Globalization101. org Lesson Plan on Why Nations Trade Introduction

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Lesson Plan on Why Nations Trade
This lesson teaches students some key features about international trade and introduces them to underlying trade concepts. The following questions are at the heart of the unit: What are key characteristics of international trade? What are the differences between exports and imports? What are the theories underlying the decisions made in international trade? What types of actions affect the flow of international trade, and who makes them? How does international trade affect a nation’s economy? What role do governments play in making decisions about international trade?
Instructional Goals

Students understand the impact of international trade on individuals, corporations, and countries.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students compare and contrast the types of economic decisions made by individuals and governments and their differing impacts.

  • Students can explain the nature and history of international trade, and be able to identify key characteristics of and players in international trade today.

  • Students can discuss the theories of comparative and absolute advantage and their role in economic decision-making.

  • Students demonstrate an understanding of the roles that efficiency, specialization, and opportunity costs play in defining comparative advantage.

  • Students interpret graphical materials to support their understanding of international trade issues.


  1. Copies of Handout 1, “Trading Through the Ages Scenarios”

  2. Copies of Handout 2, “Sanchez Electronic Devices—A Case Study”

Time Required
2-3 classes
Introductory Discussion and Activity 1—Trading Through the Ages

  1. The introductory activity will expose students to basic characteristics of international trade—that communities will trade for what they need or want, that this trade has continued throughout recorded time, and that it has almost always involved some international components (increasing over time).

  1. Have students read the sections entitled, “Why Do Nations Export” and “Why Do Nations Import” in the Trade Issue in Depth, either in printed format or on-line. They may do so either in class or at home, depending on your preference and student access to computers. Alternatively, you may assign the reading as a follow-up to the activity.

  1. Distribute Handout 1. Divide the students into six groups and then assign each to one of the scenarios in the handout.

  1. Tell the students to focus on the following questions, as written in the Handout, which can also be written on the classroom chalkboard:

    • What types of goods and services are mentioned in the scenario? Which would be considered necessities by the members of the community, and why?

    • Where does the community get these goods and services?

    • How much of the community’s needs is met by getting goods and services from other communities? By their own community?

  1. Have the students read and answer the questions in their groups. Then, ask each group to select a spokesperson and have that person come to the front of the class. Each spokesperson should read the scenario and answer the questions above.

  1. Have the entire class try to determine the historical chronological order in which the scenarios make the most sense using only the information in the scenarios and the answers to the questions. The answers are as follows:

Scenario 1: Williamsburg, Virginia (17th Century)

Scenario 2: Diné (Navajo) Village (15th Century)

Scenario 3: New York City (19th Century)

Scenario 4: Samarkand, Uzbekistan (10th Century)

Scenario 5: Home Town (21st Century)

Scenario 6: Ancient Village (5,000 years ago)

  1. When the scenarios are in the correct order, conclude the activity by asking the students broader questions raised by the exercise, as follows:

    • How has the definition of necessity and luxury changed over time as demonstrated by this chronology? Possible answers: we have new necessities, old luxuries are now necessities, and people didn’t have a lot back then.

    • How has the nature of trade changed over time? Possible answers: the amount of trade has increased, the types of products traded have increased, and trade now goes on with groups from all over the world.

    • How has the nature of trade stayed the same? Possible answers: trade still involves some selling over great distances, people still exchange things they have for what they want or need.

    • What are some things that remain consistent regardless of the situation? Possible answers: everybody tries to get their needs met, not everything comes from the same community; people trade with others, either in the community or out.

  1. You may expand on the discussion of the trade route known as the Silk Road in Time Period 4, which discusses the city of Samarkand, an important connector along that route. Have students use links in the Trade Issue Brief and in the Links section of the site to research the Silk Road and report either orally in class or as a written assignment on one or more of the following issues:

    • Trade and technology – The role that differences in technology played in the development of the Silk Road.

    • Changing trade patterns throughout the history of the Silk Road.

    • Geopolitics and Trade – How did the politics and economy of the times lead to the development of the Silk Road, and how did they lead to its demise?

    • What environmental features affected the route of the Silk Road, and how did merchants address these?

    • What barriers restricted trade along the Silk Road, and how do these compare with current barriers to international trade?

    • The Silk Road as an early form of globalization.

    • Compare and contrast with today’s Silk Road (News Analysis, Silk Road Revisited:

Activity 2

  1. Introduce students to this topic by determining their familiarity with the idea of a case study. Case studies are useful because they examine a particular event, individual, or activity that illustrates some feature of a subject. This case study is intended to support student inductive reasoning, in particular, how to examine information and how to develop conclusions on more generalized themes. Note: This is a hypothetical case study, and does not represent an actual individual, product, or series of events. It is for illustrative purposes only.

  1. Two types of questions are included: an initial set that focuses more on comprehension, and a second, supplementary set pose more analytical and challenging questions. You may decide whether the students should use the first set, both sets, and selections from both sets.

  1. Distribute copies of Handout 2 to each student. Have them read the case study once, then read the questions, then go back and read the case study a second time more closely with the questions in mind. They should be encouraged to mark critical passages, key words, or ideas that support the questions.

  1. Students should then answer the questions using the reading and information in the Trade Issue Brief. The format for answers can vary according to your preference. Students may answer in written work either in-class or as homework or in class discussion. You may modify the assignment by having students answer only one or a few questions depending on the level of the class.

A number of follow-on activities can be used to extend the learning from this lesson using the website. For example, you may encourage students to explore the links to the U.S. government and foreign government websites and to international organizations and advocacy within the Trade Issue in Depth. Students may use these links to research U.S. or other countries’ trade policies or learn about different perspectives on international trade. You may also assign students to read one News Analyses on trade issues and have them apply their knowledge from this lesson plan to understanding the issues in the News Analyses.

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