Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

What Is a Community? (1st Grade)
Lesson 1
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework

Focus Question(s):

What does it mean to be a member of a community?

NOTE: Prior to this lesson, use the Blue Sky Activity in which students envision a better world.  If you already have a Blue Sky display, revisit it before beginning this lesson.


This lesson introduces the definition of community, and challenges students to explore the characteristics of their own community and the importance of giving to the community.


One Forty-Five Minute Class Period.


The learner will:

  • define community and neighborhood.
  • respond to an example of a community in literature.
  • recognize that communities form when people work together for a common purpose.
  • list places that help or give service in the community.

Service Experience:

Although this lesson contains a service project example, decisions about service plans and implementation should be made by students, as age appropriate.
Learn more about the stages of service-learning.

 Students look for opportunities to make the classroom and school a better place.


  • A pail of water
  • Construction paper and scissors
  • Humphrey the Lost Whale: A True Story, by Wendy Tokuda  (see Bibliographical References)

Teacher Preparation:

A migrating humpback whale mistakenly entered the San Francisco Bay in 1985.  The whale swam sixty-four miles up a freshwater river before being led back to the sea by a group of concerned citizens.

Instructional Procedure(s):

Anticipatory Set:

Show the pail of water to the class.  Ask students what could fit in the pail.  Ask the students if a fish could fit in the pail.  If so, how big a fish could this pail hold?  What happens when you put a big fish in this little pail?  (It will die because there is not enough room or water for the fish to survive.)

  • Introduce the story entitled: Humphrey the Lost Whale:  A True Story, by Wendy Tokuda.  Tell the students to imagine that the pail is a freshwater river.  Tell them a synopsis of the story: In this true story, a whale named Humphrey swam into the San Francisco Bay of the Pacific Ocean, and then swam into a freshwater river.  The whale could not survive in the confined freshwater, nor could it turn around in the river to get back to the ocean.  A community of people came together to help get the whale back into the Pacific Ocean.

  • Write the words neighborhood and community on the chalkboard.  Let the students define the terms in their own words.  Make sure they include that a neighborhood is a place where people live, work and play and a community is a place that has many different neighborhoods.

  • Read the story aloud to the children.

  • After the story, talk about how the people came together for a common purpose.  They formed a community of people who cared about helping this whale—people from the neighborhoods, scientists and whale watchers, people with many different talents.  They worked together and grew to care for each other, too.  Redefine a community as:  a group of people who come together for a common purposeThey do not need to live near each other.  Challenge the students to think of other communities of people who work together for a common purpose (families, classes, faith organizations, sports teams, hunger-awareness groups, environmental organizations, animal-rights groups, etc.).  Tell the students that a person can be a member of many different communities at the same time.  Ask them to name the communities to which they belong.

  • Conclude that people often help each other in a community or work together for the common good of the community.  Challenge students to think of ways they could help their community (class, school, neighborhood) in preparation for the service project.  List these on a chart.

Learning Link(s): (click to view)

Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

  • Each student traces one hand onto construction paper using a pencil.

  • On each finger of the traced hand, the students write or draw a way they can help a community to which they belong.  Some examples include playing with a lonely classmate on the playground, cleaning up the classroom, volunteering to help in the school lunchroom, cleaning up trash in their neighborhood, reading to a younger sibling, etc.  They may refer to the ideas already listed on the chart.

  • Have students use scissors to cut out their construction paper hand.  Have students share their finished products.  Hang the hands up on the bulletin board in a circle (with fingers pointing out).  Write “Community” in the center of the circle.

Reflection: (click to view)

Bibliographical References:

Lesson Developed By:

Pamela McIntosh
Detroit Public Schools
Woodward Elementary School
Detroit, MI 48208


Philanthropy Framework:


Rose, Teacher Warren, AR6/7/2012 7:59:50 PM

This is a well thought-out lesson and a great way to teach young children the meaning of community. Thanks!!!

Amy, Educator La Brea, Trinidad and Tobago1/27/2014 10:31:16 AM

I found this lesson very innovative and very well planned. I can see my students relating to this lesson.

WALIYAT, Teacher LAGOS, Nigeria5/28/2014 7:20:22 AM

This is really interesting. Well done.

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Unit Contents:

Overview:What Is a Community? (1st Grade) Summary


What Is a Community? (1st Grade)

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