The Wants and Needs of Making a Difference

K, 1, 2

A Chair for My Mother is the context for discussions about wants and needs.  Students will also recognize how and why families and communities help each other in times of tragedy.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Forty-Five Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • identify the difference between a want and a need.
  • define story vocabulary.
  • write a reflection paragraph.
  • define philanthropy as giving or sharing time, talent, or treasure, or taking action for the common good.

Handouts for projection:

  • Key Vocabulary
  • sWants and Needs
  • T-Chart
  • student copies of School-Home Connection
  • read-aloud copy of A Chair for my Mother (see Bibliographic References)
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent/Student Homework: Send home a copy of Handout Four: School-Home Connection. Families complete thechart together and discuss ways they have worked for the common good.Students share their families' ideas with the classthe following day.

  • Williams, Vera.  A Chair for my Mother.  New York, New York:  Mulberry Books, 1982. ISBN:  06880407


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Start a discussion about wants and needs with the following question: Which of the things you have are most important to you? Record the students' answers on the board.

    Tell the students to imagine that a family lost their home to a fire and lost all of their possessions. The people in the neighborhood want to help them replace their most important needs first. Ask the students to look at their list and choose the items that would be "needs" for this family. Star or underline these items on the list. The otheritems are considered "wants."Discuss the difference between wants and needs and guide the students to name the most basic needs (food, shelter, clothing). Teacher Note: The discussion of the fire may raise some sentiment in your classroom if your students have had some experience with a fire.

  2. Pass out copies of the Wants and Needs handout. The students use crayons to circle the needs. Talk about their answers, discussing their reasons if they made different choices from each other.

  3. Introduce the book A Chair for My Mother (see Bibliography). "Today we are going to read a story about a family that experienced a disaster. In a house fire, this family lost everything but each other and their cat. As we read, think about how the family and community work together by sharing time, talent, and treasure to help replace their needs. Listen for how they recover from this tragedy and how they make choices about needs versus wants."

  4. Display on the board the vocabulary words (see Handout). As a group, discuss the words and give examples of how the words are used in their lives.

  5. Read A Chair for my Mother aloud, stopping to call attention to details, such as the neighbors bringing them items to replace their lost items. Discuss whether the items are needs or wants.

  6. After reading, discuss the key concepts. How did the family react to the fire? (What did they think about first?) How and why did the neighbors help them? What of your possessions would you give a family that had lost everything? What items did the family need first? Was the chair a want or a need?

  7. Define philanthropy as giving or sharing time, talent, or treasure, or taking action for the common good. Talk about the philanthropy in the story.

  8. As a class, create a T-chart listing the wants and needs of the family that lost their home (see Handout: T-Chart). After identifying wants and needs from this story,use another color to list additional wants and needs the community might supply tothem to support the common good. Discuss whether each of these donated items is a contribution of time, talent, or treasure.

  9. Have students write a thank-you letter for the community support after the fire, from the perspective of the little girl. The letter should identify whether the support was in the form of time, talent, or treasure. Teacher note: For K and 1 students, a whole-group shared writing of the letter would satisfy the benchmarks.


Students write a reflection paragraph telling whether the chair was a want or a need. Students should include in their paragraphdetails supporting their decision. Teacher Note: K-1 students may draw a picture of the chair and dictate an explanation of why it is a want or need.

Cross Curriculum 

None for this lesson.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Recognize that citizens have a responsibility for the common good as defined by democratic principles.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Explain the difference between wants and needs.
    3. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
    4. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Identify examples of families supporting giving and sharing.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define community as the degree that people come together for the common good.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.4 Give an example of how citizens act for the common good.