Lesson 2 Activity: The Market for Thingamajigs – Price Gouging?

download Market for Thingamajigs  activity guide, including handouts

download pdf version of game handouts


Understanding how markets work and the role of prices within markets is an important key to being able to explain and predict economic behavior. Prices in open markets adjust to address changing conditions of scarcity. Price controls prevent the transmission of information that allows consumers and producers to adjust their choices.

Video Demonstration:

Economics Content Standards:

Standard 8:  Prices send signals and provide incentives to buyers and sellers.  When supply or demand changes, market prices adjust, affecting incentives.


This lesson simulates a market for “thingamajigs” before and after a natural disaster like a hurricane, and with and without government-imposed price controls.  Students, acting as buyers and sellers, will experience the ability of markets to adjust to the increased scarcity caused by the disaster, and how price controls confound those adjustments, resulting in shortages.

Time Required:

  • 1-2 class periods


  • High and low buyer cards (64 each,  same color, high cards marked with H on back)
  • Thingamajig cards (70 of color 1 and 20 of color 2)
  • Seller role cards – 6  (colored, but different color than buyer and thingamajig cards)
  • Seller role cards – “How to Get More” – 6 (different color than regular role cards)
    • (Fill in “cost” of getting more before starting the activity)
  • Seller transaction record – 6 copies
  • Buyer transaction record – (1 per student minus 6)
  • Overhead transparency of Tally Sheet
  • Candy or other prizes to be purchased with “profits”
  • Prizes for winning seller and winning buyer
  • (see link above to download .doc file including all handouts, visuals, game pieces, and teacher guide)


Make 64 low buyer cards and 64 high buyer cards according to the following distribution.

Buyer CardsLow Value Buyer CardsHigh Value
Buy Value No. Buyer Value No.
$35 4 $52 4
$37 4 $55 4
$39 4 $58 4
$41 4 $61 4
$43 8 $64 8
$45 8 $67 8
$47 12 $70 12
$49 12 $73 12
$51 8 $76 8


1.   Explain to students that they are going to take part in a market simulation.  Distribute the handout, “How To Play The Market for Thingamajigs.” Read aloud, or have students read silently and then review the procedures and answer student questions.

2.   Designate one student (or a classroom aide) to oversee the distribution of the buyer cards and to collect the thingamajigs.

3.   Clear the center of the room, and set up 6 “stores” along one side to create a marketplace.

4.   Select 6 sellers and seat them in their “stores” along the edge of the class. (Leave enough room between the desks for buyers who will be coming into the stores.)  Give each seller a seller role card, transaction record, and 10 Thingamajig cards.  (Don’t announce how many are given to each seller and don’t announce the sellers’ production cost.)

5.   Give a buyer transaction record and one (low) buyer card to each of the remaining students. Emphasize that each card is good for only one transaction.  After a buyer purchases a thingamajig, he must bring it to the front of the room, turn in the thingamajig and the buyer card, and pick up a new card from the card distributor.  (Buyers will place their purchases and used cards in two piles on the table and receive a new buyer card in return.  Hand out the new buyer cards upside down from the top of the shuffled stack.)

  • Make sure both buyers and sellers understand how to calculate “profit” on their score sheets.  Announce an incentive – that students will be able to spend their “profits” on candy at the end of the game.  (You may also want to add a prize for the seller and 2 buyers who make the most profit.)
  • Encourage students to make as many deals as they can in the time permitted.  Explain that it is permissible to buy above the value (which will be a “loss” on the transaction record) to get a new card.  In order to encourage participation explain to students that if they make no transactions in a round they must count the amount on their card as a loss at the end of the round.

6.   Explain that you will conduct a number of rounds of trading sessions of approximately the same length. To speed up the profit calculations, ask students to make all transactions in $1 increments.

7.   Open round 1.  Monitor the market and end the round before the sellers have time to out. of their cards.  (Expect some confusion, especially if students have not played market games before.  Also expect that they will sort out the process and transactions will be made.  You may wish to play the first round as practice, and “start over” after it appears that most students have figured out their roles.)

8.   End the round, noting the length.  (This will be the length of all subsequent rounds.)  Collect all the remaining buyer cards.  Give students time to figure their net losses and gains — their “profit.”  Display the transaction record, ask each seller to report sales, and tally the total number of thingamajigs sold.

9.   Distribute the thingamajig cards so that each seller again has 10 to start the second round.

10.  Decide whether to play another round with low buyer values or to switch to high buyer values.  (If students are familiar with market games or if you played a practice round before the first round, there is no need to play an additional low round.) If you are switching to high buyer values, simply hand out high cards without announcing the changed values.  You may wish to announce that the H on the back of the card indicates “hurricane.”

11.  Open the market for the next round.  (Expect buyers to be willing to pay more and sellers to quickly figure out that they can sell for higher prices.  Sellers will sell out quickly and the round will probably be shorter than round 1, but in any case, don’t let it go longer.)

12.  End the round; allow time for profit calculations, and then display the tally sheet.  Discuss (briefly):

  • What was different in this round?
  • How might we explain this difference? Why might buyers have higher value for thingamajigs in a disaster like a hurricane?  What products might “thingamajigs” be?
  • What happened to the price?  Why?  What happened to sellers’ profits?  To buyers’ “profit”?  (Emphasize that based on buyers’ profit, it would be hard to argue that they’ve been victimized by the higher prices.)
  • Why did the stores sell out so quickly?  Use this discussion to prompt the sellers’ request to get more thingamajigs.  Remind them that there is a prize for the seller with the most profit.

13.  Announce that in the next round, sellers will be able to replenish their stock and get more thingamajigs if they sell out.  Redistribute the thingamajig cards so that each seller again has 10.  Distribute new seller role cards (different color) and explain the procedures for getting more thingamajigs (different color).  A variety of methods is possible – anything that imposes a significant cost on the sellers – hopping around the room, running to the end of the hallway and back, filling out an extended order form, etc. Make it so that the high cost is repeated for additional small numbers of thingamajigs:  hopping around the room for each additional card, filling out the extend order form for 3 additional cards, for example.

14.  Open the round and keep track of the time. Do not let the round run any longer than the previous round.

15.  End the round and have students calculate their profits.  Display the tally and point out the increased number of transactions.  Quickly elicit comments on the prices – expect that they have risen. Don’t spend much time; simply establish the higher prices and move to the next round.

16.  Redistribute the thingamajig cards (10 per seller, original color).  Return the extra thingamajig cards to the “warehouse.”  Announce that in response to citizen complaints, the city council has enacted an anti-price-gouging law and that prices for thingamajigs will be held to the pre-hurricane average of $42 (or whatever you determined the pre-hurricane average to be – expect somewhere in the range of $40 – $45)..  Sellers charging more will have their stores seized and will be out of the game.  Quickly open the round, and let it go as long as the previous round.

17.  End the round and the game and let students calculate total profits.  Determine the winning seller and two winning buyers before debriefing and give out prizes.  Announce that all students may use their transaction record “profits” to buy candy at the end of the period and announce the price for candy.

Debriefing Questions:

  1. Ask the winning seller and winning buyers to explain their strategies in the market.
  2. What did the high buyer cards signify?  Why did the buyers’ values change?
  3. Why did the sellers sell out when the hurricane hit?  What happened to the sellers’ profits when the hurricane hit?
  4. Were buyers helped or hurt by the higher post-hurricane prices?  Explain.
  5. How did sellers get more thingamajigs? What happened to their cost?  Why?
  6. What impact did the price control have on the market?  On buyers?  On sellers?
  7. What do you think would have happened in the market after the hurricane passed and the area recovered?  How would buyers’ and sellers’ behavior change?

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