Apr 24, 2023

Meaningful Activities that Teach About Taxes

It's the last week of April. Did you remember to file your taxes? Did your students remember to file theirs? If April is the month you teach about taxes, the NGPF Semester Course Taxes unit has some meaningful activities you can use to energize rather than bore students about taxes.

MOVE: Your Tax Dollar in Action

Probably in the top five most-loved NGPF activities is MOVE: Your Tax Dollar in Action. It's updated annually, so the dollar amounts are always accurate. It meets many state and national standards for personal finance and econ because students think critically about how the federal government spends tax revenue. And it's super fun. 

Read the Fine Print of tax forms

Payroll, income, and (if applicable) state income tax deductions are likely reducing your students' take-home pay. In lesson 1 of the taxes unit, after playing the MOVE activity up above, students practice reading a sample pay stub in FINE PRINT: Pay Stub. Then, in lesson 2 of the taxes unit, they do FINE PRINT: W-4 Form, which is the form employees complete to determine how much will be withheld from their paychecks. Finally, in FINE PRINT: W-2 Form, students will extract details from a sample W-2, the most common form used for filing federal income taxes. FINE PRINT activities from NGPF always include an original source document, 10 multiple-choice questions based on that document, and a wrap-up question to summarize the learning. 

A one-two punch of tax fundamentals

Lesson 2 The Tax Cycle and Job Paperwork has back-to-back activities titled RESEARCH: The Tax Cycle (translated to Spanish, too) and COMPARE: Tax Forms and their Purpose (also in English + Spanish). These two are examples of places where, yes, you could just have two slides that bullet out the same content, and you could provide direct instruction; that method will surely save time in your lessons. Or, you could use one or both of these activities to have students figure out answers on their own -- more time consuming but more fun. 

Relevant to teen taxpayers

Lesson 3 focuses on Teens and Taxes, kicking off with a Data Crunch on How Old Are Most Taxpayers? Hint: They aren't teenagers! Then, the lesson walks through the requirements of who even needs to file taxes, rounding out with a gamefied activity PLAY: Should They File a Tax Return? This activity is great because it tackles some of the questions around who legally has to file a return, who should file a return, and how "dependent" status impacts those answers. 

Practice filing a Form 1040

Creating a low-stakes way to practice filing a Form 1040 with realistic data, up-to-date forms for the tax filing year, and scenarios that match a teen reality is no easy feat -- trust us, we create these resources every year! CALCULATE: Completing a 1040 is wildly popular because teachers want students to experience a 1040 form but in most cases can't feel comfortable having the students do real tax prep during class. We recommend, when using this activity, to model Melinda's tax return (because she has taxable income), and then to have students work in pairs, groups, or individually to complete at least one other scenario. 

What else is there?

The Semester Course Taxes unit is five lessons long but includes a whopping nine different activities, a tremendous example of students learning by doing rather than just by reading or hearing. If you're wondering what else is available to help students understand taxes, visit the Taxes Unit Page and visit the right-hand side of the page. Any of the Activities, Case Studies, FinCap Fridays, Questions of the Day, or Data Crunch + Math not already listed in this blog post are up for grabs and would be great supplements to the Semester Course Taxes unit. Three personal favorites are MOVE: Paycheck Scavenger Hunt, CASE STUDY: W-2, W-4, Refunds, Oh My!, and MATH: Income Tax Brackets



About the Author

Jessica Endlich

When I started working at Next Gen Personal Finance, it's as though my undergraduate degree in finance, followed by ten years as an educator in an NYC public high school, suddenly all made sense.

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