How to Teach Accounting Basics

by Sheila Shanker

Teaching accounting basics can be a challenge. Students are not familiar with basics concepts and they can get confused with the accounting terminology and vocabulary. Many students assume that if they do well in math, they do well in accounting and many times that's not the case.

Spend lots of time in definitions and terminology. Accounting vocabulary can be very confusing since the same words are used for different things within accounting and outside. The typical examples are "debits" and "credits." These words mean a couple of things in accounting (types of accounts and increases/decreases) and something totally different in regular life. Give students quizzes on terminology alone to verify that they get it. Each class could start with a quiz on terminology from prior class.

Use examples as much as you can. Each new concept should be followed by an example. If you're covering journal entries, give them examples of journal entries and what they do. You could use the traditional "T" accounts to illustrate concepts to beginning students. A"T" account is a visual aid showing an account in the form of a large letter "T" with debits in the left side and credits in the right side. Don't just talk about accounting, illustrate it.

Use mnemonics and give tips to students on how to memorize account types and reports. Most textbooks don't offer helpful hints for memorization. For example, a balance sheet could be "ALOE" the plant, summarizing the balance sheet formula of assets=liability + owners equity. Another mnemonic would be the phrase, "Left-hand Drivers Rightly Crash" to get students to memorize that left side of a balance sheet is related to debit (dr) and the right side is related to credit (cr).

"Anchor" your students is a concept that they can use right away. You could emphasize that if cash is a debit account and is increased by debits, that takes care of at least one side of many journal entries. Focus on cash transactions first and to think through problems by asking questions about cash. If cash is involved because of words such as "paid" or "funds received," then the journal entry will involve cash and that could be resolved first, making it simpler and easier.

Tip

  • Add online resources to your teaching. There are lots of online resources to help a bewildered student.

About the Author

Sheila Shanker is a certified public accountant based in California. She writes online courses for professionals seeking CPE hours and has also published the book "Guide to Non-profits: From the Trenches." Her articles have been published in national magazines such as the "Journal of Accountancy," "Architecture Business and Economics" and "Veterinary Economics." Shanker holds a Master of Business Administration.

Photo Credits

  • chldren teaching image by Julia Britvich from Fotolia.com