Understanding the debt crisis in Europe: A teaching tool from the New York Times

Why is Greece experiencing a major financial crisis? How are its fiscal woes connected to the rest of the European Union, Europe and global financial markets?

It’s All Greek to Me: Understanding the Debt Crisis in Europe” by Shannon Doyne and Holly Esptein Ojalvo, asks these questions and more, in this teaching tool from the New York Times online Learning Network.*  Along with an overview, questions for students, related links and downloadable materials, there is a lesson plan, activities and handouts for teachers to use to approach the issue, using history, economics and math. If you’re a teacher or a student, we’d like to hear from you if you’ve used this tool or something like it in one of your classes.

NOTE 1:  See how little has changed (except the sizes debts and deficits) since this was first published in May of 2010.

NOTE 2:  We wonder — how many American college students can answer these questions?

SAMPLE FROM “It’s All Greek to Me: Understanding the Debt Crisis in Europe

Web of Debt graphic from the New York Times Learning Network

Web of Debt graphic from the New York Times Learning Network

In this lesson, students complete a List/Group/Label activity to familiarize themselves with key terms, then research a single term further in order to teach their classmates about it. They then create a math or financial problem that demonstrates how the term “works.” They not only become conversant with the European crisis but also develop financial literacy by putting key economic terms in context.

Before moving on to the main activity, you may wish to provide further clarification of the situation in Greece and Europe using the interactive features “Europe’s Web of Debt”and “Debt Rising in Europe”, along with the news analysis “Deflation Could Stall Efforts to Revive Greece” and short Week in Review piece “In and Out of Each Other’s European Wallets”.

The article “Digging Deep and Seeing Greece’s Flaws” takes a closer look at the crisis from the perspective of the Greek citizenry. Paul Krugman focuses on the euro in his column “The Euro Trap.”

More coverage is available on the Greece Times Topics page and the Business section’s Global Edition.

When students have enough background information and understand at least the broad outlines of the Greece story and the ramifications on the European Union and the rest of Europe (and the world), tell them that they will now drill down into the terms they played with earlier.

Have students return to their groups from the warm-up activity, and tell each group to choose one term from their lists (or assign each group a term), so that there is no overlap with other groups. Replace general terms such as “lifeline” and countries with other relevant terms, such as junk bonds and blue chip stocks.

Explain that they will now research their terms using NYTimes.com and other resources, so that they can explain them in greater depth to their classmates. Then give the groups time research their terms. Have them begin by entering the term in the Advanced Search tool to find how many “hits” the term has had in the last week, month and year, and in what contexts. They can also browse Business Day and its subsections along with relevant Times Topics pages, such as those on Economic Conditions and Trends and the Credit Crisis. Other Times resources include the EconomixDealBook and Conscience of a Liberal blogs.


* FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES: “The Learning Network’s mission is to offer rich and imaginative materials for teaching and learning using New York Times content. Every weekday we offer new educational resources based on the articles, photographs, videos, illustrations, podcasts and graphics published in The New York Times – all for free. We invite parents, teachers and students who are 13 and older to use our ideas and tools. We hope that through posting your comments you’ll become part of an ongoing conversation about teaching and learning.”


Excerpts from this article are cited here strictly for educational purposes. Please use the links provided to read the full article from the New York Times Learning Network online at: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/its-all-greek-to-me-understanding-the-debt-crisis-in-europe/