Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades 5-12, students play a game called People’s Pie that challenges them to balance the federal budget. Students must fund important government programs without setting tax rates too high or borrowing too much money. To succeed, they must also be attentive to the citizens’ approval rating while avoiding a burdensome national debt.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Analyze how federal tax and spending policies affect the national budget and the national debt.
  2. Explain how federal, state, and local taxes support the economy as a function of the government.
  3. Describe various types of projects and services provided through local, state, and national taxes.


  • Computers or other devices with Internet access
  • Interactive whiteboard


This lesson plan features a game called People’s Pie developed by our partner, iCivics, in which students learn about the federal budget by by determining tax rates and choosing what programs to fund, all while trying to keep citizens happy and avoiding a burdensome national debt.

Review the People's Pie Game Guide for step by step directions on how to play the game. Then, preview and play People's Pie to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs. If students will be playing in small groups, review tips on Setting Cooperative Gaming Expectations.

For ideas on how to use SnapThought with this game and for specific prompts to provide students with during game play, read People's Pie: SnapThought Prompts for My BrainPOP.

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies: Budgets, Taxes, Debt, Political Parties, Political Beliefs, Mortgages, Interest, and Recession

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Begin the lesson with a discussion about the federal budget to assess how much students already know about this topic. Ask the following questions to spark the discussion:  
    • What is a budget?
    • Have you ever been on a budget? How did you decide what to spend and not spend on? What’s the most challenging part of keeping a budget?
    • What is the national budget?
    • What kind so projects does the government spend money on? Where does it get the money to spend?
    • What happens when the government doesn’t have enough money to fund projects?   
  2. Build students’ knowledge of budgets by showing the BrainPOP movie Budgets on the whiteboard to the whole class. Follow up by reiterating the point that the challenge of keep a budget is finding the balance your income and expenses.
  3. Tell students that just as they keep a budget and decide how to spend money, so too does the federal government. Explain that the federal budget is made up of trillions of taxpayers dollars and the government determines how much taxes to collect and on what types of programs to spend the money.  If time allows, you may choose to show the Taxes movie to build students’ understanding.
  4. Ask the class what types of programs the government funds. Note their ideas on a concept web on the board. If they need help getting started, suggest a few ideas such as education and the military.
  5. In pairs or small groups, have students play People's Pie. Circulate, listening in to students’ discussions and decision-making, providing support as needed.  Allow 15-20 minutes of game play
  6. If students have individual logins through My BrainPOP, encourage them to use the SnapThought® tool to take snapshots during the debate and after. Review People's Pie: SnapThought Prompts for My BrainPOP for suggested prompts.
  7. After students play the game, come together as a class to discuss. Ask the following post-game questions:  
    • How did you feel when the citizens did not like your budget decisions? If  the citizens did like your decision, does that mean it was a bad choice?
    • How do you think people feel about taxes? Why do they feel this way?
    • Based on the programs you learned about in the game, are there any you think are so important that they’re worth borrowing money to fund?
    • What did you find most challenging about the game?

Extension Activities:

Number the following categories of expenses in order of least important for government spending (Score = 1) to most important for government spending (Score = 10) based on your opinion. Then, compare your answers with a partner and answer the questions at the bottom of the page.
  • Social Security & Medicare  
  • Financial Services  
  • Defense & Military  
  • Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development  
  • Education
  • State & Foreign Affairs  
  • Labor,. Health, and Human Services  
  • Homeland Security  
  • Energy, Water, and Environment  
  • Agriculture
  1. Did your partner number the categories in the same order? Why or why not?
  2. What category do you think the government spends the most money on? Why?
  3. What category should the government spend the most money on? Why?