DSSEP Home Page Integration Economics with
Language Arts


Ronni Cohen
2000 Delaware Teacher of the Year
Brandywine School District
Teacher/Program Director
Green Street Works
Claymont Elementary School

One of the easiest ways to integrate economics with language arts is to use a trade book.  Choosing the book carefully will provide a time-effective method of teaching concepts from both content areas.   

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens (1995) is a trade book that provides numerous opportunities to integrate social studies and language arts instruction.  This modern fable has been used with students of all ages, from primary to high school students.  The colorful pictures with their subtle details appeal to a wide audience and provide rich vocabulary.  Bear dresses in business clothes, brogues, and ties, giving the appearance of being wealthy despite his lazy ways, sleeping the days away in his Adirondack chair on the big, wide porch of the run-down house.  Hare lives with his family in a cozy underground hole filled with clever furnishings, including a cola can table, his own Adirondack chair made from clothespins, and a ladder made from soda plastic rings.   

This folktale is a sequel to Aesop’s “Hare and the Tortoise.”  In Tops and Bottoms, the readers encounter Hare again; he is described as a rabbit down on his luck, penniless after losing a bet to a tortoise.  Readers make the connection to the earlier story of the lazy rabbit who was defeated and outwitted in a big race with a tortoise.  Now, however, he has a family to support.  He goes to see Bear, a neighbor who has inherited wealth and a large field which he bought from Hare when Hare needed the money to pay off his debt.  Hare tells Bear that he has an idea; the two of them can be partners.  If Bear agrees, Hare will take all the responsibility for planting and harvesting a crop.  Bear is given the right to choose what part of the plant he wants even though the sleepy Bear is unaware of what Hare intends to plant.  Hare had disturbed Bear in the midst of his nap; Bear, a bit dazed, confused, and still sleepy, asks for tops.  Hare and his family prepare the field, plant, water, weed, and harvest the crop of carrots.  Hare brings the carrot tops to Bear.  Bear feels cheated.  So Hare agrees to plant another crop, and Bear chooses the bottoms this time. When he receives inedible parts of the third crop, Bear has learned his lesson.  He vows to never again be Hare’s partner, and he gets busy farming his own land.  Hare runs down the road with his family and his profits; he and his family start their own vegetable stand.   


The idea of a sequel appeals to readers who are accustomed to movie sequels.  After talking about how the Hare has changed since the story of the “Hare and the Tortoise,” students can write their own sequels.  How successful will Bear be working on his own?  Does Hare start a chain of vegetable stands?  Does Hare continue his trickster ways?  Students can write a story describing what has happened to Tortoise, or they can write the further adventures of Bear or Hare. Suggest students weave the three basic economic questions and productive resources into their stories.  Hare uses his children to provide the labor; the issues of child labor can be discussed.  What was the opportunity cost of Hare gambling his money in a bet with the Tortoise? 

Readers can explore the structures of business: the sole proprietorship, partnership, and the corporation.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of each for both Hare and Bear? What are the ways entrepreneurs finance their businesses?  Bear has played the role of a venture capitalist.  Would Hare have been a candidate for a bank loan?  Why or why not?  Point out that Hare repays his debt and reinvests his profits in a new business.  Will Hare and Bear be competitors or will Bear be a supplier for Hare?   

The idea of Hare as a trickster can lead to analogies with other folktales.  Some readers will say that Bear was lazy and deserved to be tricked; others feel strongly that Hare should have been honest.  The author’s rich choice of wording may be used to support opinions:  “Hare and Mrs. Hare put their heads together and cooked up a plan.” The difference of opinions can lead to a valuable discussion of ethics.  Was Bear cheated? Should Hare have disclosed what he was planting?  Bear allowed Hare to use his land.  Did he deserve to be tricked?  Could Hare have found a way out of debt if Bear had not allowed him to use his land?  Role playing the different sides of the issues provides opportunities for students to explore their views on what is fair and ethical.  If Bear and Hare were to write a partnership agreement, the story would have had a different ending.  Challenge the students to write an agreement for Bear and Hare.  Is shaking hands and saying, “It’s a done deal!” enough of a partnership agreement?  Does a handshake seal a deal?  Look at the elements of repetition in the story.  Why does the author use repetition?  Why is the phrase, “It’s a done deal,” used before each crop is planted?   

The characteristics of a folktale are evident in Tops and Bottoms; students can identify the lesson or moral of each story.  A close look at the Hare as a trickster and Bear as the tricked one gives the reader the opportunity to examine the risks each main character assumed.  A study of proverbs can be linked to this tale.  (A related geography lesson is to locate the countries from which different fables and proverbs have come.)  Also, quotes about partners, ethics, and hard work can become story elements and morals for folktales.  

Discuss the changes in Hare from the original “Hare and the Tortoise” to his role in Tops and Bottoms. The hard work of Hare in this story can be compared to the Ant in the “Ant and the Grasshopper” or the Hen in the “Little Red Hen.”  What motives did Hare have to change from his lazy ways in “Hare and the Tortoise”?  Integrating economics across the language arts curriculum can help teachers find time to cover more social studies without sacrificing providing students with time to practice critical language arts skills. And they need to consider how to build students’ needed language arts skills and strategies so that their students can do what is asked of them. Teachers just need to look at the books they have in another light, with a new spin.  


Once Upon MacDonald’s Farm by Stephen Gammell  (2000) and

The Principal’s New Clothes by Stephanie Calmenson (1989). 


Calmeson, S. (1989). The Principal’s New Clothes. New York: Scholastic.

Gammell, S. (2000). Once Upon MacDonald’s Farm. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Stevens, J. (1995). Tops and Bottoms. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.

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