Counting Money Lesson Plans: Making Change Activity Without Using Math Worksheets

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Real World Application

When teaching students about money, it is so important to use real world applications. In today’s credit world, people often get into trouble with their credit because money is not actually changing hands. The same can be true for students, although on a smaller scale. Students need that practice with real money in real-life situations. Take some class time out to practice making change with real or play money. Your students will learn the concept and value of money so much faster!

Counting Money Lesson Plan: Part One

For students to complete this math activity, they should have basic knowledge of adding and subtracting decimals and a concept of money. This would be a great activity for third or fourth graders. You will need several newspaper sale ads. You will not need any math worksheets for this activity. Students can use notebook paper and play money to take the lesson a step further. Making change worksheets can be sent home for homework if you feel extra practice is needed after the counting money lesson. With the worksheets, send a note home to parents and ask them to allow students to use some change or play money for hands-on practice.

Pass out one sale ad to each student or pair of students. Tell students that they have $30.00 (or any amount will work, depending on your grade level or students' abilities) to spend at this store. They will need to buy at least two items on sale, figure their total cost by adding decimals together, and finally make change from their total amount by subtracting decimals.

Students should show all their work. On a piece of notebook paper, they will write down the items they “bought” with the prices next to the names of the items. They will show how they add the decimals together. Next, they will take the total they spent and subtract it from the amount of money that they had to start with.

Once they have their change total, they can draw a picture of the dollar bills and coins they should get back, AND they can practice counting the change back with play money. If the change they are supposed to receive is $11.32, then they would draw one ten dollar bill, a one dollar bill, a quarter, a nickel, and two pennies. When they are practicing with play money, they will first gather $11.32 and then practice counting it back to “a customer.”

Counting Money Lesson Plans, Part Two

You can make this money activity more challenging for gifted students or for a higher grade level in two ways, and you still do not need math worksheets.

First, ask students to figure tax and add it to the total before they make change. You can use a random sales tax rate such as 7.1%, or you can find out your city’s tax rate. Now your students will be multiplying decimals in this activity.

The other way to make this activity more challenging or focus on a different decimal skill is to tell students that everything in their sale ad is on sale for 25% off of the price in the ad. Before they are adding decimals together to figure total cost, they will need to figure out the price of each item with the percentage off. Again, students will be multiplying decimals instead of just adding and subtracting decimals with this extension of the money activity.


  • Author experience teaching third, fourth, and fifth grade math