The Penny: ESOL Intermediate Reading Activity

“The Penny” Lesson

Purpose: The purpose of this lesson is for students to learn new vocabulary, practice reading, and hone their conversation skills while learning about the use of the penny in the United States.

Audience: This lesson is intended for a High Intermediate to Advanced group of adult English language learners, but can easily be adapted for other ages and levels.

Time: This lesson contains a warm-up, three activities, and two assessments (one for speaking and one for writing/reading). Each will take about 20-30 minutes.


PREP WORK: The teacher should download the attached documents that correspond to the activities.

Activity 1: The Penny Vocabulary (Word) - The teacher should prepare by cutting the first page full sheet into half sheets. Each student should receive a half sheet. Students should have iPad, computer, or paper dictionaries available. The second page is a teacher answer sheet.

Download: The Penny Vocabulary.docx

Activity 2: The Penny Vocabulary Gap fill (Word) – The teacher should cut the first page full sheet into half sheets. Each student should receive a half sheet. The second page is a teacher answer sheet.

Download: The Penny Vocabulary Gap fill.docx

Activity 3: The Penny (Word) – The teacher should cut each full sheet into half sheets. The top half of the paper contains arguments to keep the penny, and the bottom half contains arguments to eliminate the penny. The papers should be handed out so that all students are sitting next to classmates who have the differing viewpoint.

Download: The Penny.docx

Speaking Assessment: No downloads, but students should have dictionaries available.

Writing/Reading Assessment: The assessment is located on the bottom of the reading exercise for Activity 3.


I. Warm-up: The teacher writes “penny” on the board. The students are to work in small groups and write words to describe a penny. Then, the class should brainstorm together and take turns writing their descriptive words on the board. They should come up with words like: 1¢, copper, circle, Lincoln, coin, etc. Then the teacher should ask: Do you have a 1¢ coin in your country? Then, the teacher should explain that some people think that the United States should eliminate the penny, and that is what the class will explore today.

II. Activity 1 (Use the Word document “The Penny Vocabulary” for this activity): Students are given a half sheet that has some vocabulary words pertaining to the topic. As a class, students should move around and ask each other what the meanings are of the words (For instance: Hitomi, what does “sentimental” mean?). Students should also have technology or paper dictionaries available to look up words if they cannot come to a consensus.

When students are done, the class reconvenes and the teacher asks the class, “What does __________ mean?” for each vocabulary word. The teacher writes each correct definition on the board and may consult the included teacher answer sheet.

*NOTE* If students have not practiced forming sentences with “to do” or the 5 Ws, the teacher should present some grammar lessons to students before this lesson (for instance, diagramming the correct grammar structure of positive, negative, and question sentences with “to do” or “to be”). Then, this “Penny” lesson can provide an opportunity for students to correctly practice asking each other for help defining these words.

III. Activity 2 (Use the Word document “The Penny Vocabulary Gap fill” for this activity): Activity 2 may be used as a check for understanding. The students are placed in mixed-level pairs and are given a half sheet of “The Penny Vocabulary Gap fill.” Using the words that were just defined by the class, the groups must fill the gaps to make complete sentences.

As groups finish, they may trade papers with groups around them to see if they agree on the vocabulary word in each sentence. When every group is done, the class corrects the sentences together by having each group read one or two sentences and explain why they chose the vocabulary word they did.

IV. Activity 3 (Use the Word document “The Penny” for this activity): The teacher explains that the students will now read arguments to keep or eliminate the penny in the United States. Students are given “The Penny” reading and are then paired with someone who has the opposite viewpoint (those who have “eliminate” are paired with those who have “keep”). The students read their arguments out loud to their partners, but do not complete the writing activity at the bottom of the paper yet. Students can help each other with difficult words, but should try to listen as their partner reads. When both partners are finished, students should repeat some of the arguments their partners gave while they were reading.

V. Speaking Assessment: The teacher tells students to make a decision: should we keep or eliminate the penny? Students who believe that we should keep the penny should move to the right side of the room, and students who believe we should eliminate the penny should move to the left (it does not matter which paper they received, at this point students should make their own decision).

When students have moved, they are to debate the issue as a class. Only one student should speak at a time. For the teacher, this time can be used as a speaking assessment: How well can they utilize the content from their reading excerpts to argue their side? What are some grammar points that need to be addressed? Is every student participating to the best of their ability?

VI. Writing/Reading Assessment (Use the document from Activity 3): Finally, students should complete the writing exercise at the bottom of their reading sheet (from Activity 3). The question is the same as during the debate: should the penny be kept or eliminated?  Students should now articulate their thoughts in writing, and they are able to change sides if they want. This assessment should be done individually, and students should have ample time to write their thoughts. While reading, the teacher should again pay attention to the grammar and the content of the writing samples, and use any noted grammar or content issues as material for future lessons.


Thanks for reading! Any comments and questions are welcome!

By: Joanna Stratman

Have a great day :)

Return to top