Bartering in the Classroom

The retail process is an easy concept for students to learn. However, the bartering process is initially more difficult.

However, many are unable to determine the exact reasoning behind the price of the merchandise they buy. They are quick to assume that quality, brand name, colour, and design are the main factors. When I ask my students to pick an amount that they think the product is worth, the answers vary dramatically.

A group of people will value specific retail items differently. If you ask someone to set a price on their items, the valuations divide even more. Once emotion gets involved, it makes it even harder to find a specific amount that one would accept.

In order to teach students some of the key aspects of retailing, such as setting your price point, negotiations between buyer and seller, and working towards a specific goal in a quick time frame, I take money completely out of the equation. This has formed into a retail day that focuses solely around bartering a student’s own items against other staff and students within the school.

How to Run a Bartering Day

Students bring in their own items from home that they are willing to part with, and spend a large portion of the day trading those items for things they find more valuable. Many students come in thinking that the trades they want to make will be easy. However, they soon realize that the value they place on their items is vastly different from the value others see it at.

In order to teach the rules of the bartering day, I show my students the story of Kyle McDonald and the red paperclip. Many students see this as both an informational and motivational tool. They see that with enough time and focus, being able to accomplish goals by bartering is indeed possible.

I give my students their 65 minute block to try to make as many trades as possible. The goal is to end up with something that they believe is more valuable than what they started with. Although Kyle took over a year to accomplish his goal, students will be able to make at least one trade they see as a win.

Even in a 65 minute block, I have seen a number of skills develop or improve in students by bartering.

#1: Students Become Better Negotiators

They are quick to realize that others do not value their items the same way that they do. Therefore, in order to make a trade both sides see as fair, students have to quickly decide how they will negotiate the trade for an agreement. I have seen these negotiation tactics expand to places I have never expected, such as offering to take notes for the remainder of the semester.

#2: Students Develop Interpersonal Skills

You will most likely have students who do not have a strong relationship with many in the class. However, due to the nature of the activity, I find that communication barriers are quickly broken. Students have a lot of fun with it, but still want to obtain something better. Introverted students have quickly approached those who have an item that they may want. Not only does this help these students come out of their shell, but it also leads to a more connected classroom for the remainder of the semester.

#3: Students Develop Relationships with Other People Within the School

Eventually trades will stall in your room. This is where I open the doors for the students to go through the entire school looking to better their inventory. I always send an email in advance to all teachers warning them of the activity, and encourage them and their students to participate. I will give my students a list of teachers and classes who are participating. Some students may not have previous relationships with other teachers, and this activity allows these connections to be made for the remainder of their time in school. I still see Grade 12 students reminiscing about trades they made with specific teachers years prior.

#4: Students see the Long-term Goal, and Have to Figure Out the Path to Get There

Many students will seek out a specific item, but will quickly realize that the other person does not value their items the same way. In order to obtain that item, the student must find out what the other is looking for, find a way to get it, and make the trade before the item they desire has changed hands. Usually the new owner does not want the same thing, so students have to trade quickly to reach their goal.

#5: Students Become Personal Selling Experts

Sometimes, you have to convince somebody that what you have is more valuable than it may look. In order to do this, students put on their selling caps and talk about the features and benefits of their item. I do not even teach students the concept of personal selling until later in the semester. They figure this out on their own when things aren’t going their way.

#6: Students Gain a Better Understanding of Money and the Retail Process

An activity can’t just be all fun and games, right? Students and teachers really enjoy this activity. But by participating in it, they quickly realize just how necessary money is to modern-day society. I get students to reflect by imagining a society that relied strictly on a bartering system. If they had difficulty making trades for items that they already own, imagine trying to get items they want or need. If money were eliminated tomorrow, many students would have a very difficult time maintaining their current lifestyle.

Different Issues That I Have Come Across

Every class will have one or more students who did not bring items to trade. In order to combat this, I always bring a collection of items I do not care about, or have traded for in past years, to offer to students who may not have things they can get rid of. I want to make sure all students participate. I do not advertise that I have items people can take. However, I will offer to students who have nothing to offer on their desks.

Some students are very reluctant to approach others for trades. In order to battle this, I will typically make a one-sided trade with these students and give them something better to trade. By making the student feel like they possess a stronger ability to trade up, they can become more confident approaching others.

Some students are reluctant to make any trades at all. Typically, the reason behind this is they hold too much value on their items, or their items are heirlooms they are not willing to part with. I try my best to encourage students to bring items they would be okay losing to limit this from happening. By enforcing this early and often, non-traders can be avoided.

Final Thoughts

A bartering day is not limited to a business-only activity. I have seen the same activity facilitated in a number of different disciplines, such as psychology, ELA, and social studies. If you can tailor the activity to meet your own curricular outcomes, I would encourage you to try it! It is a very easy activity to facilitate, and students have a lot of fun with it.

The growth you will see in your students can outweigh the learning outcomes that come with the activity. I have seen students personalities change by being in a situation where they have to communicate to get desired items. Also, some become a lot more confident to speak up and participate in class. Additionally, the entire classroom dynamic changes for the better. Students are more comfortable working with all members of the classroom due to opened lines of communication.

I find this activity works best at the start of the semester. Many of the results from it can benefit your classroom in the long run. However, that does not mean the activity can only be run at that time. If you find it fits in later on in your course, do not force it earlier.

If you have any questions or want to share examples of your own bartering activities, please leave a comment.

Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Bartering in the Classroom”

  1. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I抣l try to get the hang of it!

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