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Social Security

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Duration:  One 35-45 minute lesson.


Students will understand the modern political issues associated with Social Security.


  • By completing a written response at the end of the lesson, students will be able to show understanding of political issues associated with Social Security.
  • Students will participate in a Social Security simulation.
  • Essential Question: What are the financial problems with Social Security?

    NCSS Themes:

  • Theme 10- Civic Ideals and Practices
  • Procedures:

    Attention Getter: 

    Ask students how they plan to support themselves financially when they are over the age of 65. Pick on a few students and have them share their future financial plans. Then, ask the class if they know anyone who is older than 65. Ask them to raise their hands if they know anyone who receives Social Security. If anyone raises their hand, pick one or two students to explain what they think Social Security is. If no one knows, then move on to the activity. 

    Main Lesson:

    1) Divide students into two groups, one group being much larger than the other. For example, one group will have 10 students and the other group will have 20.

    2) Explain to students that the large group represents retired people in America who are 65 and older and the small group represents the working people. 

    3) Give each person in the small group a sandwich bag with candy bars. Tell the class that this represents a paycheck. Then, pick up the basket and have each worker put one candy bar into the basket.  Tell the class that this represents the money that goes towards Social Security each paycheck.

    4) Stand in front of the class and have students count the candy bars in the basket with you.  Then, count how many retired people there are in the class.

    5) Ask students to point out the problem with the number of candy counted compared to the number of retired people in the class. Ask them how they would be able to distribute the existing candy bars to the retired people.

    6) If students suggest cutting the bars up, then tell them that they need at least one full bar per person to survive.

    7) Ask students how to make sure each retired person has one full bar.

    8) Ask students what caused the shortage of candy bars.  Make sure that it has been pointed out that there are more retired people than working people. Also, point out that people who are working give up part of their paychecks to pitch in to the Social Security funds, which are then used to pay people who are retired.

    9) Pass out note cards and have students write brief solutions to the candy bar/money shortage. After they are collected, quickly go through them with the class anonymously.

    10) Pick the best few suggestions and go through a new simulation for each chosen solution. For example, if a student suggested raising the retirement age to 70, take a few people out of the retirement group and place them into the working group. Give them a bag, collect the candy bars in the basket again, and count out the new totals.


    Have students write an exit slip telling you if they think Social Security is a good idea and how they would alter the program.

    Materials Needed:

    Sandwich bags with approximately ten small candy bars in each one, basket, backgrounder, note cards

    Accommodations for students with special needs

    1) During the index card activity, give prompts to students who need help.

    2) Provide a scribe or student to help those who struggle with writing.