First Grade Lesson Plans on Counting Dollar Bills

Money Money Money – All In a First Grader’s World!

When looking at first grade lesson plans on counting bills, it's important to keep practicality and realism at the forefront of your


agenda. Counting bills and counting money in general, is not only a great way of getting your students to use math without their realizing it, it is also an essential life skill.


Students will be able to:

  • Identify and compare the different denominations of bills.
  • Develop an appreciation of the value of money and conceptualize why they can't have everything they want.
  • Identify and demonstrate the different ways of using money in real life situations.

Let’s Go Shopping With Mom – An Introductory Activity

First graders are likely to be most familiar with money from visiting shops and stores with their parents. Reading the book, "Just

Just Shopping With Mom by Mercer Mayer

Shopping With Mom" by Mercer Mayer, is a fun way to start discussions on the topic of money. In this story, the mom bear is struggling with her three children, one of whom wants to buy everything she sees. They visit various different stores: a pet store, an ice cream shop, the bakery, the toy store, and the dress store.

After reading the book, ask you students if they ever ask for extra things when "shopping with mom". Do they know why mom sometimes says 'no'? Explain to them that sometimes parents only have so much money to spend, and then hold up a real dollar bill. Ask them if they know what it is.

Go on to explain that there are other bills too and that they can be worth up to 100 dollars. Hold up 5 single dollar bills in one hand and a 5 dollar bill in the other. Explain to them how they are both worth the same.

Now it's time to set up shop!

Materials for Setting up Shop & Playing Bank

  • A good supply of fake bills in 1, 5 & 10 dollar denominations – You can use ready-made play money, ones you've made yourself, or just copy a pile of dollar bills using a printer or copy machine.
  • Play food or general shop items – books, teddy bears, etc., (dependent on your shop types).
  • Stickers to write prices on
  • Play cash register (optional).
  • Card & glue.

Role Play: At the Shops – An Interactive Activity

Give each child the same amount of fake money – try 5 one dollar bills, 2 five dollar bills, and 1 ten dollar bill to start with.

Split the class into two groups; one group of shopkeepers, the other group is made up of shoppers. You can set up one giant grocery store or split the shopkeepers up further by having different shops, just as in the book. The shopkeepers should decide on the price of their goods (with your help) and label them accordingly, making some items deliberately more expensive than the amount of fake money they have in their possession.

As the shopkeepers set up shop, the shoppers can make wallets to keep their bills in. Suggest they might make different sections to keep the different denominations of bills in and note how they organize their money when they are ready to shop. If you think it may be easier to start with smaller bills, then tell the shopkeepers to leave their larger bills "at home" and just use their single dollar bills for their first shopping trip.

As shopping commences, the first grade children should learn to only pick up what they can afford in the shop and then count out the total amount in bills to the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper then needs to count the bills again to make sure there is enough and put the money in the cash register. When advancing to using the larger bills, the shopkeeper will then need to learn how to count back the right amount of change in dollar bills too. The children will need your help to begin with, but this should get easier with practice.

At the end of course, the two groups could swap around or you could continue the role play another day with the groups reversed. Repetition is a great way of reinforcing learning, rather than making it an isolated activity that is soon forgotten.

At the end of the exercise, ask the first grade students if they found counting bills difficult. Was there anything they wanted to buy, but didn't have enough money?

Role Play: At the Bank – Addressing Learning Needs Through Adaptation Activities


When advancing through the counting bills lesson plan for first graders, you may come across the incomprehensible issue that one piece of paper money can be worth more than another piece of paper money that looks the same. This can be a difficult idea for a first grader to get their head around. By playing "banks", the students can simply work in pairs and exchange, for example, 5 one dollar bills for 1 five dollar bill, or 2 five dollar bills for 1 ten dollar bill. This activity gets the students to use their math skills by adding five and five, etc. You can leave them to do their own thing, swapping "banker" and "customer" roles every now and then, or you can issue them direct instructions. You could also issue simple worksheets with basic tasks to complete.

If your students find this subject particularly interesting, then you could end the day with a related story such as, "Berenstain Bears' Trouble with Money". This book looks at the purpose of banks and how to save money. You may also start the next day with this book, to introduce the theme of banks in relation to counting money. This book looks more closely at not only getting first graders to count bills and understand their value, but also teaches all about saving money; introducing the idea that money isn't just for spending at stores.

When your students are ready, you can continue onto how to make change lesson plans, that involve counting coins as well as counting bills.


As the activities in this lesson plan are focused on mostly role playing to reinforce the everyday activities in which we use money, the assessment will be based on your own observations to a large degree. By asking the students at the end of the shopping activity if they found counting bills difficult, you may uncover some problems you hadn't already discovered and may try to address them in the extension activity below.

Observing the "shoppers" as they organize their money will give you an idea of their organizational skills. The same would be true when helping the "shopkeepers" to set up shop. But it is their ability to figure out how much money to pay and how much to give as change that is the true test of their math skills.

At the end of the activities, you may want to ask yourself, "Did the students understand through demonstration, the different ways of using money?"

Using worksheets, upon the completion of the banking task, may also give you some hard evidence to evaluate, before continuing to the extension activities.

Extension Activities

There are also other activities that you can incorporate into a counting bills lesson plan for first graders, such as counting money lesson plans with a charity theme. If your students become confident enough in their counting skills and practice a lot at their "shop" skills, you may want to supervise them in an activity such as a bake sale, where everything is a dollar. You could incorporate this with another theme you have been studying, such as forests, for example – with all proceeds going to help save the rainforest.

Not only will this let them use their math skills, it will also build their understanding of the value of money in the future. Another use for money that doesn't involve buying anything or saving it in the bank, that can be learned from this lesson, is showing them that their efforts will often grant them a reward in the long run.

Resources & Image Credits

Dollar bill – Image from Wikimedia

Selling cakes – Mads Boedker

Twenty dollar bill – Jared and Corin