Sharing Our Legacy of Giving
  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Compare and contrast the roles of business, government, civil society sector, and family.
      2. Benchmark MS.6 Identify significant contributions to society that come from the civil society sector.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.8 Define civil society.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define and give examples of the motivations for giving and serving.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.
      3. Benchmark MS.5 Describe the responsibility students have to act in the civil society sector to improve the common good.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Provide a needed service.
    3. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Evaluate progress on the service-learning project before, during, and after the project.

In this lesson, students create a gift of story modeled after the documentary The Gift of All. The students will research and/or interview a local philanthropist. Each student will write a biography telling the story of the philanthropist. They share the completed biography with an elementary student, teaching that student about philanthropy and the value of giving to the community. 

PrintThree 50-minute lessons, plus time to research and write biographies

The learner will:

  • define civic responsibility and civic virtue and relate to telling stories of philanthropy.
  • research and write a biography of a local philanthropist.
  • analyze and identify sources of beliefs and values as family, religion, personal experiences, and peers.
  • publish philanthropy biographies.
  • prepare questions to go with biographies.
  • practice reading aloud, modeling literacy skills for elementary audience.
  • go on a field trip to an elementary school to read biography.
  • demonstrate and share learning to a wider community and donate books to the library.

Completed homework of a list of community philanthropists (See Handout One: Community Philanthropist) from Lesson Two: Exploring Our Legacy of Giving Student copies of Handout One: Philanthropist Research and Rubric Student copies of Handout Two: Interview Questions


The Gift of All: a Community of Givers, produced by The S.O.U.L. of Philanthropy along with The Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Calvin College. Copyright © Grand Rapids Public Library, City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2008, 2009. Streaming video available at

Learning to Give. "SOUL of Philanthropy" project. Includes links to video, related quotations, and briefing papers (biographies) 

  1. Day One

    Anticipatory Set

    Tell the students that the documentary "The Gift of All" itself is an act of philanthropy. Ask the students how these stories about philanthropists can promote the common good. Tell them that the movie was funded by philanthropists. Why would they give their money and time to tell their stories to all of us? Remind the students of Margaret Voss's statement: "We have to stand up because we saw it. We have the gift of the life we've lived that needs to be told."

  2. Write the words civic responsibility and civic virtue on the board. Discuss what the words mean. (Teacher note: Civic responsibility is a person’s duty or obligation to their community as a citizen. Civic virtue is morality, goodness, or uprightness that upholds community, or behaviors that promote community well-being.)

  3. Remind the students that the people interviewed in The Gift of All documentary talked about how they learned a sense of civic responsibility. Part of their civic responsibility is to tell their story, not because they want attention, but because they want to inspire others to give and be civically responsible. This generation has something to teach the next generations about community, giving, values, and compassion. If we don't learn from them, we have lost something. The value of civic responsibility reaches far beyond what we can see. Their legacy, or gift to future generations, has a far-reaching and lasting impact in the community.

  4. Now it is the students' turn to tell stories of giving. The goal of this lesson is for each student to write a story, a biography, about a local philanthropist. The story will tell about that person's connection to the community, their background, accomplishments, interesting stories, roots, family, goals, core values, significant life events, influences, career, and legacy. The stories will be shared with students at an elementary school to teach them about their community and inspire others to give. The story itself will be an act of philanthropy because it will be shared and make the community a better place as it honors civic virtue.

  5. Refer to the previous lesson's homework. See Handout One: Local Philanthropist from Lesson Two: Exploring Our Legacy of Giving. Ask the students to name who they have chosen to research and write about. Keep a list of their choices. It is okay for more than one student to write about a single person. For any students who haven't made a decision, have the students offer suggestions from their homework lists. West Michigan students should select individuals other than the ones in the video.

  6. Give the students a rubric (see Handout One: Philanthropist Research and Rubric) and discuss what should be included in the story and the format of the final product. Remind the students that the audience is elementary level students (give them a specific grade level if you already have set up a partnering class for this). The final product will look like a picture book with readable text, images, and appropriate comprehension level for the age.

  7. Give each student a copy of Handout Two: Interview Questions. Brainstorm additional questions. Students who write about family members and other familiar people will conduct most of their research through interviews. Students who write about well-known community philanthropists may conduct most of their research through the library.

  8. Make arrangements for the learners to go to the library/Internet to access information and begin their research on their philanthropist. Guide the students to conduct research, set up interviews, write a rough draft, find images, revise and edit drafts, and make a final copy. This project may take several days.

  9. Day Two

    Anticipatory Set

    Read aloud a picture book biography. Exhibit literacy skills as you model how to read aloud. Point out to students the format, headings, pictures, and physical features of the book. Ask questions before, during, and after reading. Check for understanding, read with expression, and use eye contact.

  10. Provide materials as needed to help students publish their philanthropist biographies.

  11. When their books are all edited and published, tell the students they need to prepare for their field trip to read to younger children.

  12. Have the students prepare some questions to ask the students to help them engage in the reading. Some of this may be done as a whole class, but some questions will be specific to each biography. A question or statement before reading will help focus the students. Questions during reading will check for understanding. Questions after reading are to help the younger students connect the book to the concepts of community giving.

  13. Remind the students that their book is an act of philanthropy in two ways: in content (learning about philanthropy and a community philanthropist) and in sharing time and literacy skills with a younger student. Make sure the students know how to read aloud with expression and to model good reading skills. Spend some time practicing reading aloud before you go.

  14. Day Three: Field Trip

  15. Go on a field trip to an elementary school. Have each middle school student read aloud their book to one younger student. Before, during, and after reading, the students ask their prepared questions.

  16. After the field trip, reflect on the entire project. Ask the students to write in their journals about what they learned about their legacy of giving. What inspired them? What worked well in their presentation to the elementary students? What could they do differently next time? What do they plan to do next?

  17. Note: the books may become part of the elementary or community library. Before the books are donated to the library, have a demonstration for an audience of what the students learned and created in this unit. A demonstration may be a book donation party at the library.


Observe student participation in class discussions and group work. Observe students in their interactions with the elementary students. Do they model good reading strategies and engage the younger students with the concepts? Use the rubric to assess the philanthropist biographies for meeting expectations.


Note: the books may become part of the elementary or community library. Before the books are donated to the library, have a demonstration for an audience of what the students learned and created in this unit. A demonstration may be a book donation party at the library.