What Is Service Learning?

6, 7, 8

Students will understand philanthropy and service learning.  They will analyze past actions to determine if they have contributed to the common good.  This lesson will give the context for succeeding lessons in the unit so that students will be able to complete an action for the common good and evaluate their effort for a future philanthropic project.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Forty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • define and use the vocabulary of philanthropy and service learning.
  • describe the importance of philanthropic activities to the common good.
  • Copy of the lyrics of the song, "Hands" by Jewell (available online)
  • Copies of several excerpts from www.giraffe.org, “Profiles of Giraffe Heroes” and/or
  • Copies of several accounts from Philip Hoose’s It’s Our World, Too! Stories of Young People Who Are Making a Difference.
  • Journal
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework:The teacher will ask learners to collaborate with their families on the following: “At the next meal you share, ask them for their definition of philanthropy, when the last time was they did a philanthropic act and whether they would be willing to commit to an act for the common good during the next month.”

  • Giraffe Heroes Project www.giraffe.org, “Profiles of Giraffe Heroes”

  • Hoose, Phillip. It’s Our World, Too! Stories of Young People Who Are Making a Difference. Toronto: Little Brown and Co., 1993. ISBN: 785711589.
    There are practical suggestions for social action projects included in this book.

  • Learning to Give https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/philanthropy


  1. Anticipatory Set: Philanthropy will be printed on the board in huge letters when students enter the room. Ask, “What is philanthropy?” After hearing responses, define the term as “giving of one’s time, talent or treasure for the sake of another, or for the common good.” Additional definitions include: “voluntary action for the public good; voluntary giving, voluntary service and voluntary association, primarily for the benefit of others; giving and serving; active effort to promote human welfare.”


  2. Define service-learning as service for others that goes beyond volunteerism, community service, and youth service by connecting the service experience to the school curriculum and by giving opportunities for students to deepen and apply classroom learning through voluntary action for the common good.

  3. Define "action for the common good" as service (even if they must sacrifice their own time, personal preferences or money) to work together with other members for the greater benefit of all.

  4. Say to the class, “Find the student in the class whom you know least well and have a five minute time to share with him or her. Find out what and when the last time was that the student did an act for the common good. Then your partner will ask you the same. You will report your findings to the class.” (It might be helpful for the teacher to model this conversation with a student.) Conduct the interviews and the reporting out session.

  5. Divide the class into several groups and give each group one of the resources listed in Materials. Still working in groups, ask the groups to read their material and discuss the following: How does your group’s reading demonstrate that the writer understands philanthropic activities and their importance to the common good?

  6. In a whole class setting, ask the groups to briefly summarize their reading material and the discussion.

  7. Demonstrate that you also have an understanding of the meaning of philanthropy. Responses should be included in a two-page addition to their journals, completed before the next class session.


Teacher will read journals to note whether each student understands the concept of philanthropy, and how the reading amplifies the need for doing an act for the common good.

Cross Curriculum 

Read about the service-learning project called Connecting Our Community through Cuisine by Indiana students who were taught using this What Is Service Learning? lesson to guide student learning and action.

Ms. Seville, an intermediate teacher from Fishers, IN said, “In the past few years, I have noticed more of my students isolating themselves and have fewer face-to-face social skills. I believe students should recognize service as a human choice, not to be rewarded but because it is the right and just thing to do.”

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.