From Cupcakes to Karaoke: 4 Engagement Activities You Can Use in Your Economics Class Now

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Picture a classroom where cupcakes aren't just a sweet treat but a lesson in inequality or where karaoke isn't just for fun, but a tool to understand the supply curve in action. Seeing economics in action can help students not feel overwhelmed by its complex theories and intricate models. Instructors can use products and activities students know and love to help them contextualize the concepts and help make the journey of understanding the world through the lens of economics fun and engaging.

Macmillan Learning asked our Peer Consultants to share the most effective engagement activities that they use in their Microeconomics and Macroeconomics classes. They delivered, and it should come as no surprise that many of the activities revolve around some of students’ favorite foods. These activities can be scaled and work well in both large and small classes. Here are four ways to incorporate real-life activities and interactive experiences to help students learn and retain complex economic concepts. To see them all, and get more details on the activities, hear from the instructors in this seven-minute video.

Supply curve karaoke: Economics Assistant Professor Dr. Kalina Staub, University of South Carolina Chapel Hill, asks her class to stand up if they’re willing to sing in front of the class for $1,000. Usually about 90% of the class will stand up at first, but then students begin to experience the creation of a supply schedule, and eventually a supply curve, in action as they count the number of students who remain standing as that pot of money decreases. 

Cupcake economics - visualizing inequality: To teach about inequality, Dr. Christopher Clarke, Economics Assistant Professor at Washington State University, brings five students to the front of the class. Each represents a 20th percentile of the population, and he distributes the amount of cupcakes reflective of their wealth. Students are often surprised when the bottom 10% get only a sliver of one cupcake. Often, the person with the most cupcakes will offer them to other students, which also allows teaching of voluntary redistribution, among other topics.

The taste of competition: To discuss competition, Dr. Aisling Winston, Clinical Assistant Economics Professor at University at Buffalo, uses chicken nuggets from a range of fast food restaurants. The students are asked to identify which nuggets are from which restaurant, choose their favorite, and then consider whether they’d switch to their second favorite. This brings them to a discussion about perfect competition, monopolistic competition, and monopolies.

Donut dilemma - scarcity in action: Economics Senior Instructor Dr. Erika Martinez from the University of South Florida uses donuts to talk about scarcity. If there are 20 students, but only 10 donuts. The students then ideate about how to allocate the donuts, which brings up discussions about the price system and can lead to suggestions like arm wrestling -- all allowing for conversations about allocation mechanisms. 

These are just some of the many activities instructors can use to make economics more engaging. To see all the tips, and hear from these and more instructors, check out Macmillan Learning’s EconEd page where you can watch the seven-minute video or get tips from Macmillan Learning’s authors on AI and other topics.