Review by Sol Joye, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2013


Provocative, first-person look at poverty builds empathy

Subjects & skills
  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking

  • Social Studies
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (7 Reviews)

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Pros: Quick, compelling introduction to key social issue.

Cons: No additional resources to aid classroom use.

Bottom Line: It'll need some scaffolding, but for students ready for the subject matter it's a great -- if sobering -- way to illustrate to students the daily realities and struggles of poverty in America.

With the help of some resources -- like related research/articles and real stories of poverty, Spent could spark some fantastic discussions. While not directly correlated to Common Core, playing Spent could fit in with numerous ELA units dealing with themes of poverty, anything from The Grapes of Wrath to Esperanza Rising, or even the Hunger Games series. Any economics-focused math or social studies units could draw from Spent as a point of illustration and comparison, and help students understand monthly budgets or government policies that help/hinder poverty. In a social studies class, students could also research what it would be like to live in poverty in their local communities. Have students find out local rents and the minimum wage, investigate health costs, food costs, etc., and set a monthly budget. Then, as a class, explore possible events and how they'd impact the budgets they set up.

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Spent is sort of like a jazzed-up, text-based, choose-your-own adventure, but with a powerful message about social justice. Players are thrown into the tough -- often impossible -- life of someone living on the poverty line; they choose a job, get a set income, and must make choices based on events that pop up. The goal is to survive a month within budget. Teachable moments come in the form of tough choices that pop up, sending players' budgets and wellness into tailspins -- forcing impossible balancing acts that drive home the precarity of poverty. Would the player rather go out to a free concert with friends and pay for the babysitter, or stay home and save money? Is food or medication more important? 

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Spent is one of those experiences that comes alive for students with the right scaffolding and extension. On their own, students should get a more relatable picture of what it's like to be poor in practical, everyday terms. However, teachers can help students understand why some choices presented in the game are so tough, and so common, and explain some of the many structural and institutional reasons why those in living in poverty, unfortunately, tend to stay living in poverty. It's in this extension and discussion that Spent be an even more extraorindary learning experience.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

While it's not the most exciting experience -- students just click through it -- Spent's content is thought provoking, and sure to raise questions, incite discussion, and could fuel further research.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Spent's punishing, eye opening, choice-driven narrative helps students empathize with and understand the daily struggles of poverty.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There's not much beyond in-game pop-up hints and some summative data for further investigation and discussion.

Common Sense Reviewer
Sol Joye Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 7 reviews) (7 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Elizabeth H. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Arcadia High School
Phoenix, AZ
Fun game with real struggles that many Americans face, helps students understand poverty and social inequality.

One of the parts that I like best is that after they make a decision it often gives them a fact that correlates with the decision, for example why so many people take up smoking when they are struggling. My students like it because it is a game. If they cannot make it through the month they keep playing because they want to see if they can do it. Afterwards I had my students complete a reflection worksheet where they recorded what job they chose, what successes and challenges they faced, and what surprised them the most.

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