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Simulation #24
Wheeler Dealer

© Teacher Created Materials, Publisher.


Ancient Mayans and Aztecs


Students will identify barter as the major means of economic transaction in the Ancient May an and/or Aztec civilizations.


  • a set of teacher-created review questions
  • 16 brown paper lunch bags
  • six small bags of corn chips
  • six bars of chocolate
  • four bananas
  • two sandwich bags full of fish crackers
  • an unopened box of table salt


  1. Create the review questions over recent lessons on Mayan and/or Aztec civilizations.

  2. Number each lunch bag with a dark marker consecutively from one to 16.

  3. Procure the necessary materials and place the items into the lunch bags as follows:
    • one chocolate bar in each of six bags
    • two bags of corn chips in each of two bags
    • one bag of corn chips in each of two bags
    • one bag of fish crackers in each of two lunch bags
    • the box of salt in one bag
    • two bananas in one lunch bag
    • one banana in each of two lunch bags


  1. Have students paired in teams of four for the review activity.

  2. As student teams correctly answer questions during the review, allot that team a point next to their names on the chalkboard.

  3. After the review questions have been exhausted, the team with the most correct answers would be able to pick out up to five numbered lunch bags. (They are not to be opened until the teacher distributes all the bags and gives instructions as to their use.) The team with the second highest total of correct responses would be able to select four bags, the third place team three bags, etc. Numbers of teams in a class may vary, so each teacher may feel free to alter the number of bags each team receives; however, every team needs at least one.

  4. Before the groups open their bags, the teacher should inform them that they contain items often traded at Aztec (Mayan) markets. As soon as they are directed by the instructor, they may look at what they have and what other teams have. Then they may enter into trade, or bartering, to see if they can obtain items from other teams.

  5. After a few minutes of trading has transpired, gain the class' attention. Tell the students that one item among all the items in today's "market" was more valuable than the others. Since salt was needed not only to flavor cooking but even more importantly to help maintain physical stamina and health, every team without salt needs to give some food items (one quarter of a chocolate bar, for instance) to the team holding the box of salt. (Note: The box of salt is to remain closed and sealed. If traded, it should be in this original condition and then returned to the teacher at the end of the lesson. Other items are meant to be consumed by the students.)


The marketplace of an Aztec or Mayan city of central or southern Mexico and northern Central America was the pulse of these Meso-American cultures. In major Aztec cities, up to 60,000 people would crowd the markets several times weekly. Vegetables (maize was the predominant food of the masses), fruits, copper axes, feathers, and even specially prepared puppies which were considered delectable edibles, were offered for trade.

Busy Mayan markets also featured cocoa beans, shells, salt, fish, animal skins, and cotton cloth. In both cultures cocoa beans served as a version of small change to equal out trade transactions. However, in the Mayan civilization some dishonest traders mastered counterfeit cocoa beans. Husks were removed from shells and filled with sand. The false beans were then mixed in with the real cocoa beans.

"Wheeler Dealer" incorporates some of the more obvious materials present in these ancient marketplaces to stimulate a sensory experience for students. Classes that are easily over-stimulated may not be the most suitable candidates for this activity. However, most students will come away from the activity with a significant understanding of the economic system of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations.


As a spinoff on the idea of counterfeit cocoa beans, remove the chocolate from several mini-sized chocolate bars, taking care to replace the wrapper to make it look like a whole piece of candy. In an appropriately placed review segment of a lesson, offer the fraudulent edibles as rewards for correct answers.

When students receive their bogus awards, discuss the idea of the counterfeit cocoa beans. Students may research what punishments may have been in store for such a perpetrator when he or she was caught.

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