Kicking Off Strong

The first week of any class is so important for setting clear expectations, establishing your organizational structure , and getting the students super-excited to learn about money with you. Of course, you are tethered by your school’s opening week policies, drills, and assembly meetings with students, but there is still so much space to play and hook students into the learning. Let me take you into what my first 3 days looked like in my most recent school year start.

Day 1

7:00am - caffeine, check. Rosters, check. First day of school papers, including syllabus on desks and ready to go, check.

7:15am - students are allowed to leave the cafeteria and go to their classes.

7:25am - unsurprisingly, in a room full of seniors, no one took the opportunity to come down early so I’m still nervous-excited waiting for them to show.

7:28am - the first students start to arrive and I’m there at the door to over-energetically greet them and make them question what they’ve signed themselves up for first thing in the morning!

7:30am - [bell rings] and the majority of the class suddenly spill into the room. We have begun.

I remember one year where I tried to model myself off Professor Snape in Harry Potter and present a presence so commanding, that students immediately fell silent and paid attention. It didn’t work. I just don’t have that authoritarian personality and I really do love connecting with my students. Instead, I’ve tried to greet students at the door and begin connecting names with the information I’ve gotten from their parent’s introduction emails and/or teacher gossip about particular students. I find the sooner I can get their names and remember details about their lives, the easier I find classroom management. I think it just shows I care enough about them to learn something about them.

I jump straight into assuring them that ‘this will not be like any other math class they have taken in the past. There will never be a point where you will ask “when will I use this in real life”, and everything we do will have future or immediate impact on you and your ability to build wealth’, is the gist of what I communicate.

I have a set of slides that the school gives me to show all classes on the first day with the usual rules, routines, safety warnings, etc. Before I hit those though, I ask the students to grab a piece of paper and share with me some information (whatever they feel comfortable with), such as preferred name, how their name is pronounced, pronouns, interests, career interests if known, and anything I should know about them. It’s another useful way to connect personal information with students and I often consult these papers right before class starts, before a parent call home, or before meeting with a student about grades or a behavior issue.

After the boring slide stuff is over, it’s time to meet each other! I use the Personal Finance Bingo Icebreaker Activity to get students moving and talking to each other about money. This allows me to meet students one-on-one, learn a fun fact about them and share a little about me too. They get to know one another a bit more as well and possibly have that first conversation about money.

Personal Finance Bingo Icebreaker

Money is one of those taboo subjects that can be really difficult to get a class to open up and discuss together. There needs to be a positive environment with trust and bonding. This classic bingo ice breaker activity is the perfect way to get your students out of their seats, walking around, and talking to one another about money in a very safe way.

Like other class introduction or opening day activities, this bingo game helps students to meet each other, learn names, find out some information that they wouldn't have otherwise known, and build relationships that can help foster more open communication later in the course or unit.

Day 2

I find that high school students are a mixed bag in terms of their buy-in for the need to learn about money. Some have heard from adults in their lives that learning about money is important. Some have had life experiences which have shown them how important money is and the need to manage it carefully. Others are blissfully unaware of how much money impacts the daily lives of adults and how precarious the financial situations of so many households are in the US.

I therefore start with an activity I created this year to paint the picture for the students. I want them to see that there is a problem with how most people handle their money and that financial education is a great way to reduce the chances of joining that picture. The activity is called Money Madness and it’s a classic 4-corners style activity. See more about the activity below. I decided to do it in the cafeteria which is at the center of our school and all hallways lead to it. I had lots of interested students walking by and our admin team stopped by to get involved in a couple of rounds! The students got back to the classroom shocked at the stats and arriving at their own conclusion that learning about money would help them to be better money managers and build wealth. Win!

Finally, we wrapped up the class with an activity called My Money Story. This is a simple, 3-question activity where students are asked to share more about their attitudes, beliefs, and values around money. As teachers, we need to recognize that every student is going to carry a lot more experience about the content area into the class than you might get in a different subject area or math class. Every time I do this activity, I learn more about who has been influencing my students when it comes it money, what lessons they remember most (abundance or scarcity), and what they think they want out of life at this point (as much as a teen can articulate anyway).

Money Madness

I created this 4-corner activity to help show the poor state of US household finances, but in a way that wasn't a lecture or a research project. By the end of the activity, students should be aware of how debt, consumer spending, incomes, and retirement are all areas of financial literacy that need to be learned in order to avoid joining the statistics.

In this activity you will show a question related to typical American adult money and the students will be presented with 4 answer options that will require their best guess. It's unlikely anyone will know the exact answer so logic and reasoning will need to be employed. Once at their answer stations, you can ask probing questions, encourage students to attempt to change other people's minds, or simply reveal the answer.

My Money Story

My Money Story allows students a safe, judgment-free way to express their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about money, using whatever medium most appeals to them.

Students can choose to write a response, create a visual representation by drawing or create a collage of other media. They can select songs, movies, tv shows, memes, or characters that best represent their ideas.

Day 3

It’s Friday! Friday’s for me are a great day for scheduling guest speakers, doing culminating events for projects, or having a game day. I will kick off each Friday morning with the latest FinCap Friday from NGPF. This is a money-related current-events activity that is fully created for teens in the classroom and ready to roll out on Friday morning. It has a 5-question Kahoot to hook the students, followed by a short video clip where Yanely Espinal explains more about the topic and the answers to the Kahoot. It typically kicks off a nice conversation for 10-20 minutes afterwards where students share their own ideas and experiences around the topic.

Following that we played Build Your Stax. This is another NGPF partnership resource that is AWESOME! The students are thrust into a 20-years-in-20-minutes simulation that challenges them to build as much wealth as possible by investing during a random 20-year period in US history. They have a variety of investment options at their disposal, and after playing several rounds throughout the year, they will come to realize that the computer is winning or finishing in the top 3 almost every time and it is going all in on index funds. At this point in the semester, it’s just a fun way to introduce words and ideas that we will then dive deeper into over the course of the semester. They can see the numbers getting really big and it can be an eye-opener for how important investing really is. I keep an easy-to-update leaderboard in my classroom for showing our all-year top 10 net worth scores. Each time we play, I update the board with anyone who has broken into the top 10 and it adds that additional layer to their excitement about the game.

The final activity of the day, if we have time (we did this week), is our Weekly Insights activity. This is a reflection on what we did and what they learned from the week, what conversations they had about money outside of school, and an extension prompt that introduces an idea that might not otherwise get into the curriculum, but which I think is important. A life lesson if you will! The very last section is an invitation to have a private conversation with me and tell me how things are going.

And that’s it. We’re heading into the weekend feeling good about the class and buzzing to learn more about how they’re going to build wealth and live their best lives!

FinCap Friday

FinCap Fridays combine a 5-question competition with a short video to energize classrooms and engage students through current events.

Build Your Stax Leaderboard

This Wall of Fame kit includes a header with the Build Your Stax icon, and printable cards where you can write the student's name, monetary score, and investing period. I recommend laminating everything so you can write using a whiteboard marker and reuse the strips. I just wipe off the lowest score and replace it with the new top 10 score each time we play.

Weekly Insights

Are you looking to introduce a reflective journal to your students? Not only do they get to reflect on their learning and recap over the events of the week, but they get to share their opinions and feelings with you in a rare one-on-one encounter.

The Weekly Insights are designed for a personal finance class. Also included are exploration activities that dive into life skills that might not get taught in a classroom, but which are so important to managing our money and our philosophy on life. Exploration topics include: Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Mindfulness, Privilege, The 5 Love Languages, Goal Setting, Split Testing, Building Habits, Forming Identity, Evaluating Friend Groups, and Locus of Control.


Sign up to get the FI Educator newsletter with more updates about my classroom, upcoming virtual guest speakers, and new ideas for your classroom!

We use cookies to improve your experience and to help us understand how you use our site. Please refer to our cookie notice and privacy statement for more information regarding cookies and other third-party tracking that may be enabled.

FI Educator

© 2024 FI Educator.  All Rights Reserved.

Facebook icon
Instagram icon
YouTube icon
Email icon
Website icon
Intuit Mailchimp logo