Kathie Bowles

  Adult basic education, Mathematics, Reading comprehension, Life skills

Learner Level:
  Students must have basic math skills.

Time Frame:
  1-2 hour session, depending upon learners' grasp of materials.

Learner Grouping:
  Whole group followed by Individual

  I have a combination Families First/ABE class of anywhere from 7-10 students each day. They range in age from 18 to 77 and we meet from 8 AM to 12 PM. All have basic skills (grade levels 5-8.9) and half of those are in the credentialing level (9-12.9). The group  can blend skills easily for team projects. They also all work well individually.  Our setting is a large classroom with computers, conference tables, etc.

Families First is the Tennessee program that provides training for those welfare recipients who lack basic education skills. While learners work toward a GED, emphasis in these classes is shifting toward the knowledge, skills, and attitudes learners need to acquire and keep a good job.

Not Available

  Smith County Families First/ABE

Type of Program:

Student Population Served:
  Basic skills, grade levels 5.0 - 8.9
Credentialing, grade levels 9.0 - 12.9

Math skills for everyday: Filling out income tax forms

Using actual tax forms, students learn how to accurately figure their own income taxes, and read and fill out the proper forms. __________________________________________________________

Learning Objective:
Students will utilize their math skills to correctly determine the amount of taxes to be paid. They will also recognize the importance of following direct instructions and making accurate calculations.

Primary Skill:
Using math to solve problems and communicate

Secondary Skills:
Read with understanding, Solve problems and make decisions, Take responsibility for learning

Learner Needs & Goals: 
At tax time, learners were comparing notes about the difficulty of filling out the forms or how much it was costing them to have their tax forms prepared.  This learning experience was an outgrowth of that discussion.

Learning Activity Description:

The instructor first gives basic instructions, then works one-on-one with each student.

  1. Introduce the lesson by asking learners about their experiences in filing taxes.  Discuss the advantages of being able to calculate your own income tax.

  2.  Give each learner a “hypothetical” W-4 and W-2 form which shows the amount of tax withheld from the paychecks, for dependents, marital status, etc.

  3. Demonstrate how employers use the Circular E booklet to determine the withholdings (including Social Security and Medicare taxes) of employees.

  4. Use an overhead projector to show the varieties of tax filing forms and explain how and why each is to be used.

  5.   Help each learner fill out the given forms.

  6. Complete the activity with a class discussion about what they have learned and answer any questions that arise.

Materials and Resources:

  • Internal Revenue Service Employers Tax Guide Packet including blank W-4, W-2 and a variety of filing forms. It also has a Circular E that explains the impacts of various methods of withholding taxes on employees. IRS forms are available and may be copied from the IRS website at www.irs.ustreas.gov
  • Instructor prepared "hypothetical" W-4 and W-2 forms for each student so the student can prepare the tax documents to be filed.
  • Instructor prepared "hypothetical" paychecks for each student
  • Copies of various filing forms (1040EZ, 1040A, 1040, Child Care, Earned Income Credit, etc.) IRS forms are available and may be copied from the IRS website at
  • Transparencies of tax filing forms.

My adult learners were able to fill out the forms accurately and correctly. Once we finished this lesson, several participants stated they plan to do their own taxes next year. Also, the majority of students found the forms were not so formidable, and found that reading carefully and following instructions is important in many life skills.

Some learners were surprised to find out tax preparers are generally not "saving them money." Until this activity, some students mistakenly thought these preparers knew "loop holes" or extra deductions to help them. They didn't realize that the returns or payments are based simply on the information and documentation given to the preparer. The activity made students aware of their own capabilities regarding their tax liabilities.

This particular lesson was constructed and taught in January. Many students had already filed their taxes, and had paid preparers to fill out very simple forms. From now on, I will teach this activity earlier in the class so those who want to can do their own tax paperwork.


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