Price Comparisons

Connecting with History
Ongoing Activity
Grades 5–12
Math, History, Economics
Research, Graphing, Small Group, Oral Presentation, Cumulative


  • Through research and analysis, students will gain a greater understanding of the changes in the costs and standards of living from the 1920s/1930s up to today.
  • Students will enhance their research, analysis, and graphing skills.


This activity challenges students to research prices and values of items, goods, and services during the 1920s/1930s up to today. Depending on class abilities and time available, this activity can be adapted for many different mathematical and research skill levels.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • If possible, arrange for time in a computer lab or for the use of a classroom set of computers.
  • Easel pads or large pieces of butcher paper
  • Art supplies
  • Yard sticks and/or rulers
  • Copies of The Red Pony

Estimated Time

1 class period (minimum)

2-5 class periods for a more in-depth study


Journal/discussion topic: Create a list of everyday items that you use, consume, or need.

  • This list will vary greatly and may lead to a discussion of the difference between luxury items and necessary items.
  • Be sure to steer students towards listing items that were also needed during the 1920s/1930s.


  • Using their copies of The Red Pony, have students skim through the book to find everyday items the Tiflins used/needed.
  • ~Consider a group-to-class or fishbowl method. Students may also benefit from assigning non-traditional roles for group and class discussions.
  • ~Some of these items will be produced on the ranch itself (milk, eggs, etc.); others are items that they would have purchased (saddles, utensils, etc.).
  • What other items would the Tiflins, or other people living during the time, have needed? What kinds of services would they have needed (horse shoeing, saddle repair, breeding fees, etc.).
  • Create a list, on the board or on easel/butcher paper, of items needed today and in the 1920s/1930s. This list will serve as the starting point for research.
  • ~Examples for research include:
  • ~~Basic food products, including eggs, milk, bread, meat and the like
  • ~~Clothing
  • ~~Land and home prices
  • ~~Wages for various types of jobs
  • ~~Specific costs of various equipment needed to run a self-sustaining ranch (for example, horse harnesses and harvesting equipment)
  • ~~The prices of trucks and other transportation
  • ~~Prices of furniture and other items necessary to furnishing a home
  • ~~Breeding prices
  • ~~Cost of basic utilities
  • ~More advanced topics might include:
  • ~~Travel costs
  • ~~Banking and investment options and returns
  • ~~Costs of higher education
  • ~~Labor prices
  • ~~Wages earned based on career/industry

For a single day activity, reserve time towards the end of class to assign students items to research as homework.

  • Depending on student abilities, the homework assignment can vary.
  • ~Consider having students create a simple table of prices consisting of the item name, the year, and the price of the item.
  • ~Consider having students graph the price changes over time.
  • ~Consider assigning students several items to research and chart.

For a project continuing over several days of in-class work, arrange for time in the computer lab or for a class set of computers to be available. If this is not possible, assign students the research portion of the project to be done as homework. Use the data collected during the in-class portion of the project.

  • Each student should individually be researching and recording data for one or more items.

Analyzing and presenting data

  • Gather/collect data from the class. (This could come in the form of collecting homework and marking in the grade book who submitted data.)
  • Create student groups based on similar items. Distribute the data to those groups.
  • Either using computers and a spreadsheet program, or on easel/butcher paper, have groups create graphs charting and comparing prices and values based on the data collected.
  • ~Depending on student abilities, this could take an entire class period.
  • Depending on grade level and skill sets, students should identify important statistical information (e.g. mean, median, mode, rate of change, etc.).
  • Each group also will compose an analytical paragraph (or more, depending on student ability), explaining the data and their graph(s).
  • ~For more advanced classes, have students analyze price/value changes based on what historical, political, social, and/or economic events were occurring (for example, gas prices increased because of an OPEC embargo, sugar prices increased because of World War II, housing prices decreased because of the mortgage crisis, etc.).
  • Have groups present their findings to the class.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • Consider the “Extension of the Novel” activity in Passport to Literacy. In this activity, include references to price/value changes discovered by students during this activity.


  • Students should come away from this activity with a greater understanding of the costs of living as well as the way of living during the 1920s/1930s.
  • Depending on student abilities, students may gain an understanding of the social, political, and economic forces that shape prices/values.


  • Choose a contemporary issue (for example, gas prices, home values, tuition, etc.) and follow current events on that issue.
  • ~This can be incorporated into a daily or weekly current events assignment.


Students should be evaluated on the thoroughness of their research and their participation in group work.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Standards for Mathematical Practice 6
  • ~Statistics and Probability: 1, 5
  • Standards for Mathematical Practice 7
  • ~Statistics and Probability: 3, 5
  • Standards for Mathematical Practice 8
  • ~Statistics and Probability: 1
  • ~Expressions and Equations: 5
  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
  • Writing Standards 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2, 3
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5, 6
  • ~Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 8, 9
  • ~Range of Writing: 10
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1, 2 3
  • ~Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: 4, 5, 6
  • Language Standards 6-12
  • ~Conventions of Standards English: 1, 2, 3
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects 6-12
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 7, 8
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5, 6
  • ~Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 8, 9

Related Lesson Plans for this Work