prompt to find a clue. The link takes them to a news article, blog post, YouTube video, or infographic explaining the title word in an easy-to-understand way. The students are given a response worksheet to record their answers and the clue answer directs them to the next station. The stations are cyclical so they can start anywhere and will eventually end up back where they started. Finish up with a discussion of what they discovered and BOOM, you’ve introduced the basic terms and ideas of banking.

Get your Two Cents in

Have you met Julia and Philip Olsen are a married duo who break down financial education topics in short and fun videos produced by PBS. The quality is great, the length is perfect for hooking students into a topic or adding some additional flavor to the lesson you’ve cooked up for the day, and the information is reliable. For the next part of our banking journey, I showed two videos from the Two Cents YouTube channel: 

Are Credit Unions Better Than Big Banks?

Only 27% of Americans have confidence in banks, but what are your other options? Check out the pros and cons of keeping your money with your big bank.

Is the Savings Account Dead?

Once upon a time, savings accounts were a decent investment option, but today they rarely keep up with inflation... what happened?

Both of these are great for getting our wheels turning about the idea of being a customer, choosing the best service for ourselves, instead of a desperate client looking for someone to keep our money safe. We are the ones who need to take charge and find the banking situation that best meets our needs, but too often we inherit the bank or credit union our parents used and then we never bother to change after that.

Find the Two Cents library of videos at:

Be a smart consumer when it comes to banking

The last stop in our banking unit is my attempt to get the students to really think about where they are currently doing their banking and if it’s right for them. If they are not yet banked, then it should help them to figure out where the best place to open an account might be and what accounts they need to open to meet their goals. 

When we think about doing our research before making a purchase, most of us will consult an impartial review site (NerdWallet, Insider, and Money are my go to), ask friends and family about their experience, and maybe look up what we can find about the product or service on the company’s website. If consumer ratings and reviews exist, such as on Amazon, we can use those as a shortcut for finding solutions to our problems that meet our needs. Most students I meet haven’t built this kind of system yet, so this is a great opportunity to help them learn how to seek out good information as a consumer. 

We do this in a series of 3 interviews and then a final project.* The first interview is a Self-Interview where the students ask themselves a bunch of questions designed to help them determine their own needs, wants, and goals around banking. The second is an interview with an adult in their lives about their banking experience. The final interview is a conversation with a bank or credit union representative to ask questions about the company and the accounts they offer, with a big focus on getting a clear picture of fees, terms, and conditions for the accounts. 

Once the information has been collected, the students produce a final project to showcase and share what they have learned.

Banking Interviews and Research Activity

Students do 3 different interviews to build their knowledge and understanding of what they need and want from a bank and account. Once complete, I have a choice board with 5 project options: Make a podcast episode, Create a video, Write a blog post, Give a presentation, or Build a visual display. The students can pick any of the options and then produce a product that informs the rest of the students in the school about what they learned about banking and their advice for picking banks/accounts.

*This is an updated version of what I most recently did in class, and I will come back to update this article once I complete the full new version with my students. What I’m describing above is a new activity that is based on an old one I usually do. I had students interview adults and research a bank, and that has been updated to the version above to better meet the goals of the activity. what to prioritize in a budget?


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