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NumberFix: Exploring Money Calculations & Story Writing with "Benny's Pennies."

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from NumberFix
Math Topic: money calculations Students Write: a story about spending money

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Writing for Math Class:
Follow the Path of
Five Dollars

This writing across the curriculum lesson was written by NNWP Teacher Consultant, Karen McGee, who believes it would work well with students in grades 3-6. Karen used it with her third grade class.

This lesson was proposed to NumberFix using this template. If you have a math/mentor text lesson you'd like to have published, fill out the template and send it to Holly Young, our NumberFix Coordinator: We'll send you an NNWP Print Publication if we post your lesson here!


Lesson Overview & Objective:

Pat Brisson’s book Benny’s Pennies provides the impetus for students to discover some reasonable ways to spend a set amount of money following specific criteria. After the students decide how to spend their money, they then must show the path of the spending. This on-line prompt encourages students to reflect on the cost of purchasing products, the strategies they need to use to compute the amount of money they spend, and the most effective ways to share their learning experiences with others.

Writing Skill (Trait) to Stress
while Teaching this Lesson:

The focus trait in this writing assignment is organization. The writer’s goal is to hook the reader with an enticing lead while establishing the nature of the problem to be solved, lead the reader through the problem solving process in a logical, thorough manner, and conclude the writing by circling back to the lead, leaving the reader feeling satisfied.

Materials List:

Teacher Instructions:

Day 1: Tell the students that they are going to listen to a story about a little boy who has five pennies to spend. When he asks for suggestions about what to buy, members of his family offer some ideas. Read Brisson’s book, and discuss the criteria Benny used to purchase his gifts. Explain that students are going to write a similar piece, but because they are good with math, they are going to have five dollars to spend. They, like Benny, will need to follow the three criteria for spending their money, however: Something beautiful, something good to eat, and something nice to wear.

Explain to the students that while five dollars may feel like a lot of money, it actually doesn’t buy much unless they are very careful shoppers. On three pieces of chart paper, list things they could buy which would meet the criteria and still be reasonable.

From Karen: "I told the students that I actually shopped at Goodwill, the Dollar Store, and Walmart to see what I could buy so that I could help them with their estimates. One person suggested that shopping at yard sales or garage sales was another way to buy inexpensive items. After we filled all three charts with possible items, I brought out my sacks of items that I had purchased; I shared this chart with the actual prices on it."

Day 2: Explain to the students that when we buy things, we have to pay tax; if necessary, explain what the tax is used for. Teach the students how to compute tax. In the 3rd grade (where Karen originally taught this lesson), we needed to simplify tax, so we assigned a value of 10% to all items that were sold. We discovered that while many of the students could compute the tax and the amount of the product in their heads, they had great difficulty showing their work. These students needed to work with decimals so they could set up their problems.

When the students feel proficient at calculating tax and total cost of items, give them either version of the handout below: the first version has a space for calculating taxes, the second version does not.


Day 3:

  • Step One: Share some models of writing. Discuss the lead: Is there a hook? Is the problem clearly stated? In the body of the writing, look for words which showcase the path the writer took. Is the computation clear and correct? Finally, does the ending return to the lead and leave the reader feeling satisfied?


  • Step Two: Put Possible Leads Information Sheet up on the overhead. Discuss each lead and tell students that they may choose one of those or write one of their own. After all students have their leads written, tell them that they are going to write the next part of their texts interactively on chart paper using this Interactive Writing Guide. Karen said, "I used the lowest functioning students to do most of this writing." When the interactive chart is complete, all students copy that chart onto their papers. Students then complete their texts using their math worksheet as their guide. (insert pictures busy writing and busy writing 2)

Student writers hard at work...
  • Step Three: On the overhead, put up the Organization Rubric. Read and discuss each criteria. If necessary, bring out the original text, Benny’s Pennies, or one of the models to compare to the rubric. Students reread their own texts to discover if they’ve met the criteria. From Karen: "Most of our students left off the satisfying ending. Students then revise as needed."

Day Four: From Karen, "After typing our students’ papers, we had students illustrate the borders." Students publish their pieces by reading them in Author’s Chair.

Writers share their final stories aloud.

A Final note from Karen: "I put the things I had purchased on the carpet in the center of the room. After putting all the students’ names into a bag, I drew out each name, and that student chose an item to take home."

Karen with her third graders and their "loot."

Student Samples:

Day 1: Tell the students that they are going to listen to a story about a little boy who

Emme’s Dollars
by Emme, third grader

I felt so lucky that my aunt gave me five dollars for my birthday. “What should I buy?” I asked.

“Buy something beautiful,” said my sister.

“Buy something good to eat,” said my dad.

“Buy something nice to wear,” said my mom.

First I went to the grocery store to buy a flower. It was $1.00 plus 10 cents in tax. I spent $1.10. I had $3.80 left to spend. Then I went to the gas station to buy a Slurpee. It was $1.00 as well and 10 cents in tax. I spent $1.10, and I had $2.70 left to spend. Next, I bought some lip gloss at the Dollar Store. It cost $1.00, the tax was 10 cents, and I spent $1.10. I had $1.60 left.

I gave the flower to my sissy. I gave the Slurpee to my dad, and I gave the lip gloss to my mom. I gave the money I had left to my piggy bank. I felt so good.

“Thanks, lil’ sis,” my sister said.

“Yummy,” my dad said as took a sip of his Slurpee.

“This lip gloss is so sparkly!” my mom said as she gave me a hug.

I felt like someone had just told me I got a puppy.


Luis’s Dollars
by Luis, third grader

I felt so lucky that my brother gave me $5.00 for my good grades on my report card. I got AAAAAAAB. Yea! “What should I buy?” I asked.

“Buy something beautiful,” said my mom.

“Buy something good to eat,” said my dad.

“Buy something nice to wear,” said my brother.

“Okay, I will,” I said. First, I went to the Dollar Store to buy a snow globe. It cost $1.00 and the tax was 10 cents. The total was $1.10. Now I had $3.90 left.

Then I went to the 7 Eleven, and I bought a Sprite. It cost 50 cents. The tax was 5 cents, and all together it cost $.55. I took $.55 from $3.90 and I had $3.35 left.

Then I went to Goodwill, and I bought shorts. They cost 55 cents. The tax was 5 cents, and the total was 60 cents.

Now I had $2.75 left. I put that money in my wallet. I said, “Thank you, Brother. I bought a snow globe for Mom, a Sprite for you, and some shorts for Dad.”

Mom said, “Oh, I love this snow globe.”

“Mmmm, this Sprite is so good,” said my brother.

“Oh my gosh, these shorts are so nice,” Dad said.

I felt great.


Melanie’s Dollars
by Melanie, third grader

I felt so lucky that my grama gave me $5.00 for Christmas. “What should I buy with my $5.00?” I asked.

My Grama told me, “You should buy something beautiful.”

I said, “Okay,” and I went to the store and I bought a necklace. It cost $1.00 plus 10 cents tax, and I had $3.90 left.

Then my Grama told me to buy something nice to eat, and I went to Super Burrito and I bought a burrito. It cost 99 cents plus 9 cents tax, and I had $2.82 left.

Then Grama said, “Buy something nice to wear.” So I went to Walmart, and I bought a lip gloss. It cost $1.00 plus 10 cents tax.

Then I had left $1.80. I put my necklace and lip gloss on, and I went to my Grama’s to share my burrito for lunch. I felt happy, and I thanked my Grama for my present.


Nate’s Dollars
by Nate, third grader

I felt so great. I earned my $5.00 for cleaning the house. “What should I buy?” I asked.

“Buy something beautiful,” said my mom.

“Buy something good to eat,” said my uncle.

“Buy something nice to wear,” said my dad.

“Okay, I will,” I said. I went to Goodwill and found a beautiful vase. It cost $1.00 and tax was 10 cents. That left me with $3.90.

Then I went to the Dollar Store. I found a delicious candy bar. It cost $1.00. Tax was 10 cents, and that left me with $2.80.

Last, I went back to Goodwill and found a hat. It cost 50 cents. Tax was 5 cents, and that left me with $2.85.

When I got home, I ate my candy bar and put flowers in the vase. I gave the hat to my dad, and I put the $2.25 in my bank so I can earn enough to go to college. That $5.00 felt like the best spent dollars in months.

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