Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Inflation Investigation

Inflation and Cost of Living

Daniel Schwarz | Published: August 19th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course Economics
  • Time Frame Time Frame 120 minutes


Students will track how inflation has altered the cost of living from 1920 until today by examining vintage advertisements for various goods. Students will also learn how inflation continues to have an effect on the U.S. economy by watching a couple of videos and designing anchor charts.

Essential Question(s)

What is inflation? What impact has it had on the American economy over the past century?



Students participate in a Fold the Line activity in order to understand how inflation has affected the price of goods. 


In groups of four, students examine document packets containing copies of vintage ads, and chart the cost of various goods between 1920 and 2010.


Students watch a couple of videos that explain what inflation is, how it works, and the impact it has had on the U.S. economy, and they answer questions in note catchers.


Students work in groups to design Anchor Charts that teach others about inflation. They have an opportunity to view each other’s charts during a Gallery Walk activity.


The Anchor Charts and gallery walk serve as assessments.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Internet access on a computer or device for each group of 4 students

  • Calculators

  • Cost of Goods 1920 to 2010 Table (attached; one per student)

  • Cost of Goods 1920 to 2010 Table Teacher’s Guide (attached)

  • Groups 1-5 Vintage Ad Packets (attached; one for each respective group)

  • Note Catcher (attached; one per student)

  • Note Catcher Teacher’s Guide (attached)

  • Poster paper

  • Sticky notes

  • Anchor Chart Rubric (attached)


15 Minute(s)

Introduce the lesson using the attached Lesson Slides. Slide 3 identifies the lesson’s essential questions: What is inflation? What impact has it had on the American economy over the past century? Slide 4 identifies the lesson’s primary learning objective. 

Once you have introduced students to the essential question and primary learning objective, display slide 5. Do a Fold the Line activity in which students line up across the room based on their answers to the following question: How much do you think it would have cost to buy a car in 1940?

Once the students have lined up in order from least to greatest, tell the students to speak with someone next to them to discuss why they believe that the car would have cost as much as it did. After a couple of minutes, let students know that it is time to “fold the line” in half. Once the line has been folded, pairs of students should briefly discuss their estimates of the cost of a car with the pairs of students directly opposite them in the folded line. After a couple more minutes have passed, display the 1940 Buick ad from the Sapulpa Herald on slide 6 that shows what the cost of a car actually was. Ask students if they are surprised by the amount and if they think the cost of a car would be much different today. Organize students into groups of four based on their most recent discussions, with pairs from opposing sides of the folded line. Those groups will work together for the remainder of the project.


30 Minute(s)

Explain to students that they will be looking at vintage advertisements as they research the purchasing power and value of the U.S. Dollar from 1920 until today. Pass out the Cost of Goods 1920 to 2010 Table to students. Since students will be researching the values of six different goods over the span of nearly a century, the research process is divided up. 

Assign the groups of four the numbers 1 through 5. Each group should be assigned two different years to research: Group 1: 1920 & 1970, Group 2: 1930 & 1980, Group 3: 1940 & 1990, Group 4: 1950 & 2000, Group 5: 1960 & 2010.

Once you have students in groups, pass out the Vintage Ad Packets. There are five in total, and you should hand out one packet to each respective group. Display slide 7, and explain to students that all of the ads in these packets were taken from copies of historic newspapers found in a digital archive called The Gateway to Oklahoma History

Tell students that each vintage ad in their packet has brief instructions underneath it. These instructions ask them to look through the ad for a specific price or range of prices. In some instances, it may ask them to adjust a price within an ad, so that it is comparable to the prices listed in other ads. For instance, flour has often been distributed in 5-lb. sacks in more recent years, so they may need to divide the price of a larger sack of flour in an older ad to see how the price compares to those sold in later years. Any adjustments involve simple division, and specific instructions are provided that explain why division is necessary. However, make sure that each group has at least one calculator or device with access to a calculator app. Once students have determined each price, they should enter the value into the corresponding space in their tables. 

After about 15 minutes, have the class reconvene. Ask a representative from each group to read aloud the values they entered. As you are entering this information into the blank table in slide 8, feel free to consult the attached Cost of Goods 1920 to 2010 Table Teacher’s Guide to ensure that their answers are correct. Once all of the prices have been filled into the table, ask students if they notice any trends in the prices that are listed throughout it. Some other questions to ask are: Why do you think the prices sometimes move up and down over the decades? Why do you think prices have increased over the years?


15 Minute(s)

To acquire a better understanding of what inflation is and how it works, students watch a couple of videos produced by PBS. Pass out the Note Catcher handouts to students, and tell them that as they watch each video, they have to answer a few questions about what they are learning on their handouts. Emphasize that each response only needs to be one or two sentences long.

Display slide 9, which has a link to the page containing both videos, and click on the first video, titled “What Is Inflation?” After students have answered the questions, ask a few students to share their responses with the class. Next, display slide 10, which includes a link to the same page. Click on the second video, titled “Why Is There Inflation? (And Is It Bad?).” Once again, ask students to share some of their responses once they have had adequate time to write them. Feel free to consult the Note Catcher (Teacher’s Guide) in order to make sure that students have adequately answered each question.


60 Minute(s)

Display slide 11. Tell students that they will be working with the others in their group to create an Anchor Chart that explains what inflation is, how it works, and how it affects the American economy. Emphasize to students that they have plenty of freedom in how they choose to present information in the charts, but are expected to create well-organized and easy-to-read charts with correctly spelled words. They are also expected to include the four required elements and one of the three optional elements outlined in the slide.

Display slide 12. After students have finished their anchor charts, they engage in a Gallery Walk. Have them hang their posters on the walls of the classroom. One student should stay behind to serve as a spokesperson for their group and explain what they have included on their chart, why it is relevant to the understanding of inflation, and why it is important information for them to know. The other students should rotate in groups from one poster to the next. Provide each student with enough sticky notes to leave one note on each chart. Tell students to leave one sticky note on each anchor chart with either a comment or a question they have after viewing the chart.


The anchor charts and Gallery Walk activity serve as summative assessments. Use the attached Anchor Chart Rubric to evaluate students’ anchor charts.