Lesson Plan

Pieces of Eight and Card Game

Man playing on billiard table

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Math,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
30 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
5.NF.1, 5.NF.7.c
State Standards:
4th grade history and economics
Learning about fractions and real life use
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.


Students practice using fractions.
Students learn a popular 19th century card game "Monty."
Students immerse themselves in history by understanding people might loose their possessions quickly in the billiard room at Bent's Old Fort in the 19th century.


The Spanish Dollar was the world’s first global currency. It was used at Bents Fort. The Spanish dollar could be broken into up to eight pieces, also known as “bits”. If the piece was broken smaller than an eighth, it would be known as "a little bit." Each bit would have been worth many dollars in the current economy. 

Men gambled away their possessions in the Billiards Room at Bent's Old Fort. They may have gambled money and their clothing. They may have lost a lot. For a momment, they are able to forget what they really lost on the Santa Fe Trail, their friends and family.   


This lesson involves having students gamble "bits" given to them by the teacher. This helps the students immerse themselves in the history of Bent's Fort where many men gambled in the Billiard Room. Use your judgement on whether to use this activity in your classroom as it may offend parents, or get permission from parents before trying this activity. If only a few students are unable to participate in this game, but the majority are able to, have students that are unable to do another assignment or role during this activity. Students can record observations of what they see and hear during the games as if they are time travelers observing the past. (If there is an incentive, make sure these students are able to take part.)

Give the class fourths, eighths, and whole “Spanish dollars.” The "spanish dollars" can be represented by paper cut-outs or chocolate coins. 

Ask questions to test their knowledge of fractions. 

Lesson Hook/Preview

There can be an incentive for winning the most bits. The bits can be chocolate coins broken into pieces the students are able to use. (Will the students bet their bits hoping they will win more bits, or refraim from betting altogether? Will the students decide to use bigger bits or try for using smaller bits.)


  • Students play in groups of 4. One student is the house, the other three students play, the house changes each round.
  • Find 4 cards, each representing a different suit, and put them on the table face up.
  • Students bet on the suit they think will be the next card.
  • If a student betted on the right suit, that student takes the bets that were placed.
  • If students did not bet on the right suit, the house takes the bets that were placed.

If using a Spanish deck of cards, ask students why would there be no numbers on the cards? How did the people know what type of card it was? (Not everyone in that time period could read, so they used pictures instead of numbers.)

Susan Shelby Magoffin wrote in her journal Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico, “The servants are gambling off their clothes till some of them are next to nudity.” Discuss how fast people could lose money gambling. What consequences could this have for the people of the 19th century? Relate it to the people of the 21st century. 


Monte- A card game

Spanish Dollar- A type of currency used at Bent's Old Fort. 

Supports for Struggling Learners

If learners are confused about playing the game, they can still participate as "time travelers" recording observations of what they see and hear as other children play the game. 

Enrichment Activities

Have student research and report on other games that may have been played at Bent's Old Fort. They can research 19th century games, and they can contact Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site. 

Related Lessons or Education Materials

Find more lessons from Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site on NPS.GOV/Teachers

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Last updated: May 13, 2016