Lesson 3: Backed by What?
Unit 3, Lesson 3
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Article 1 Article 2 NPR Clip 1 NPR Clip 2 Graphic Organizer

Lesson 3: Backed by What?

Learning Objective:

Students will be able to explain what the U.S. dollar is backed by and argue for or against the 1971 ending of the gold standard. 

Standard 3. There are no applicable Jump$tart standards

SEL Competency: Social awareness


    • Get out a deck of playing cards to determine what each student will read or listen to
    • Divide the total number of students by 4 and print out that number of copies of each article (e.g., 20 students = 5 copies of each article), or make the articles available online for students to access. Students who are not assigned an article will be given an audio clip to listen to

    • Bring a physical newspaper to use as a little comedy stunt in the lesson
    • Print out enough copies of the graphic organizer (included at the end of this document) for each student, or prepare to share it with students online

Video Hook (5 min)

Watch this video about the 1971 ending of the gold standard:  ​​ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-cB1Z9qceI 

Ask: What kind of language does the former President use? What kind of emotions does this video elicit? 

A: (Will vary) Battle language—hostage, defend the dollar, suspend, bugaboo, unfair treatment, eroded. Highly technical speak: hard-to-understand concepts so you don’t question them

Research for the Debate (~20 min) 

Say: I’m going to give you a playing card—and depending on your suit, you are either going to get one of two articles to read or one of two audio clips to listen to. The goal of this activity is for you to gather information, prepare to share what you learned with your group, and formulate an opinion around the ending of the gold standard. 

Pass out graphic organizer.

Allow students to pick a card from a deck to determine what they’ll read or listen to. 

Article 1: Hearts (~5 min read) https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/12715/why-did-us-abandon-gold-standard

NPR Clip 1: Spades (~18 min listen. Start at 2:25 and end at 20:50)

Article 2: Diamonds (~15 min read)

NPR Clip 2: Clubs (~5 min listen)

Say: As you read the article or listen to the audio clip, write down 3-5 reasons for and against ending the gold standard. Use the graphic organizer that’s provided.

Option 1: stop here and continue in the next class

Group Chat (10 min) 

Say: Now that you have had a chance to take a deep dive into one article or audio clip, find 3 other people with different suits so you can share what you read/listened to as a group. Each group of 4 should have one person with a heart, one person with a diamond, one person with a spade, and 1 person with a club. Once you have shared all of your thoughts, you need to decide as a group where you stand on the spectrum of agreeing with the gold standard vs. opposing it. 

Take 10 minutes to get into groups and share your findings.

Spectrum Debate (10 min) 

Say: Stand up. Now that you have read or listened to one source and heard three other opinions based on research, we are going to make a physical spectrum, like the one you did in your graphic organizer. If you think we should continue life without the gold standard, go to one side of the room. If you think we should bring back the gold standard, go to the opposite side of the room. If you aren’t sure based on what you read or heard, but you lean one way, stand more in the middle. You should do this as a group.

If you’re teaching remotely, you might ask each group to rank their beliefs with stars. For example, groups strongly in favor of the gold standard might display 10 stars, while groups strongly against it might display 1. 

Say: Now, talk with the other groups around you for 2 minutes about why you are where you are on the spectrum of opinions. Feel free to move one way or the other if you hear convincing arguments in favor of or against the gold standard.

Say: Now I’m going to go from one side of the room to the other and have your group share out some reasons why you are where you are on the spectrum. 

Have students share out.

Option 2: stop here and wrap up in the next class—or if time allows, complete the whole lesson in a single class

Newspaper Opinion Piece (15 min) 

Say: I have something very o-l-d and fragile to show you now. This is something that generations and generations before you used, and you’re going to have to take turns looking at it—otherwise it might break. (Pull out a newspaper.) A newspaper was something that people read each morning to gather their news—both local and worldwide. You may have never seen one of these before since they are almost on the endangered list, almost extinct…oh, you know what this is? Excellent. 

There is a section in these old newspapers that essentially invited you to write to the publishers to give your opinion on a topic. This was sort of like posting comments online, except writers took more time to consider what they said and editors took time to carefully consider which letters to publish for the public to read.

For the rest of class, I want you to take a side—whether it is the one you researched or not—and write an opinion letter to the newspaper in regard to the government’s decision to end the gold standard. Write this as if you are back in 1971. Include examples of how it might affect you personally as a business person, farmer, banker, etc.