Deficits and the Debt Ceiling

Teachers' Edition: Grades 3-6 (Lesson Plans)
tags: deficits

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The first day of the lesson reviews the general causes, characteristics and proposed solutions to the debt crisis. This first lesson, which could easily extend to a two-day lesson, would then provide the basic substance for developing a Public Service Announcement (PSA) project that would require two days of class-time group work for planning. The project would be completed outside of class. When the project is completed, an additional day would be needed for presentations of each group’s video or poster project.

Common Core Standards Correlation:

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies Grades 9-12: standards 1-4, and 6-9

Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies Grades 9-12: standards 1-9


  • Video: Remy – Raise the Debt Ceiling Rap
  • HNN Backgrounder: Deficit
  • Video: United States Debt Crisis
  • Article: US Debt Crisis: The Solutions?
  • Objectives:

  • Knowledge of the history of the debt crisis
  • Analyze who controls the credit and the causes of the increasing debt over the last century
  • Assess the validity of the proposed solutions
  • Synthesize the information in a Public Service Announcement
  • DAY ONE:

    A. Introduction (Bell Ringer):

    I) Have students review the rap video Raise the Debt Ceiling

    While students listen have them identify the cause, and characteristics of the debt crisis sung in the video. Through open sharing, discuss what the debt crisis is, how raising the ceiling of debt is used to solve the crisis, and a simple overview of solutions from left and right political groups.

    Essential Question: To what extent is raising the debt ceiling necessary to solve America’s debt crisis?

    B. Backgrounder: Move to a general review discussion of the HNN Backgrounder: review the causes and characteristics in greater depth; reaffirm the position of the left and the right political groups, and review “debt crises” throughout American history.

    1) Have students view the video The U.S. Debt Crisis and take notes on the details of the current debt problem.

    2) In a class discussion, consider the following: What would the founding fathers think about the debt-ceiling crisis?

    I) Have students consider who holds the credit, and how the United States built up our recent debt (see information below), then compare that information with the chart of increasing debt:

    II) The Public: Includes debt held by individuals, corporations, banks and insurance companies, pension and mutual funds, state and local governments.

    1) President Obama (2009-11): Stimulus spending, tax cuts, and the effects of 2007-9 recession in lost revenues and automatic spending, like unemployment compensation.

    III) Foreign Countries: China, Japan, Britain, and Oil-exporting countries, and various smaller countries

    1) George W. Bush (2001-9) Tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, economic downturn in 2001 and recession starting in 2007.

    IV) U.S. Government: 1) The Federal Reserve System: Includes collateral for U.S. currency and store of liquidity for emergency needs; 2) Social Security Trust Funds: Surpluses generated by the program that have been invested in government bonds.

    1) Bill Clinton (1993-2001): Despite two years of on-budget surpluses, deficit spending in other years added to the debt.

    2) George Bush (1989-93): The first gulf war and lower revenue from a recession.

    3) Ronald Reagan (1981-89): Peacetime defense spending and permanent tax cuts.

    4) Before Reagan (1981 and Earlier): Deficit spending from wars and economic downturns.

    Source: New York Times, July 29, 2011

    C. Closing Activity: Have students actively read the article U.S. Debt Crisis: The Solutions? from The Telegraph, and analyze whether the proposed solutions to the debt crisis are viable solutions.

    DAY TWO and THREE: Group-Work Project

    A. Public Service Announcement Video/Poster: Have students work in groups of four to create a Public Service Announcement Video, or in groups of two to create a PSA Poster, informing their audience about the debt ceiling crisis.

    B. Groupwork:After the groups have formed, assign group-work roles (Leader, Recorder, and related tasks), and allow students to brainstorm their ideas for the desired product. Urge them to consider the following:

    1) determine what can be reasonably developed with available resources (props, costumes, time, etc.)

    2) "What can your video teach people?”

    3) "Is the topic likely to be of interest to people who may watch the video?”

    4) “Are the resources available to capture the idea on film or in a poster?”

    5) “What research time may be required?”

    Schedule: students should establish a timeline for the entire project. It is important that every team member knows their role and understands exactly when their tasks need to be complete. If deadlines are missed, or meeting times not met, the final project will not get produced at the highest quality level, and will increase the number of hours needed to finish the project. Students should work to create a realistic schedule, which all participants can meet.

    Research of Script/Storyboard/Poster Sketches: students should seriously research to ensure that their video will include credible information. As part of the video or poster, students should include Credits or a Works Cited document where their facts were obtained.

    - If working on a video, have each group create a storyboard that depicts and describes the action that will take place in each scene. Storyboards are a good planning tool, and show what you and/or your team has agreed will take place in each shot.

    - If working on a PSA Poster, have each group provide a series of poster sketches that works out imagery and copywriting.

    Students should be assigned a week or two weeks, depending on the level of the assignment, to complete the group project at home. They should use Google Docs, as a written means to add or revise their scripts or storyboards. For posters, the time outside of class would be shorter.

    On the due date, schedule a single class period for group presentations of the final projects, or a museum walk for the posters.

    C. Enrichment: Have students write a letter to their Congressional Senator or Representative on their solution to the debt ceiling crisis.

    D. Summary Question: To what extent is the problem that taxes are too low or that spending is too high--or some combination of the two?