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May 22, 2017

Lesson Plan: How to create a balanced budget — it’s a ‘Balancing Act’

How do we know that our government is fulfilling its duties to us, the public? How do we decide what those duties are? As efforts to pass the federal budget get underway, students will have the power to re-prioritize how money is spent using the interactive tool Balancing Act. What changes will they make? 


U.S. Government, Civics, Economics, Social Studies, Business



Estimated time:

2 to 3 class periods, plus optional extension activities

Essential questions:

  • How does the government decide how to spend taxpayers’ money?
  • What factors play a role in how the federal budget is created?


The federal budget reflects issues many Americans care about and how tax money is spent. Of course, many American taxpayers are not satisfied with the way the federal government spends its money. In this lesson, students will utilize the interactive tool Balancing Act to create an outline of federal spending, participate in a simulation activity attempting to balance the federal budget and complete a written reflection and justification of their proposed changes.

Once finalized, students capture their thinking in a political speech (which may be written or orated), persuading their audience (citizens, voters, etc.) to agree with their ideas.

Any or all of the performance tasks may be shared via social media with @NewsHourExtra and @BalancingActEP, sent to elected officials to hopefully inspire action and practice authentic citizenship.

Note: You may also want to watch this short video of how Balancing Act is used on the state government level.


Warm up activity:

President Donald Trump will release a detailed budget proposal on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Trump came out with a budget outline in March in which he prioritized the military and proposed sweeping cuts elsewhere. However, there’s one thing to keep in mind: only Congress can pass the federal budget.

Read articles and discuss: Take a look at the Associated Press story ‘President Trump’s budget proposal includes huge cuts to food stamps’ or the Washington Post’s ‘Trump’s first full education budget: Deep cuts to public school programs in pursuit of school choice,’ both published ahead of the official release of the President’s budget. 

Ask your students why some issues, like the military, show an increase in spending? Why is funding for some programs entirely stripped away? Who makes these decisions? Why does the president propose a budget if Congress is the one that ends up passing it? Does the public have a say in what goes into the federal budget? How so?

Main activity

Use this lesson plan on the federal budget by high school teacher Nicholas Lind as a fun, thoughtful way to get students thinking about how the government spends (soon to be their!) tax dollars.

In short, Mr. Lind’s lesson includes the following:

  • Students will research and think analytically: What does our government spend money on? Students will create a bulleted list of revenue and spending using a few helpful resources.
  • Should we tax and spend differently? If so, how? Students will complete their own Balancing Act: An Interactive Budget Simulation.
  • What political forces prevent change? Students will write a one-page reflection or speech on the challenges of balancing the federal budget.
  • Extensions:
    • Have students orate their speeches in class or the auditorium and debate their budgets.
    • Share the Balancing Act Summary Sheet, other tasks or videos on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) with @NewsHourExtra and @BalancingActEP. Why not include elected officials to hopefully inspire action and practice authentic citizenship?

Nicholas M. Lind is a Special Education teacher at Monroe #1 BOCES teaching Global History, Government and Economics at the eSTART program (grades 9-12) in Fairport, NY. He has experiences in leadership coaching, educational policy, law and public policy, special Education, and literacy skills. Lind enjoys reading, eating local food and collecting elephants. He has a B.S. in History, Political Science and Education from SUNY Brockport and an M.S. in Educational Policy from the University of Rochester’s Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      NCSS C3 – D2.Civ.13.9-12. Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

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