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July 8th, 2009
You Can Take That to the Bank!
Lesson Activities


1. Introduce the lesson by asking students if they have a savings or a checking account at a bank. Ask students if there are any other bank services that they have used? Ask students to think of the different services that banks provide. Write these services in a list on the board or a piece of chart paper. (Answers may include: checking accounts, savings accounts, CDs, special incentives like free student checking, or a “Keep the Change” program, credit cards, debit cards, insurance, currency exchange, money transfers, mortgages, home equity loans, refinancing, investments, mutual funds, auto loans, boat loans, student loans, business loans.)

2. Go through the list you have created of bank services with the class. One by one, review what each service involves, and decide if it involves money lending (the bank giving money to the customer or account holder) or not (the customer or account holder giving their own money to the bank). Review the Bank Services Answer Key (RTF) (PDF) for answers.

3. Divide the class into two groups, Consumers and Lenders. Distribute chart paper to each group. Ask the Consumers to think about the reasons they would want to use the bank services listed. Ask the Lenders to think about the reasons why banks would want to provide these services. Give the groups 10 – 15 minutes to discuss and list their answers on the chart paper.

4. Bring the two groups together and discuss each group’s answers as a class. (Reasons for Consumers should include: safety & security, convenience of payment, access to cash, earning interest, incentives to save. Reasons for Lenders should include: providing services for customers, helping people achieve financial goals, helping to generate economic activity, access to capital that the bank needs to provide loans, financial profit.)

5. As students can see, lending money is a huge component of the banking industry. Tell students that they are going to watch a video clip explaining the foundations of money lending. FRAME the first part of the clip, “Establishing Credit, Earning Interest,” by explaining to students that money lending is a risky endeavor, and the world financial system did not always have structures in place to guarantee repayment. Give students a FOCUS by asking them to note the root of the word “credit” as they watch the clip. PLAY Clip 1, PAUSE after “I believe.” FOLLOW UP by asking students for a working definition of “credit.” (The idea that you can lend money to someone and rely on them to pay it back at a later date.) Ask students how the concept of credit affects the consumer in bank services and transactions? How does it benefit the lender?

6. FRAME the second half of the clip by explaining that even with the trust established by credit, banks or money lenders still need assurance that their loans will be repaid, as well as compensation for their services as lenders. Give students a FOCUS by asking them to note a definition of “interest” as they watch the rest of the clip. PLAY the rest of “Establishing Credit, Earning Interest.” FOLLOW UP by reviewing the definition and writing it on the board. (Interest: the amount paid to the lender over and above the sum lent.) Ask students how the concept of interest affects both consumers and lenders in bank services and transactions?

7. Discuss with students the impact that credit and interest went on to have in the world of trade. Ask students:
• Why do you think credit and interest were essential to overseas trade? (Enabled people to have to money and goods they needed to trade)
• How is this same concept reflected in money-lending practices today? (Credit cards or loans enable people to buy things even if they don’t have the cash to buy them)
• How do the concepts of credit and interest, as incorporated into banking and money lending, help to stimulate economic growth? (Giving people credit means giving more loans which provides more work for lenders and more money in the system, increased revenue for lenders in the form of interest, and the creation of banking jobs as people want loans handled by professionals.) Give one example of how you think it may have stimulated growth in medieval times, and one example of how it works today. (Answers will vary.)


1. Explain to students that with credit and interest as the foundation of international finance, it became possible for more advanced financial services to develop. Explain that in the Middle Ages, when the banking system as we know it began to evolve, the practice of lending money at interest was restricted to Jewish moneylenders.

2. FRAME Clip 2 , “Borrowing Time,” by asking if any of the students are familiar with the Shakespeare play “The Merchant of Venice.” Ask for (or provide, if students are not familiar with the play) a brief synopsis. (In “The Merchant of Venice,” Jewish moneylender Shylock lends money to Antonio, asking for a pound of flesh if the loan is not repaid. Explain that this play and the character of Shylock both reflected prevailing attitudes and helped to perpetuate many anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money.) Give students a FOCUS by asking them to think about the following questions as they watch the clip:
• How were Jews set apart from other residents of Venice?
• What service was only provided by Jewish merchants? Why?
PLAY ”Borrowing Time.” FOLLOW UP by reviewing the questions and asking students for their answers. (1. They had to wear yellow “O”s or hats, and were confined to the ghetto nuovo. 2. They could lend money at interest; it was a sin for Christians to do so.) You may wish to explain to students that while the Christian church had declared usury to be a sin, the Jewish faith took a different perspective. Biblical interpretations suggest that the Old Testament declared that while Jews cannot lend at interest to other Jews, they are allowed to do so to non-Jewish people – therefore when Jewish merchants lent charged interest to Christians, it was not considered a sin.

3. Discuss with students why they think the Jewish merchants and moneylenders were so hated by the Christians. (Possibly because the Jews were engaged in a practice they considered to be a sin.) If the Christians were so opposed to the Jews, why did they still go to them for loans? (Likely because it was still necessary for Christians to obtain loans for business and trade.) Why didn’t the Christians just lend money to each other without interest? (Based on what students know about interest, it is not beneficial to the lender to give a loan without interest, so the Christians were probably reluctant to do so.)

4. FRAME Clip 3, “First Bank of the Medici,” by telling students that elsewhere in Italy, money lending was moving out of the ghettos, and was adopted by Christians as banking. One extremely wealthy family in Florence, the Medicis, adapted and revolutionized the established practices of banking. Give students a FOCUS by asking them to think about the following questions as they watch the clip:
• How did the Medicis enter into banking, if money lending at interest was a Christian sin?
• How did they earn revenue from bank services?
PLAY “First Bank of the Medici.” FOLLOW UP by reviewing the answers to the questions. (1. Earning money on foreign currency exchange. 2. Commission on currency conversions; funds to compensate for risking money deposited – rewarding credit with discreetly concealed interest payments.)

5. Lead students in a discussion about how banks may have transitioned from less formal organizations (merchants sitting on benches in the town square) to today’s reliable financial intermediaries.


1. Ask students to make a list of the services that early banks provided, based on what they saw in the video. (Lending money, currency exchange, discretionary payments.) Compare and contrast this with the list of services that modern banks provide. What is the same? What has evolved or changed? What do they do now?

2. Tell students that a popular and accessible form of credit today comes in the form of a credit card. Ask students (either individually, or in pairs or small groups) to log on to the It Costs What?! Credit Card Primer, read through the information about credit cards, and take the quiz at the end. Give students a FOCUS by asking them to come up with a brief description of what credit cards are, how they work, and how interest relates to credit card use. Give students 5 – 10 minutes to review the site and come up with their answers.

3. When students have finished, ask for a couple of individuals or pairs/groups to share their descriptions. (Answers will vary, but should include: credit cards are a way to borrow money from a bank or other organization. When you make charges on a credit card, you are effectively taking out a loan from the bank for that amount. This loan must be repaid, and if you don’t pay your balance in full you will be charged interest on your debt to the bank. Interest is the cost of borrowing money from the bank.)

4. Ask students: how do credit and interest, in the form of a modern credit card, compare with the early forms of credit and interest they saw in the medieval Italian banks? What is the same? (People are accountable for their loans from the bank, and must pay interest on their debts.) What is different? (Technology has advanced, early on interest was perceived as a way to insure lenders against risky investments).

5. Distribute the Weekend Trip Invitation (PDF) (RTF) to students. The invitation describes a scenario where a friend has gotten a credit card, and is inviting the student on an expensive weekend trip; however, this hypothetical friend has little to no understanding of credit. Ask students, either in class or as a homework assignment, to write an email response to their friend explaining how credit and credit cards work, why banks are interested in lending money, what the friend should consider/think about, and least one historical example of banks and lending.


1. Ask students if they have ever lent money to a friend or someone close to them. What were some of the pros and cons of that experience? (Answers will vary but should address levels of trust between the borrower and the lender.) How did you, as the lender, benefit from that situation (if at all)?

2. Ask students if they would think of charging interest to a friend. (Likely not, but perhaps if the friend is unreliable, or they don’t expect the friend to be timely in their repayment of the loan.) Ask students how they would decide whether or not to loan money to a friend. Would they lend money to the hypothetical friend with the new credit card? (Answers will vary, but may include how much money the friend makes, how reliable they are in other areas, etc.)

3. Tell students that in order to give any kind of loan – be it a small business loan, credit card, home equity loan, etc. – the lender has to determine the borrower’s ability to repay the loan, or creditworthiness. Explain that throughout history, money lenders and banks have established different criteria for determining a borrower’s creditworthiness. Ask students to come up with some examples of what criteria they think medieval banks would have used to establish creditworthiness. (Answers will vary, but may include: how much money the borrower’s family had, how much land the borrower owns, what kind of trade the borrower engages in.)

4. Tell students that banks today have well-defined criteria for how they recognize a borrower’s creditworthiness. Divide students into pairs or small groups. Ask each pair/group to visit the Citibank “5 Cs” website. Explain that this website is an example of how one particular bank defines creditworthiness.

5. Explain to students that while these criteria can be a good indicator of creditworthiness, unfortunately being creditworthy alone does not always guarantee good use of loans or credit. Have the pairs/groups students log on to the Case Files section of “It Costs What?!” in a separate browser, and answer the questions based on the information.

6. As a FOCUS while reading and reviewing these websites, distribute the Creditworthiness Student Organizer (RTF) (PDF) to each student. Ask students to complete the Organizer as they learn about creditworthiness from the two websites, listing at least three examples of Responsible Credit Behavior and Irresponsible Credit Behavior that would apply to each of the five criteria listed on the Citibank website. Give students 15 – 20 minutes to complete the activity. When students have finished, ask for volunteers to share their answers with the class.

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  • Jillian Alexander

    As a entrepreneur, consultant and educator, I am appalled that PBS and The Ascent of Money sponsors would irresponsibly publish Activity 1 highlighting centuries-old religious stereotypes which have long since been retired as it reignites religious hatred. This same activity could use a more accessible pop culture story (i.e., The Godfather, Jesse James Hollywood-Markowitz murder) the describe current banking environment.

  • Joe Haigler

    Why should an educator run away from or deny history? As an educator myself (I teach history of religions) I welcome such an activity as a way to begin to explain lingering religious stereotypes and the dangers they continue to pose even in our own day. This is an essential activity for “connecting the dots” from that time to our own. Ferguson could have done a better job of dealing with the Torah and Medieval Jewish and Christian readings of it, but a good teacher can compensate for that.

  • Larry

    I think that explaining the reactions of religions to money or lending is important and should be included, but relying on a good teacher in each class to fill in explanations of Religious traditions and reasons for their views is not a great place to put trust – especially with how Christianity is being treated in many schools today. Let’s hope those who use this lesson plan keep in mind it’s looking at money and not condemning any group for what it did in centries past – or we could dig up lots of attitudes many groups once espoused.

  • Joe Haigler

    I see your point that not all teachers are “good” nor are they all going to do their homework to adapt this lesson plan to their context and students. But where else are we going to place our trust in the classroom? I also agree 100% with your second point. The point is not to condemn Christianity–I am a Christian myself despite much of Christian history particularly with regard to Jews in the middle ages. The point as Ferguson states is look at the role money appears to have played in most of human history (including religious history from my perspective). The fact that many of these old attitudes can still be dug up is telling in itself; many of these old attitudes linger. When I ask my students for stereotypes that come up regarding Jews, for example, one that always surfaces early is that they (Jews) are greedy and good with money. Where does such an attitude come from? Historical perspective at least helps us begin to examine, understand and, perhaps, dispel these old stereotypes to some degree.

  • rajni

    I am impressed with your lesson plan. I am a would be Teacher and I am preparing a lesson plan on banks for the XI class please send me the written material on banks including the activities which I can conduct in the class and also suggest me how I can make my introduction interesting. thanks

  • Roland Mahoney

    I applaud Ferguson’s and PBS’s exposition of (initially, Jewish) moneylenders and the eventual rise of modern banking. As a business teacher, I have confronted student prejudices with regard to “rapacious and greedy Jews” not by dismissing or tut-tutting such comments but by exploring them.

    As a blocked minority, Jews were not given an overly wide range of activities to choose from and, like the untouchables of India, they performed a valuable function that society demanded but did not much like. Further, as we explore the evolution of finance we come to see that Jewish participation in it declines as other opportunities are open to them.

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    Shining a light on the truth should never be feared, regardless of who it may offend. Lesson plans aside, just lay out a non-biased history, is that so impossible these days?

  • Florence Williams

    As an educator, I feel that this lesson was thorough and is great for teaching students about credit. Continue with the great lessons.

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