In this lesson plan, high school students debate our nation’s priorities by establishing their own “simulated” federal budgets. After analyzing the FY 2010 discretionary budget, students will be asked to design a FY 2011 budget with a group of their peers. Through the simulation, students will learn the importance of the budgeting process and that decisions concerning how our government spends its money form the basis of most national government policy.

This lesson plan is designed for 4 to 5 class periods of 50 minutes. It can be adapted, however, to accommodate other schedules. This program can also be adapted for a school-wide event, with teachers facilitating groups of 10-15 students in their budgeting sessions.

To download this lesson plan in Microsoft Word document format, please click here.


Students will: evaluate how money has been allocated in the FY 2010 discretionary budget,consider the additional needs of our nation in FY 2011, discuss the programs and issues that they think are important and consider how much money should be allocated to those programs, discuss the pros and cons of deficit spending, design their FY 2011 discretionary budgets, and present their rationales for their budgets to the larger group.

National Standards

Council for Economic Education: Standards 16, 17

Center for Civic Education: Standards I.A, II.C, III.B MA Frameworks Connections American Government – USG.1.3, USG.3.6, USG.5.10 



Understanding the Federal Budget(doc)
What role should the Government play in the economy?(doc)
Rules of the Game(doc) Special Interest Group Requests(doc)
Detailed Description of Functional Areas(doc)
National Defense Spending(doc)
Tally Sheet(doc)
Comparison of President Obama’s 2010 and 2011 Budgets(doc)
Game Board (to be enlarged to 11” X 17”)(doc)

138 white poker chips, 10 red poker chips per group


1. For homework, have students read Understanding the Federal Budget and answer the reading comprehension questions.

Day One

2. Discuss the reading in class and the process of federal budgeting.

3. For homework, have students read What role should the Government play in the economy? and ask them to provide a written response to the question “What is your view of the government’s role in the economy?”

Day Two

4. Discuss the reading and their responses to the question. (20 minutes)

5. Provide students with the Rules of the Game handout. Discuss the rules and explain that students will only be dealing with government spending, not taxes—and only with discretionary spending, not mandatory spending. Remind students that at the end of the group budgeting, they will need to be able to explain their budgets, i.e., What programs were they eliminating by cutting a particular functional category? What programs were they enriching by adding to a particular functional category? (30 minutes)

Have students review the materials for homework and ask them to be prepared to discuss and create their budgets the next day.

Day Three

6. Divide students into groups of 5-6. Supply each group with:

(a) a game board and poker chips
(b) Special Interest Group Requests handout
(c) Detailed Description of Functional Categories handout
(d) National Defense Spending handout
(e) Tally Sheet

7. Ask students to consider first how the funds were allocated for President Obama’s FY 2010 budget. Do they agree with his priorities? What would they like to see changed? What categories/programs are important to them?

8. Have students read the Special Interest Group Requests and decide in their groups whether or not they would like to grant those requests.

9. Have students reconfigure the budget to represent their own priorities. As you monitor each group’s progress, make sure they know that they will need to justify their budgeting decisions to the rest of the class. When they are finished, have them fill in the tally sheet and submit it to you.

If students need more time to budget, you can have them continue their discussions the following day.

Day Four

10. Share the budgets of all the groups with the class, and have students discuss their decisions.

11. Provide the students with the comparison chart to show President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 budget. Ask students to comment on the 2011 budget.

12. For a follow-up to the students’ budgeting, have them consider the following questions:

A. What programs did they choose to cut? Why did they choose to cut those programs over others?
(1) How will the program cuts they have made affect specific groups (the elderly, students, environmentalists, the poor, foreign aid recipients)?
(2) Have them write a letter to the head of an organization whose funding will be cut and explain why they have cut the funding.

B. What programs did they choose to enrich? Why did they choose to enrich those programs over others?
(1) How will the programs they have enriched affect specific groups (the elderly, students, environmentalists, the poor, foreign aid recipients)?
(2) Have them write a press release to be read by the President’s press secretary, describing the reasons they have enriched these programs.

C. What are the tradeoffs they foresee in diminishing some programs while protecting or enriching others? What might be some of the political “fallout” of their decisions? How might they address this “fallout”? Have students write a brief paper on these tradeoffs and respond to the potential political “fallout.”

D. Were there any arguments made by their classmates during the budgeting workshop that surprised them? Why?


The figures used for this budget simulation program were taken from the Outlays noted in the Detailed Functional Tables (from Analytical Perspectives, Ch. 26); Table 26-1 – Budget Authority and Outlays by Function, Category and Program. You can download the Excel chart from this page:

The descriptions of the functional areas were drafted from Appendix III of the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance ( as well as the budget functions noted on the website of the House of Representatives Committee on the Budget (

For President Obama’s FY 2011 budget, see the Spreadsheets of Selected Tables (Table 32-1) at

Other valuable URLs:

Overview of the Budget Process
This June 2008 document was prepared by the Office of Budget and Management (OMB).

U.S. Government Documents: The Budget Process
Includes resources available on the Internet for researching the U.S. Federal budget process.

Bureau of the Public Debt
The website of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

National Priorities Project
This organization provides analyses of federal data “so that people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent.”