Standard Lesson

Authentic Writing Experiences and Math Problem-Solving Using Shopping Lists

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 50-minute sessions
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What could be a better purpose for writing than an opportunity to create your own shopping list and use it to buy your favorite treats? This is problem solving at its best! Students use their problem-solving skills to stay within their budget as they choose items they plan to buy and create their personal shopping lists. If their lists don't stay within budget guidelines, students are highly motivated to revise and edit. Once their lists work, students can actually go to the class store and buy their treats. This activity is a great way to integrate writing with math problem-solving.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In her book Radical Reflections, Mem Fox boldly states that "we're currently wasting a lot of time by giving unreal writing tasks in our classrooms....You and I don't engage in meaningless writing exercises in real life-we're far too busy doing the real thing" (4). We need to challenge our young students to do real writing for a real purpose-real writing, like creating their own shopping lists, for a real purpose, like a chance to go to the store and buy favorite treats. If we want our students to be motivated to use their emerging writing skills, we have to make writing purposeful, challenging, and real-to-life. That is the purpose of this activity.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Access to the price list for items in the store

  • Ten cents per student (provided by the teacher)

  • Items for sale in store, storage containers, and small bowls

  • Latex gloves to wear as you serve food items

  • A cash register or money box to use for collecting the money the students spend at the store

  • Books with a money theme




  • Decide on the items for sale in the class store. Be sure to check for food allergies and preferences and align offerings accordingly. Assemble the food items, containers in which to display them, small bowls to hold each student’s purchases, and gloves to wear as you serve the food items.

  • Collect enough coins for each student to have ten cents to spend at the store. You will also need a cash register or money box to use for collecting the money the students spend at the store.

  • Prepare a price list for students—a poster with pictures and prices works well.
    Fish crackers = 1 cent each
    Stick pretzels = 1 cent each
    M&Ms = 1 cent each
    Animal crackers = 2 cents each
    Carrot sticks = 2 cents each
    Celery sticks = 2 cents each
    Sandwich cookies = 5 cents each
    Boxes of raisins = 5 cents each
    Apple slices = 5 cents each
  • Provide forms or blank paper for students to use to create their lists.

  • Make one copy per student of the reflection sheet or use one enlarged copy for students to use in discussing and reflecting on the activity.

  • Assemble a collection of books with a money theme. (See the list of titles provided for examples of appropriate books.)

  • Bookmark Websites.

  • If possible, enlist a parent or aide to act as the store clerk while you finish conferencing with students on their lists. A third helper is an advantage for collecting money so that the clerk doesn’t have to keep taking the gloves off to collect the money at the checkout and put them back on to serve food items.

  • Include a note in your class newsletter to let parents know your class has been learning about grocery lists. Encourage parents to talk to their children about their family’s grocery lists, include their children on a trip to the store to buy the items, allow the children to help find the items at the store, cross them off the list, and help pay for them at the checkout counter. Gerald Oglan’s article “Grocery Lists, Shopping, and a Child’s Writing and Spelling Development” provides strategies for helping parents understand the inventive spellings and composition strategies of emergent writers in a similar context.

  • Collect grocery store ads.

  • Have a board or chart tablet to record why people make lists.

  • A simple version of your own grocery list

Student Objectives

Students will

  • discuss shopping lists and budgets.

  • create their own shopping lists to prepare for a visit to the class store.

  • work within a specific budget.

  • use their list to buy items at the class store.

  • reflect upon their problem-solving process.

Session One

  1. Share books with a money theme with your students. Benny’s Pennies by Pat Brisson is a good text to introduce this activity. You may want to make a classroom set of books for students to explore and share. (See the list provided.)

  2. Allow students time to visit the Websites listed below, such as the United States Mint H.I.P. Pocket Change™ Pals Cartoons or Welcome to Market Student Interactive, from EconEdLink. Follow the Money! by Loreen Leedy and Let's Find Out About Money by Kathy Barabas are goodcompanion books to the Website about how money is made at the mint.

  3. Introduce students to the concept of making a list before going to the store. Encourage them to brainstorm why people make grocery lists. Such a list might include some of the following reasons:

    • To replace some of the items you are almost out of and know you will soon need.

    • To get supplies you need to make meals for your family.

    • To get items you don’t have, but need.

    • To get what you need for a party or special event.

Session Two

  1. Bring a simple version of your grocery list from home. Discuss why you have certain items on the list. Also include a discussion of budgets and how you have to know about how much the items will cost so you take the right amount of money with you to the store.

  2. Encourage students to share their experiences with making lists and going to the store.

  3. Look at ads from grocery stores and see how items and prices are displayed in the ads. Older students may want to compare prices from different stores.

  4. Introduce the students to the class store by showing them a list of the items to be sold and the cost of the items. Posters with pictures of the items and the cost work well with younger students.

  5. Explain that each student will be given ten cents to spend at the store. They may each choose any items they wish to buy with that money, but they must stay within their budget.

  6. Explain that they will each create their own shopping lists which should contain the items to be purchased (What to buy?), the number of each item (How many?), and the amount spent (Cost?).

  7. Hand out the list forms or paper and allow students to write their lists. Alternatively, students can devise their own forms. Students should have the option of using a mixture of drawings and words to make their lists.
    Example from a student’s list:
    przls 2 2 cnts
    cooke 1 5 cnts
    MM 3 3 cents

    I spnt 10 cnts.

Session Three

  1. Give each student 10 cents to spend at the store and time to revise and finish their lists. For younger students just learning the concept of money, it works best to use 10 pennies so they can use their list form to actually put the pennies in the cost column and check to see that they didn’t spend more than their budget. Older students may be able to use either two nickels or a dime.

  2. Conference with students to help them check their lists to see that they are within their budget.

  3. Students may go to the store, buy items using their lists, and pay for them.

  4. Allow time for the best part: eating the purchases and celebrating the activity.

  5. Use the reflection form(s) for students to reflect on the activity and discuss it.


Student Assessment / Reflections

Students can complete the questions on the reflection sheet in writing or during a class discussion using one enlarged copy where student reflections are gathered.

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