Resource Scarcity Game
(Our thanks to Peggy Pride, who demonstrated this at the 1998 AP Reading.)


To demonstrate the concept of scarcity and the issue of "economizing"


4 large envelopes     3 pencils                          
2 scissors                   1 ruler  
1 bottle of glue        1 ink pen       
12 paper clips         
8 sheets of paper (8.5x11): 1 blue, 1 green, 1 white, 2 red, 3 yellow


Assemble envelopes for 4 groups; label the envelopes as Country 1, 2, 3 or 4.

bullet1 – 1 scissors, 2 pencils, 1 bottle of glue, 2 paper clips, green paper (half sheet), 1 yellow paper, 1 blue paper
bullet2 – 1 ruler, 6 paper clips, 1 yellow paper, 1 pencil, 1 ink pen
bullet3 – 1 scissors, 4 paper clips, green paper (half sheet), white paper (half sheet)
bullet4 – White paper (half sheet), 2 red papers, 1 yellow paper


bulletDivide class into 4 work groups
bulletShow the tasks to be completed on overhead or hand out copy to each group
bulletDistribute envelopes randomly
bulletInform students that they have 15 minutes to complete all of the tasks
bulletAllow students to trade but only if a group asks if trading is allowed
bulletAt the end of time, let each group show its completed project tasks. Use the follow up questions to analyze the exercise.


Tasks to be Completed

AG00057_.gif (11891 bytes) FOOD: four 3-inch strips of green paper
TR00242A.gif (1784 bytes) SHELTER: 2-inch white square attached to a yellow triangle
PE02039A.gif (1472 bytes) CLOTHING: a four-color paper chain
BS00554A.gif (2792 bytes) EDUCATION: a four-page book with color cover

Follow Up Activities

Let class critique the products:

Distinguish between quality and quantity

Let group decide if projects were completed

Ask about the types of resources that each group was given initially.

bulletAsk why there was a difference between envelopes. (Scarcity of resources)
bulletAsk about the different types of resources. Ask students to classify the items in the envelope (Paper – land; Capital – scissors, pencils, pen, glue, ruler; Labor – the students; Entrepreneurship – their creativity in production.)
bulletDiscuss the trading - for – resources aspect of the game
bulletDid any group "have it all"?
bulletHow was trading facilitated?
bulletDid any group ask or use the envelope?
bulletWere there resources not needed?
bulletWere any useless or not tradable?
bulletCould additional products be created?

Inquire about the factor of labor in this game.

bulletStress the thinking process of solving the scarcity issue by improvising. Let students talk about how the production process was organized.
bulletDid anyone take charge? Did just one person do the assembly of the task products?
bulletDid anyone discover that since the whole sheet of paper was 8.5x11, they could divide it and use it as a ruler?

Inquire about the factor of capital (tools, machines)

bulletNo ruler? No glue? No writing utensil? Solutions?


bulletWould other types of capital been useful?


Lastly, try to help students to see the connection to the principle of Scarcity as defined:

bulletLimited Resources vs. Unlimited Wants
bulletDemand for goods and services exceeds the supply
bulletHuman wants tend to be unlimited, but human, natural, and capital resources are limited.


Conclude the lesson with a discussion of ways to deal with scarcity:

bulletPeople can do without some of the things they want.
bulletPeople can create more resources by new discoveries, more training, better tools
bulletPeople can produce more by better use of resources
bulletPeople can redistribute goods and services so that everyone has enough.


As later topics are introduced, you can refer to this exercise. For example, reference to the distribution of the resources can be referred when studying comparative advantage. The idea of opportunity cost and trade-offs as a part of the concept of production possibility curves can be stressed in the idea that the groups needed to make choices about how to produce, whether to trade and what to trade.

This game works well in the beginning of the term when the students need to be motivated. It is a good introduction to thinking about economic terms.