This year I started a new position.  I am still a Gifted Intervention Specialist, but instead of working with middle school students, I am at the elementary level working with 2nd through 4th graders.  And wow.  Elementary school is an entirely different world.

I was used to giving prompts to my students and watching their stories evolve through Writer’s Workshop.  I quickly learned that my second graders needed more than just a prompt telling them what to write, they needed guidance on how to write.

story-of-billTo start off the year, I created a “Story of Bill” cross-curricular unit that combined 2nd
grade math, research, geography, reading and writing.  It turned out to be a huge hit, and my favorite part was watching their faces light up when we applied our knowledge to different subject areas.

“Wait!  This is like what we’re writing about with our Stories of Bill!”  They would eagerly shout during a math lesson about converting money.

I’ve outlined the mini-unit below, and included a few free downloads.   Let me know if you try this unit out!

Reading (CCSS RI.1, RI.3)

For the reading portion, I relied heavily on informational texts.  This was really the first element of the unit.  I wanted the students to look at money as an artifact and representation of our culture, not just something used to buy cookies in the cafeteria.  I used to find different level passages about money.  My favorite was a 760 Lexile passage titled “Million Dollar Nickel.”

If you do not have a free account on yet, you should stop reading this an immediately go and sign up.  This is a FREE resource that is invaluable for finding common-core aligned, leveled reading passages on nearly any topic.

Before handing out this passage, I hooked the students by writing this phrase on the board:  “True or false – a nickel is always worth more than a dollar.”  The students were confused by the supposedly easy question, so it was a great segue into the article.

After the article, we discussed what money can represent beyond it’s monetary value.

Research (CCSS WS.7, WS.8)

I knew the culmination of our mini-unit would be looking at a dollar bill, so I wanted my students to become familiar with all aspects of it.  Nothing hooks a student like money, so I walked in one day and laid a one dollar bill on each student’s desk.

I assigned each student a part of a dollar bill (serial number, federal reserve seal, series date, the great seal) and had them hypothesize two things:

  1. Where on the dollar bill is their item located?
  2. What does their item represent?

Next, I used a jigsaw method of reading this webpage titled “Decoding a United States One

Here is an anchor chart we put together at the end of our unit.  

Dollar Bill”, by having each person read their section only.

When students finished reading, we came together as a class and discussed the true meanings and locations of each of those four items on the dollar bill.  I encouraged
students to go home and study some more bills at home with their family.


The research portion was a great way to lead into basic geography skills.  I had students locate the mints where their bills were created on Google Maps, and then we found out how many miles the Bill had to travel to get to the city we were at.

Math (CCSS MD 2.7)

I did this with my second graders, where there is a clear focus in the Common Core standards on being able to do math with money.  I made sure to teach this part of the math curriculum while doing my Story of Bill mini-unit.  One game that the students enjoyed was our “Spelling with Cents.”  We would pick different target amounts and see who could create a word that equaled that amount!  (Great practice for spelling, too!)

Click HEREfor a free download of my “Spelling with Cents” handout

Writing (CCSS WS.3)

The writing was the culmination of the unit.  I had students use the dollar bill I gave them for their research, and had them share where their bill was created.  Then, I asked them, “Okay, if it was created at a mint in Philadelphia, how did it end up in my wallet here in Ohio?”  

At first the students shrugged, but then they started offering suggestions.

“Maybe a dog ate it and then the dog was bought by a family here and then it threw it up!” one girl suggested.

This might sound silly, but it was exactly what I was going for.

I explained that they would each be writing a Story of Bill, in which they told their readers how their bill got from the mint where it was created to the city we live in.  I really encouraged them to get creative and to imagined “Bill” as a character.  I tied this into a mini-lesson on character traits and had them picture what their Bill’s personality would be like.  Then, I used a graphic organizer to help them organize Bill’s journey.

This portion of the unit took the longest, because some students really needed direct instruction on how to connect sentences and how to tell a narrative in logical order.  But it was a great way to differentiate, because I could challenge some of my stronger writers to add more characterization to Bill:

“Okay, so you say that he got caught in the wind.  But you also said his character trait is scared.  Do you think he’d be excited to be caught in the wind or nervous?  How will you show me that he is nervous?”

Click here for a free download of the brainstorming graphic organizer I used and the peer editing sheet I used.

After students wrote their final stories, I decided to make them “come alive” by turning them into stop-motion animation movies.  Stay tuned for a future post on my experience creating movies with 8-year-olds!