The Importance of Trade
By Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 2 class periods
Preparation Time: 30 minutes to read the lesson and make copies of matrix

Trade Matrix

Students will discuss how much trade affects the products that we use in our lives each day. Then they will get together in small groups and will find out where the clothes they are wearing, the foods they eat often, the vehicles their families’ drive, the furniture in their homes and schools, and the luxury items they enjoy came from and how these goods made their way to their city. This information will be gathered from both primary and secondary sources through the Internet, through phone calls to local stores, and by looking at the labels on their clothing. Then it will be organized by means of a chart that highlights the origins and movement of trade goods. The lesson will continue with a discussion in which the groups compare the information that they found and highlight just how much of what they consume on an everyday basis has been shipped from somewhere else. This availability of goods from various locations not only makes a higher standard of living possible but creates greater opportunities for diseases to travel. The lesson will culminate with a reading selection that brings up this aspect of trade. The purpose of this lesson is to make the students aware of how extensively the goods that they consume in their daily lives come from another state or even another country. It is to lay the groundwork for the future lessons in this learning cycle about the importance of trade in the medieval world, to help the students see how vital trade is to daily survival or at least to the quality of one’s life; it is not just a topic in history class. This awareness of the extensive amount of international trade that creates the easy access to a wide variety of goods will grow to include the understanding that disease also travels with traded goods. Furthermore, it will ask them to paraphrase information from primary and secondary sources and to organize information in categories.

Students will be able to:
1. Organize information and put it into a coherent chart
2. Discover the place of origin of numerous items used in everyday life.

English Education Standards
Strand 3: Comprehending Informational Text
Concept 1: Expository Text
PO 4. Organize information from primary sources (and secondary sources) by paraphrasing information and making charts for an assigned task.

Teacher Background
An interest in an interdisciplinary approach to learning and a curiosity about the world.

Related and Resource Websites
http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/imports.html (FDA website with information about imported foods, cosmetics)
http://www.globaled.org/curriculum/ffood2.html (More of an historical origin of the foods consumed as fast foods, but concise and very interesting)



1. We often think of our world today as “the global village.” Is this really true for you and your students? Ask the students to think about what they hear on the news about the United States’s relationship with other countries. Often the news concerns trade issues: imbalance problems, tariffs, and protectionist policies. Ask the students to brainstorm with you anything they have read or heard in the news lately about the United States trading with other countries. List on the board any news stories that are current. Are European and Asian countries refusing to import American beef because of a mad cow scare? Are American furniture manufacturers protesting the importation of cheap Chinese furniture? Is there a huge trade imbalance with Japan since we import so much of their high tech goods and they have very difficult markets for American goods to penetrate. (This is actually a very complex cultural issue.)

2. All of this may seem far removed from your students’ personal experiences. Yet, ask them to consider how much of their everyday lives are impacted by the United States trading goods with other countries. They should also think about what is shipped/trucked in from other states. How much of what we consume in a day comes from some other place? What is actually grown or made in your city or county?

3. Put the students into small groups and ask them to fill out the matrix about trade’s impact on their lives. Give the groups about half of the class time to work on this, help them out if they need some help thinking about the big picture. Some places of origin will be easy to find, such as looking at the labels on the clothing that the students are wearing. They may need to look some things up on the Internet or make local phone calls to supermarkets (the produce department) or car dealerships to find out where other products originated. Ask the students to use just one color of pen or a pencil to fill out the matrix.

4. Bring the class together again as a group and go over each category of the matrix. Ask the students to use a different color of pen to write in ideas that they did not come up with in their group but were heard in the class discussion. Emphasize in the class discussion how much of what we consume is actually from other countries.

5. Now that the class is aware of how many things that they commonly use or consume come from other countries extend that awareness to embrace the whole realm of disease transmission. Have the class read “Hepatitis Outbreak Puts Heat on FDA.” Ask the students to look at their matrices and to postulate what other diseases could ride in on the coattails of various products.

Ask the students what they learned from this exercise. Did the results surprise them? Try to guide them to the ideas that our modern world is extremely dependent on trade to create a quality life, for daily survival in many cases and that they are consumers of a world market when they buy even the simplest things.

Challenge your students to keep their eyes open this evening. At the dinner table they can share with their families how the food they are eating comes from far and wide and the objects that they take for granted each day, such as the television, the furniture, their clothes, come from many, often distant, lands.

Embedded Assessment
You can evaluate the students’ work by observing how much they contribute to the small group discussions in filling out the matrix. If you choose to collect the matrix you can quickly see how much each group contributed and how well they listened to the entire class discussion by adding to the items that they had on their matrix. You can also evaluate the amount of participation at the end of the lesson when you ask the students to begin to consider the realm of disease transmission. 


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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