#WealthOfTweets in the Classroom: Division of Labor

division of labor wealth of nations economics high school #wealthoftweets original text

Use Twitter-length statements as a tool to better understand the complex text about the division of labor in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and to practice the process of distilling complex ideas into concise statements to improve communication and understanding.

Lesson Description        

Learners will use content from the #WealthOfTweets project in combination with excerpts from the original text of Wealth of Nations to analyze the original text before practicing expressing the ideas in progressively shorter formats. Once learners have wrangled the text themselves, they will be asked to explain why they agree or disagree with its representation in the #WealthOfTweets project. 

Intended Audience

The material that can be used with this lesson strategy is appropriate for high school or college-level English, economics, civics, and history classrooms as well as in writing workshops. 


  1. Learners understand, discuss, and evaluate Adam Smith’s views in Wealth of Nations.
  2. Learners practice and improve their ability to express complex ideas in progressively shorter text formats. 
  3. Learners compare and evaluate the representation of Adam Smith’s work in the #WealthOfTweets project, rather than simply assuming that it is correct. 

Time Required:

One class period to introduce the lesson. After this, you may ask learners to write their summaries one at a time (each summary as a single homework assignment) or to produce them all at once. You may choose to debrief learners after each writing assignment or after all writing assignments are complete and before the debrief questions are considered.


This lesson may be taught using a slide deck, handouts, or both.



“I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
- Blaise Pascal
Introduce the lesson to your learners using the above quotation. Explain to them that it is nearly always harder to express ourselves with few, simple words than it is to use long, drawn-out explanations.
Adam Smith’s most famous book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (usually just referred to as The Wealth of Nations), is very long. Many parts of it are repetitive and wordy. It is perfect for illustrating this concept!
Adam Smith was careful with his language (he was a professor of rhetoric and belles lettres long before he wrote The Wealth of Nations), but many of his ideas could be expressed more simply. 
AdamSmithWorks took this to heart when they decided to tweet the whole book. Introduce the resources to your learners (available in a handout or online). 
Introduce the concept of Roman numerals to your learners, since they are used in the text. A “cheat sheet” handout is provided.
This activity uses the #WealthOfTweets project and the original text from The Wealth of Nations to practice expressing complicated ideas concisely. 
Explain to learners that it will be up to them to decide how to summarize the text. Don’t think of it as a “right” or “wrong” summary. Rather, learners should be able to explain why they thought the parts they chose to summarize were the most important parts of the text. This will help them learn to identify the most important message in a piece of complex writing and to rank the importance of different pieces of information provided.

Step 1

Ask learners to read the tweets provided, then set these aside. 

Step 2

Ask learners to read the corresponding text from The Wealth of Nations provided. 

Step 3

Learners will write a 500–750 word summary of the original text, then save this summary to submit.

Step 4

Learners will shorten their summary to 300 words or less, then save this summary to submit.

Step 5

Ask learners to express the most important ideas from the original text in a series of “tweets” that are 280 characters or less. There is no limit on the number of tweets they can use, but each idea should be expressed in a single tweet. (You may provide them with the website https://charactercounter.com/twitter to check the length of tweets.) Ask your learners to submit these tweets as well. 

Step 6: Debrief

Review the assignment with your learners using the following questions. These can be discussed in class or submitted as another written assignment.
  1. How did you decide which ideas to keep and which to discard as your shortened your summary? How did this process inform what you chose to “tweet”? 
  2. Return to the tweets provided at the beginning of the lesson. Do you think that the #WealthOfTweets team chose the right information from the original text to feature in their tweets? Justify your answer. 
  3. Return to the tweets provided at the beginning of the lesson. Do you think the tweets by the #WealthOfTweets team accurately represent what Adam Smith wrote? Justify your answer.