Education Technology

NCSS: The Effects of an Unbalanced Budget

Published on 07/19/2006

Activity Overview

Students will investigate the impact a surplus or deficit has on the national debt. Specifically, they will examine the growth of the debt over the last 40 years and use the data to predict the future of the debt.

Before the Activity

See the attached Activity PDF file for detailed instructions for this activity.

Print the appropriate pages from the Activity for your class.

To help introduce the concept, it may be helpful to discuss the concept of a budgetary surplus or shortage in terms of a personal or family budget. In addition to the concept, discussion could focus on the ramifications of a deficit — going into debt, interest charges, reducing spending or trying to earn more money — and the ramifications of a surplus — paying off debt, reducing interest on debts, spending more or taking more time off from work (earning less).

During the Activity

  • Distribute the appropriate pages from the Activity to your class
  • Follow the procedures outlined in the Activity


  • Students will:
  • Evaluate choices the government makes in deciding budgetary expenditures.
  • Use data from pie graphs to understand the priorities in government expenditures.
  • Use data from pie graphs to compare the federal government's revenue sources.
  • Examine trends in the national debt and its impact on government finances.
  • After the Activity

    Review the questions on the sheet to ensure student understanding of the deficit and surplus and growth of the national debt. Classroom discussion should center upon whether the debt should be a concern. Issues such as the interest payments on the debt should be a factor as well as the high growth rate in the debt since 1982.