Hands-on English current events activityfor ESL

March 2001 (latest update: March 24, 2001)

Note: You are welcome to print, copy and use this activity with your students. You are also welcome to link to this site. However, please don't re-publish this activity anywhere without permission.

Go back to Hands-on English main page.

H e l ps u p p o r tH a n d s - o nE n g l i s h !
Buy a subscription--get great classroom material, mailed 6 times a year! Buy a subscription for a friend! Thank you!

Hot off the press!
The March/April 2001 issue of Hands-on English, Vol. 10, No. 6, has several new high-beginning level activities about income taxes. These include a scrambled sentences activity, a multi-level crossword puzzle, and a short reading with a multi-level dictation.
How to order a subscription or back issues.

Don't miss the great teacher feedback we've received about this lesson, with some additional teaching ideas!

Where does your tax money go?

Dear Instructors:

Everybody is talking about taxes, both because it's income tax season again, and because the federal budget process is in the news right now. We think that your ESL students will want to participate in this discussion, too.

The following activity gives your students a little background information about the money the federal government takes in, and what it spends. The students will create their own pie graphs to help them understand this data. (To do this, they'll need to calculate percentages.) Then, they can develop their own spending plan for discussion.

A note about level: This reading should be fine for intermediate level and above. However, it looks a lot harder than it really is. With some help, even lower level students will be able to grapple with the numbers and fill in the charts.

For more information:

This activity is based on Chapter 2 of The Citizen's Guide to the Federal Budget (Fiscal year 1999), a 42-page government document which you can read online. (If you go back to their downloads page, you can also save the whole document as a PDF file.)

Happy teaching!
Anna Silliman, Editor
(Many thanks to Jean Hanslin for suggesting this activity.)


Reading activity:
Where does your tax money go?
Every year, we pay taxes. How much does the government get? How do they spend it?

The government's income
The government's income each year is close to 2 trillion dollars. For example, in 1999 the government received about $1,743 billion*. Where does this money come from? Some of this money comes from you when you pay your income tax. The total of the individual income taxes that people pay comes to $791 billion.
Companies also have to pay income tax. Corporations pay about $198 billion each year to the government. And, all employers have to pay Social Security taxes for their employees. These are called payroll taxes, and they are $596 billion for the year. There are also some other kinds of special taxes that total about $158 billion.

Look at the chart below. Write the name of each kind of tax in the correct place on the chart (individual income taxes, corporate taxes, payroll taxes, and other taxes).

The government's income

The government's spending
Where does the money go every year? In 1999, for example, the government spent $1,733 billion.
Social Security payments for retired workers is the largest expense. This costs $393 billion. Medicare is health insurance for older people. It costs $205 billion. Medicaid is a health care program for poor people. It costs $108 billion. The government also spends $112 billion to benefit low-income people with programs like Food Stamps. Benefits for farmers and other people cost $109 billion.
The military is another big expense. Defense spending is $267 billion. All other programs, including education, science, technology, housing, transportation and foreign aid, cost a total of $300 billion. (Education's part is 34 billion.)
Finally, there is one more big expense. That is interest that the government pays on the national debt. That costs $242 billion. (The last 1% of the budget is reserve money for Social Security.)

On the chart, write the name of each spending item in the correct place. (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, low-income benefits, other benefits, defense, other programs and interest.)

The government's spending

 * Note: The numbers in this story are from 1999. Every year, the numbers are a little bit different, because Congress and the President can change the plan.

Do you agree with the government's spending plan? If you have another idea, draw a chart to show what you think the government should do with the money. Explain your chart to the other students.

Further discussion
On the news you can hear politicians talking about the "budget surplus." What is this? (Hint: Look at the total income and the total spending in this article.) What do you think we should do with this surplus?

Editor's note: I'd be very interested to hear what you and your students thought of this activity! Thank you! We welcome teaching suggestions.--Anna Silliman.


Do you subscribe to Hands-on English?

Every issue has ESL activities written for adult students, including grammar activities, multi-level dictation, a multi-level crossword puzzle, and teaching tips sent in by readers, as well as many other ESL activities.

A subscription is US $21. Order by mail, to P.O. Box 256, Crete, NE 68333 USA, or order online at www.handsonenglish.com!
See our order form: form icon