I have to take a half day off the first day of the new semester to take my wife to the doctor and I need a quick lesson plan for kids I’ve never met. My go-to is a writing prompt with which I like to begin each new class:
What Would You Do with One Billion Dollars?
Ashley Thermopolis, aka Absolutia, used a sudden windfall of 1.3 billion dollars to fund a hero team. You can read more about her in Jim McClain’s Solution Squad: Primer.
But that’s fiction.
What would you really do with one billion dollars?
Start by making an organized list with dollar amounts included. If you have to guess on costs today, that’s all right. You’ll have an opportunity to do research. But for now, just make a list. You can organize it any way you want.
After you’ve researched the cost of the things you want to buy and do, answer the question in paragraph form. Spelling and grammar do count, so do your best. Don’t focus on saving the money or making more. Just write what you’d do with the money you have. That’s the interesting part!
Now, this writing prompt serves a couple of purposes. First, it provides a quick evaluation of your students’ broad number sense. Many of them will spend under a million dollars until you ask them what they plan to do with the other 999 million dollars. Do they know how much things actually cost? Let them guess at first and then take them to a computer lab and let them look it up. They’ll be surprised that you can buy a private island for only $10 million!
The best part of this activity, however, is finding out what is important to your new students. You will find out who in their family needs help. You’ll discover who is living in a difficult situation. They’ll tell you who in their family is in jail. It’s amazing what they’ll write that they won’t say aloud. These insights are invaluable in finding out what makes your students excited, and what topics engage them best. I would never start a new class without doing this activity!