Panic on Wall Street

Don’t panic.
  • numbers (amounts of money)
  • vocabulary (stock trading and investment)
  • negotiation
  • collaborative decision making
  • real conditionals (planning)
  • life-skills (financial planning)


  • Level (CEFR B2-C2)
  • Ages 15

If you’re looking for a way to liven up a lesson about real conditionals or negotiation, then Panic on Wall Street is a blast.  It’s lively and the whole class can get involved. A light bit of time-pressure keeps ESL / EFL students on task, while at the same time giving the whole activity a little urgency and a decent pace.

Once you open the box of Panic on Wall Street, you’ll instantly be impressed by the excellent production values.  The bits and pieces all look and feel great, and this is important if you want to get a bit of buy-in from students.  It certainly makes a nice change from tiny slips of paper in typical “Find someone who …” activities.

Source: (Britton Roney)

I’ve tried playing Panic a couple of ways and they both have something to be said for them.  Firstly, I tried the ‘out of the box’ way.  This involves dividing the class more-or-less 50:50 so that all individuals are either investors or fund managers.  The other way involves doing the same, but keeping students in pairs and making them jointly responsible for their money/stocks.

The two roles (fund managers and investors) have different goals and the game also offers them slightly different experiences.  Fund managers automatically start with a bunch of accounts (three) that they must try to sell to the investors.  These accounts are colour-coded according to the degree of risk that they represent (red = high risk, yellow, green and blue = low risk).  The investors all start with a wad of cash and they must try and increase their wealth.  They will do this by negotiating an investment amount with the fund managers.  This negotiation phase is where most of the fun and language practice comes from.  Using the supplied 2-minute hourglass timer, the investors will sprint from manger to manager to try and negotiate the best price for investing in  given stock.  Once a price for a stock is agreed the manager will write the price on the stock and the investor will place their marker.  Other players can visit and make a higher bid if the wish to.  For this phase, the standard 2 minutes is fine for very fluent speakers, but you need to give a little more time than this, especially if you want learners to experiment with some new language of negotiation.  Either play it by ear and give a 30-second countdown when things are starting to naturally conclude, or give about 5 minutes and make the timer visible to all (by using an IWB for example).  When the time runs out, all standing bids must have been recorded on the fund tiles and marked with one of the investors tokens.

After this comes the more mechanical phase of the game.  Dice are rolled and the stock market table dictates how much each stock is now worth.  The investors take these earnings from the bank and then pay their promised sums of money to the fund managers.  In turn, managers then must pay 10,000 dollars for each stock they hold.  These stages repeat a number of times and at the end of the fund manager and investor with the most money win!


  • If you have any real financial stock-market types, they’ll be quick to pick holes in the fact that you can’t do any research on any of the firms’ historical performance, nor look at their financial records.  No.  Panic On Wall Street is not a stock market simulator.  It is a game.
  • The game does involve a bit of movement on behalf of the investors; some students may not like this.
  • The time pressure can be a bad thing, especially if the students are stressing about making a deal.  One way around this is to more strictly structure how the bidding stage runs.  For example, you can artificially put students in manager-investor pairs for short 30-second mini negotiations, so that each investor sees each manager.  This makes it a little less about running around aimlessly, but more often than not also ends up in the investors over-committing themselves financially.


There’s a lot to be said for Panic on Wall Street.  In terms of pure negotiating practice, Sheriff of Nottingham is perhaps a bit more focussed and involved, but has a much more in terms of down-time.  It really is almost entirely luck as to whether you get good rolls for the stock market or not.  On thing that Panic on Wall Street has going for it is that you only need one copy of Panic on Wall Street for a class of 12 to get involved.  So far I’ve only tried it with adult classes and I’ve been a little disappointed with it’s reception.  Overall, it’s good fun, but it can be a but of a lottery with groups about whether they get into it or not.  I’m glad I own it, but it’s not the greatest classroom game in my collection.


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