Sure, your textbook tries. It has little examples and profiles for key Economic concepts. It has glossy photos and interesting charts. And yet…even the best textbooks cannot replace supplemental texts that actually give your students a broader understanding of Economics and all of it’s incredible implications. After all, there are so many schools of thought and areas of study when it comes to being an economist. Why limit your students to traditional ways of teaching?
That’s why I bring key chapters of supplemental texts into my classroom. Sure, I use several other classic texts, like (super short) excerpts from Wealth of Nations (lesson here) and the famous essay “I, Pencil.” (Side Note: both of these provide interesting explanations of why specialization is so important in case you’re looking for that, specifically). But what I’m really interested in providing for my students is a way for them to see economics applied to the real world. This automatically increases their understanding of the material and interest in the subject.
Enter: my two favorite must-read supplemental texts for the economics classroom.
The Economic Naturalist by Robert H. Frank
Why I like it: It’s easy to read and approachable to high school students yet will open their minds to a perspective they have not yet considered. I specifically use Chapter One which is all about product design. Frank uses economic concepts to explain everything from why soda cans are cylindrical to why women’s shirts button from a different direction from men’s shirts. The format is a puzzling question followed by an economically centered explanation.
How I use it: I ask my students to read the assigned chapter. I give them a reading quiz on the day the reading is due and then have them write an (incredibly short) essay where they explain a puzzling question using a similar format to the author. Students become the Economic Naturalist! This idea comes from the author himself and is explained here. It takes a little while for students to choose their topic, but they typically love brainstorming and trying to find anomalies in the world around them. Seeing students get excited about economic concepts is music to my ears.
The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
Why I like it: Again, the writing is completely accessible for high school aged students. I specifically like to use Chapter 2: What Supermarkets Don’t Want You to Know because every student has likely been to the grocery store. The text takes conventional wisdom and challenges our assumptions. It also allows to students to shop more critically by questioning why supermarkets place items in specific places and get you to spend more money.
How I use it: Again, my students read the chapter and then take a reading quiz on the due date. However, they don’t write an essay for this one. Rather, I ask them to create questions about the text and how it applies to the real world. And then the students have a Socratic Seminar, which is one of my favorite days of the year. I’m always surprised to see students discuss topics we haven’t even covered yet like branding, marketing, personal finances, business structures, etc. It’s such a relevant and fruitful discussion. What’s better than watching my students basically become economists for a day?
PS I used to teach with Freakonomics because students absolutely love the way it’s written, but have discontinued for various reasons, including many of the theories presented being challenged or debunked.
So these are my main supplemental texts. What are yours? Let me know in the comments!