9, 10, 11, 12
Keywords & Concepts: 

The learners examine their preconceptions about homelessness and build understanding of people who are homeless.

PrintOne 50-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • assess the assumptions made about homelessness.
  • read and respond to short bios of homeless individuals, families, and children.
  • brainstorm questions to investigate about homelessness.
Teacher Preparation 

Note: Be sensitive to the fact that some of your students may have personal experience with homelessness.

Contact a local organization that supports people who are homeless to learn about needs and ways to help.

  • homelessness: the condition of having no permanent housing
  • temporary: for a short term
  • chronic: a condition lasting for an extended period of time, or occurring again and again
  • preconception (or prejudice): an opinion formed beforehand, often of an unfavorable nature, about an individual or group of people; “pre-judging”
  • possession: an item owned by or belonging to an individual
  • empathy: ability to share feelings experienced by another


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask what the young people think it means to be homeless. Then look up definitions from organizations that work to support people who are homeless. Discuss the respectful language to use. 

    Briefly discuss the different forms that homelessness can take: temporary or chronic; living on the street, in shelters, in “found” spaces; and families and individuals.

  2. Ask the young people to think about a time when they came into contact with someone who was homeless. Talk about first impressions and preconceptions that may influence how we feel about something we don't know much about. It is common for people to have preconceptions, and it is helpful to be careful not to form prejudices (pre-judging someone before you know them). 

    Note: be sensitive to the fact that some students may have personal experience with homelessness.

  3. This discussion is intended to examine preconceptions and look at what is prejudice and what is fact. One way to get past prejudices is to “step into the shoes” of someone who is homeless. Another way is to turn a preconception into a question. Give an example: “He seemed drunk.” Turn it into a question: “Are most homeless people alcoholics or drug addicts?” Then they can ask an expert or research the facts.

  4. They are going to step into the shoes of some homeless people by reading some stories. First, tell them you want them to imagine a situation:

    • Write a list of your 10 most prized possessions. Now, imagine that a fire at your home is forcing you to leave your bedroom immediately. You may choose only three items to take with you. Turn and talk with a partner about which of their prized possessions they would choose to bring and why. Have them discuss how it would feel, how difficult to choose, and what it would be like to lose most of their favorite possessions.
  5. Reconvene as a whole group. Invite a few individuals to share a comment from their conversations. State that a house fire is one of many ways that people can become homeless. A fire is something that can happen to anyone, and it suddenly makes a family homeless. Read aloud one or two of the stories at They may read the stories in pairs or small groups. Come together at the end to share what stood out about the stories.

  6. Distribute the handout below: Homelessness, which illustrates that one way many teens become homeless is because they run away. Read and discuss the handout in small groups or as a whole class.

  7. Reflect on preconceptions and empathy. How have their ideas about homelessness changed?

    Brainstorm some questions they'd like to learn more about.


Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Give examples of human interdependence and explain why group formation is one strategy for survival.
    2. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss a public policy issue affecting the common good and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.