Inflation hit a four-decade high in the United States during September, with the consumer price index up 8.2 percent from a year earlier. While most adults are painfully aware of higher prices for everything from food to fuel, teens may be blissfully ignorant.
There are a few reasons inflation may not feel relevant to teens. If teens aren’t yet working and earning their own money, they’re buying things with their parent’s funds. The cure for inflation is simply to ask mom or dad for more money. Working teens will definitely be feeling the burn of increased prices, but their time horizon tends to be focused on today versus how inflation will impact them decades down the road.
Storytelling can be an effective way for teachers to make topics like inflation relevant to students. Storytelling makes abstract concepts come to life and can help students envision themselves in the story.
Here are three ways storytelling can make a dry topic like inflation interesting.
- Make it personal. Most families have stories about how soaring prices are impacting them today or have in the past. Look for these stories and work them into discussions. For example, in the early 1970s, an oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) resulted in oil prices jumping 350 percent. Since gas was in short supply, many states rationed gas, often by either limiting the amount consumers could buy or on which days they could gas up. Lines for gas stretched for miles. Waiting for hours for gas will be an interesting concept to teens used to the near-instant gratification available via their cell phones. Alternatively, inflation is causing members of some families today to delay retirement or re-enter the workforce to make ends meet. A discussion about the effect of inflation on seniors and those with fixed incomes will hit home for many teens.
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2. Give students something to touch. The main reason inflation exists is because the government prints too much money while the production of goods stays the same. Too many dollars chasing too few goods causes prices to increase and the buying power of the dollar to decrease. This can be a difficult concept to understand. The story of hyperinflation in places like Zimbabwe can be instructive. Since the value of the Zimbabwe dollar fell so quickly, the government had to print ever larger denominations. The largest denomination of currency ever issued was a Z$100 trillion bill in 2009. Before then, the country had similar dollar denominations to the United States. Today, a Z$50 billion note can be purchased for just a few U.S. dollars on eBay and elsewhere. Allowing students to see and touch these bills helps drive the lesson on inflation.
3. Demonstrate the effects. Inflation is a tax on people who save and invest and can have detrimental effects on long-term investing for things like retirement. Since most high school students are five decades away from retirement, it’s important to give them a way to visualize this concept today. One way to do this is to fill a large jar with pennies and mark where the pennies reach in the jar. Every day remove some pennies to account for inflation. Over the course of the semester, students can see the jar empty.
In addition to these tips, digital storytelling using multimedia from sitcoms, cartoons, animations, and other sources can help engage students and illustrate essential concepts. Free digital economics course packages can be excellent sources.
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