Bringing Economics Center Stage: Reader's Theater in the Classroom

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players.

This quote, by the great William Shakespeare, is from his play As You Like It. What the melancholy Jacques seems to be saying to us today is that we live our lives onstage, that our lives are a form of art and art is a form of our lives. Three centuries later, the Irish playwright and Nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw, who was also a founder of the London School of Economics, went so far as to describe economics as "the art of making the most of life." That these masters of drama found commonalities between theater and life and between economics and life is not surprising. Shakespeare's works are full of economic themes—teachers often use The Merchant of Venice, which is the most obvious example, in economics classes to teach about interest. As we explore ways to integrate the arts into the economics classroom, we would be remiss to omit the theatrical arts, which provide students a participatory experience that also enhances important literacy skills.

While social studies teachers may struggle to find the time or resources to put on a full-scale theatrical production, the reader's theater is a style of drama that most teachers can easily use in the classroom. Research has shown that reader's theater, or RT, not only enhances students' speaking and listening skills, but also boosts their vocabulary and reading fluency as they practice and reread texts. These are valuable results, especially when we consider that literacy skills are now emphasized and integrated into standards across all curriculums and subject areas.

Additional benefits of the reader's theater are its encouragement of peer interaction and cooperation and its ability to generate enthusiasm for reading tasks. Unlike traditional theater production, RT does not require costumes, sets, or memorization; all that is needed is imagination. Once they are well-versed in the techniques of RT, students can create their own scripts. Younger students can adapt picture books and early readers, and older students can write original plays or adapt news stories, speeches, or works of literature.

The Federal Reserve has created a number of reader's theater scripts that teachers can use to teach economics and personal finance. Following is a guide to these scripts and to the concepts they teach, sorted by grade level. Also listed is a lesson from the New Deal Network's Great Depression and the Arts curriculum, which uses numerous primary sources and actual scripts from the New Deal's Federal Theater Project to teach about the social, economic, and political issues of the Great Depression. You can easily adapt these scripts to the reader's theater format. In addition, the lesson provides a historical background on the New Deal's funding for the arts. Make your classroom a stage and bring economics to life!

Elementary and Middle School
Title Grade Level Concepts
There's No Business Like Bank Business 
(Kansas City Fed)
This role play helps students understand how a bank operates, why saving is important, and what interest is.
3–5 account, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, deposit, Federal Reserve Bank, interest, loan, profit, reserves, saving, withdrawal
What Is Money? 
(Philadelphia Fed)
Set in colonial America, this lesson includes a reader's theater teaching the characteristics of money.
3–5 barter, coincidence of wants, characteristics of money, commodity money, money
To Pay the Price  
(Kansas City Fed)
Students learn about online banking and electronic methods of payment—as well as identity theft—by participating in a quiz show role play.
5–8 Automated Clearing House (ACH), credit, debit, direct deposit, electronic payment, encryption, Federal Reserve System, identity theft, online banking, PIN
Payment Parliament 
(Kansas City Fed)
This reader's theater explores the costs and benefits of different methods of payment for goods and services, as well as the Fed's role in processing financial payments.
5–8 credit, debit, electronic payment, Federal Reserve System, payment methods

Middle and High School
Title Grade Level Concepts
Professor Finance and Fed Boy Meet the Catastrophe Clan 
(Kansas City Fed)
This script emphasizes the wise use of credit while teaching about the payment method’s costs and benefits.
7–10 bankruptcy, CARD Act, credit, credit history, credit report, debt, Federal Reserve Bank, interest rate, payday lending, regulators
It's Not Your Father's Farm Bill
(Kansas City Fed)
This lesson's role play examines the effects of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (also known as the Farm Bill) on a number of groups, from farmers to grocers and consumers to conservationists.
7–12 entrepreneurship, factors of production, insurance subsidies, profit, revenue
Defining Moments in Federal Reserve History: 1907–1935 
(Kansas City and Richmond Feds)
Federal Reserve events and milestones from 1907 to 1935 are presented in a reader's theater format to help students understand the monetary history of the era.
9–12 advice and consent, commercial banks, economic growth, Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), governor, independent central bank, investment banks, lender of last resort, liquidity, monetary policy, money supply, open market operations, price stability, reserves, reserve requirement, securities (Treasury), speculator, unemployment
A Lesson to Accompany the First Bank of the United States: A Chapter in the History of Central Banking
Philadelphia Fed
This lesson uses a reader's theater format to give insight into the early colonial economy and teach about the Hamilton-Jefferson debate over the founding of the first Bank of the United States.
9–12 banks, bank notes, central bank, credit crunch, customs duties, Federalist Party, financial bubble, financial contagion, fiscal agent, initial public offering (IPO), money supply, primary source document, public debt, Republican Party, specie

Role Plays
While these lessons are not in the traditional reader's theater format, they include activities that incorporate drama in the classroom.
Title Grade Level Concepts
Meet Kit: An American Girl  
This lesson, based on the book of the same name in the American Girl series, includes a series of skits that teach about unemployment and the Great Depression.
3–5 bank, unemployment
Show Me the Shreds 
In this lesson, students participate in a role play that demonstrates the cycle of currency production, from its creation to final shredding.
6–12 Bureau of Engraving and Printing, counterfeit money, Department of the Treasury, Federal Reserve Bank, fit and unfit currency
Lesson Four: The New Deal's Federal Theatre Project
This lesson includes the Living Newspaper script for Power, a play on the development of the electric utility industry and New Deal initiatives such as the TVA, and excerpts from One Third of A Nation, the Theatre Project's most popular work and a commentary on the 1930s housing crisis in New York City.
8–12 Federal Theatre Project, fiscal policy, Great Depression, New Deal

Resources from

By Lesley Mace, senior economic and financial education specialist, Jacksonville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
February 4, 2015