Lesson Plans

Exploring Cost and Savings Using Children's Literature

3 - 5
Estimated Time
Four 60-minute sessions
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Looking for a way to make the literature-mathematics connection? This lesson can help. Students begin by reading and discussing A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams, making connections to their own lives and writing their reactions. Next they explore the concept of saving for specific purposes. After looking at sources to compare costs of self-selected items, students set up a savings plan and timeline for the purchase of their items. Students ultimately learn the value of saving their money to meet a self-identified goal and how to go about doing so.

Featured Resources

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of 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.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • A Chair for My Mother: 25th Anniversary Edition by Vera B. Williams (HarperTrophy, 2007)
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Transparencies and overhead projector (optional)
  • SMART board or other interactive white board (optional)
  • LCD projector (optional)
  • AirLiner or other wireless slate (optional)




1. Read and familiarize yourself with the story A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. You will need one copy of this book for each student in your class.
2. During Session 1, you will discuss something of value that you either lost or broke during your life. Prepare for this discussion, including thinking about what you did to recover or replace the item.
3. Print the following prompt on chart paper for Session 2: "What do you think is the best way for Rosa's family to get a chair for Rosa's mother? Why do you think as you do? Give at least two reasons."
4. Visit and familiarize yourself with the websites listed in the Resources. Students will use commercial websites to compare prices on pieces of furniture. Collect print catalogues or circulars for them to use as well; these will be especially important if your school blocks commercial websites.
5. Make one copy of the Opinion Rubric, Cost Comparison Chart, and Savings Plan for each student in your class. In addition, make large posters or transparencies of the Cost Comparison Chart and the Savings Plan.
6. If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, reserve two sessions in your school's computer lab for Sessions 3 and 4. If possible, obtain an interactive whiteboard or LCD projector and a wireless slate.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Improve comprehension by making and evaluating predictions about a story
  • Develop the ability to form opinions about the events in a story and justify their thinking and reasoning by writing an opinion paragraph
  • Develop an understanding of the importance of income, spending, and savings by exploring a text about this topic, discussing it, and then making their own cost comparisons and savings plan
  • Practice analysis by comparing the costs of items using both manual and technology-based math calculations
  • Apply what they have learned about making choices and saving money by choosing an item for purchase and determining how they would save to buy it

Session 1

1. Introduce the lesson by telling students about a time something you valued was lost or destroyed (e.g., a watch) and what you did to find or replace it (e.g., looked around the house, talked to family members, checked places you went, put an ad in the newspaper). Ask students if they would have had any other suggestions to help you; write their ideas on the board or chart paper.
2. Ask students to brainstorm a time they, a family member, or friend lost or had something valuable destroyed. Discuss what happened, if the item was found or replaced, and how. List the items and how they were replaced on the board or chart paper.
3. Tell students they will be reading a story about a family that lost many valuable items.
4. Read the first three pages of A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams aloud and ask students to predict what they think will happen and why. Have them write their predictions and explanations in their reading journals before sharing them with the class. Record predictions and explanations on the board or chart paper.
5. Have students read the story independently in their own copies to the end of the "flashback." (Note: This book has no page numbers, but it is the eighth two-page spread and ends with the sentence "It's lucky we're young and can start over." You may want to have this page marked with a sticky note in each book.)
6. As students finish reading, have them return to their list of predictions and write whether or not they still believe them to be true and why or why not. If they have a new prediction, they should write it down along with an explanation that justifies the prediction.
7. When all students are finished, ask them to look again at the predictions you wrote on the board or chart paper. Make checkmarks beside each prediction that students believe could still be true based on what they have read. Cross out any predictions that students decide are not accurate. Then ask them to share any new predictions from their reading journals; add these to the list.
8. Have students finish reading the story and write in their journals whether or not their last prediction was correct and why or why not.
9. Conduct a brief discussion to let students know that like Rosa's family, they will have an opportunity to choose a new piece of furniture to purchase and will develop a savings plan to obtain the new piece.

Session 2

1. Return to the discussion of a lost or damaged item from the previous session (see Session 1, Step 1). Review the chart of ways to find the item. Discuss what students think is the best way to find or replace the lost item and why they think so. For each idea, list at least two reasons it would be the best way to find or replace the item and record these ideas on the chart. Then choose one idea and work together to write an opinion paragraph on the board or a piece of chart paper. For example:
I believe the best way to find a lost watch is to put an advertisement in the newspaper. The advertisement would reach all the people who read the Lost and Found column. It would describe the lost watch so people could recognize it and would give the phone number so anyone who found the watch could call the owner right away.
Note: You may want to spend some time during this discussion reviewing the difference between fact and opinion depending on your students' familiarity with these terms.
2. Hand out and review the Opinion Rubric with students. Using the sample paragraph, decide together what the total point value for this paragraph would be. You should make changes to the rubric as necessary during the discussion so that it fits the sample paragraph.
3. Returning to A Chair for My Mother, have students discuss the positive and negative aspects of the way Rosa's family saved to buy the chair. Positive aspects might include the fact that everyone worked together and that they could see progress as the jar filled with money. Negative aspects might include that it took a long time to save up enough to buy a chair and they probably had to give up other things to put money in the jar.
4. Discuss other possible ways that Rosa's family might have gone about getting a new chair and the pros and cons of each method.
5. Share the prompt you have written on chart paper (see Preparation, Step 3) with students and have them write their own opinion paragraphs in their journals.
6. Have students share their paragraphs in heterogeneous groups of two or three and then call on volunteers to share with the whole class.

Session 3

If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, this session should take place in your school's computer lab.

1. Talk about A Chair for My Mother and ask students to think about what piece of furniture their family might save money to replace or buy and why that piece of furniture would be important to have. Think aloud about what piece of furniture you might replace or buy and why it would be important to you, for example, "I have a chair that is old with ripped fabric. I need a new chair. I'd like one that is bright and cheerful."
2. Have volunteers share their furniture choices with the class. Be sure they share why that piece of furniture would be important to their family.
3. Distribute the Cost Comparison Chart and explain to students that they will visit three websites and use several paper resources to find and price a possible piece of furniture that they might help their family save for and buy. Have students fill out the top of the chart.
4. Demonstrate how to search for the piece of furniture you have discussed at each of the three websites using a SMART board, LCD projector, or large monitor. Using either the poster or transparency you created (see Preparation, Step 5) record the name, cost, fabric, and what you like about the item on the Cost Comparison Chart.
5. Students should work independently to research and fill out their charts. Circulate and monitor students' progress while they work to search for furniture and fill in their charts, offering support as needed.
6. When students have surveyed the three websites, offer them the paper resources you assembled to check for additional items (these can be recorded in the boxes labeled "Other" on the chart).
7. Students should save their charts for Session 4.

Home-School Connection (optional): Have students visit a local furniture store with a parent or caregiver to find another choice for their selected piece of furniture; these choices can be recorded in one of the boxes labeled "Other" on the Cost Comparison Chart. (See the sample parent letter for an example of the letter you might send home to parents.)

Session 4

1. Have students take out their Cost Comparison Charts. Discuss possible reasons why the prices might be different for the different pieces of furniture (e.g., size, quality of construction, style, the item is on sale). Possible questions for discussion include:
  • What different prices did you find for similar pieces of furniture?
  • Why do you think the prices are different?
  • Should you always choose the least expensive item? Why or why not?
Discuss ways students could save money to buy their selected item (e.g., saving from their allowance, withdrawing for a savings account, or borrowing from a friend or family member). Chart their ideas.
2. Discuss the terms income, spending, and saving with students, making sure they understand what each one means. Ask students to offer examples of each from their own experience and from A Chair for My Mother. Questions for discussion include:
  • Do you earn income? How?
  • Does borrowed money count as income?
  • What do you think spending money means?
  • Why is saving money a good idea?
  • How did Rosa and her mother earn money?
  • How did Rosa's family save their money? Are there other ways to save?
3. Hand out the Savings Plan and review, explaining to students that they will create their own plan and this is the way their final savings plan will be scored. Model creating the savings plan on the poster or transparency you made (see Preparation, Step 5), making sure to review how to round up or down as necessary. For example:
Sample Savings Plan
Item Storybook Chair from JCPenney.com
Price $229.00
Amount to save per week from allowance $5.00
Amount from extra income per week $2.00
Total amount of money to save per week $7.00
How many weeks to save for the item $229.00 ÷ $7.00 = 32.7 or 33 weeks

Note: The price of the item may be calculated with or without taxes and shipping depending on your students' experience. You may want to model visiting each website to locate these amounts.
4. Review your sample plan, making sure students understand how you arrived at your calculations. Ask them how many months 33 weeks is, talking about how long it would take you to save for the chair. Ask them if they can think of any way you might get the chair more quickly or how long they think it would take if your allowance were lower.
5. Allow students time to fill in the Savings Plan sheet and make their calculations. Circulate to provide support as needed.

Note: If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, the next part of the session should take place in the school's computer lab.

6. Introduce the idea that we can use technology to verify our plans and calculations. Talk about the fact that technology isn't always available and so we do need to know how to create a savings plan without technology, which is why they did the one on paper first. Demonstrate how to use the Googolplex Savings Calculator to check your sample savings plan (see Step 3).
7. Students should use the calculator to check their work. You may have them print out the calculation page to attach to their Savings Plan sheet.
8. At the end of the session, allow time for students to share their items and savings plans in heterogeneous groups of two or three (you might have them work in the same groups as in Session 2). Be sure each student gives reasons for his or her selection.
9. Students should fill out the bottom section of the Savings Plan sheet and turn it in for evaluation.


  • Encourage students to choose an item for purchase for the classroom or school and use the same instructional sequence to help them with their savings plan.
  • Have students read other books or websites (see Resources for Income, Savings, and Spending Lessons) that lend themselves to problem solving using income, savings, and spending.
  • Share with students the Compound Interest Calculator from EconEdLink to show them how interest can help with their long-term savings plan.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Listen to students’ predictions about the story and review the chart of listed predictions and justifications to assess their comprehension.
  • Use the Opinion Rubric to assess students’ paragraphs in Session 2.
  • Take anecdotal notes during discussion of savings, spending, and income to make sure students fully understand these terms; offer further explanation as necessary.
  • Collect students’ Cost Comparison Charts and Savings Plans; check for accuracy and completion.


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