This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

April 2001 - Issue No. #42 (p.10-11)

The Trading Game

A Simulation of the Global Economy

by Gwen Stamm

University of Washington, Seattle, USA

Recently, I've introduced a simulation in my Business Topics class which illustrates to students how trade can benefit and hinder the economic development of different communities or countries. It generates interest and discussion about the world trading system in an enjoyable and non-academic way, often leading to a broader understanding of trade relationships.

I teach at the University of Washington in Seattle and have one all-Japanese class of 15 students who are part of our four-quarter program. Their abilities are in the intermediate range. The program's focus is business topics and communication. Various areas of business are studied and discussed. This simulation game is used during their textbooks chapters on "Ethics and Social Responsibility" and "International Trade."

The simulation, entitled the Trading Game, divides students into three groups, each representing a different country:

  • A most developed country (e.g.France)
  • A less developed country (e.g. Peru)
  • A least developed country (e.g. Ghana)

Each country is given an envelope containing raw materials (e.g. paper) and/or technology (e.g. scissors). The materials and technology differ from country to country, according to their level of development. With the contents of their envelopes, the students are asked to produce shapes; each shape representing a monetary value they can redeem by depositing in the bank. The goal of the game is to gain as much wealth as possible. The winner is the country that has accumulated the most wealth in their bank account at the end of a 45-minute period.

Once the game begins, students soon discover that the contents of their envelope may or may not help them in producing wealth. The also realize that each country has not received equal contents. Obviously, some do not have enough raw materials or technology to produce any of the shapes. In order for them to do so, they must negotiate and trade with other countries.

Students soon become quite engaged in this simulation. They are eager to produce wealth and are very active in negotiating and trading with each other. As might be expected, not all countries are cooperative and helpful; nor are all countries equally and helpful; nor are all countries equally successful. Behaviors range from very aggressive to completely passive as students are confronted with the obstacles of trading and making wealth.

After about 45 minutes of trading, the simulation is stopped and the whole class has a discussion about their feelings and behavior during the simulation. The discussion can take anywhere from 20-40 minutes depending on the students and the teacher's specific goals. This is a critical part of the simulation and can also be followed up with a written assignment which allows students to express their ideas more fully.

This simulation has received very positive comments from students. I have now used it successfully four times with groups of 30-45 students. However, it is also suitable for groups of 15. Some typical comments from students are as follows:

    What was the most important thing you learned from The Trading Game?
  • "To understand the system of trading between countries and learn how to think about economic power or unfair situation from another angle."
  • "To have a superb marketing strategy are indispensable when it comes to trading"
  • "Communicating and cooperating are necessary when we work in a group."
  • "What developing countries lack as a whole is education. Without high education, they can never survive in free trading system but they just get exploited by developed countries."
  • Did this game change your way of thinking in any way? If so, explain.
  • "Yes, I really understood the situation of the Third World countries. After the game, I wanted to know how we can help them and what we have done to support them."
  • "I need to have a wider view."
  • "Before, I couldn't understand why a poor country doesn't try to be rich, but I noticed a poor country can't do anything because of lack of materials or resources."
  • "It made me realize how hard it is to start from a weaker point."
    Would you recommend this game be played in future classes in this program?
  • "Absolutely yes."
  • "Yes, I think it is a well prepared game."
  • "Yes, I think it's a good opportunity to think about something together."
  • "Yes, I recommend."
  • "Yes, I learned important thing by experiencing."
How To Obtain The Simulation

This simulation, along with several other simulation games useful for the classroom, can be purchased through Oxfam's Education Resources for Schools catalog (on-line at the website listed). Oxfam is an independent British organisation affiliated with Oxfam International, with partners, volunteers and staff of many nationalities, which is part of a worldwide movement to build a just and safer world.

If you have further questions about this simulation, please feel free to contact me.

This article is based on a workshop given by the author to the Washington State TESOL affiliate.

Gwen Stamm, University of Washington, P.O. Box 354232, Seattle, WA 98195-4232 USA
Tel: 206-685-6528 E-mail:


Please note that the most recent issues of the newsletter are available to subscribers only. Please check our subcription page at for more details about subscribing.

You can search the site by using the above tabs or click on the links below.

Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650