Disaster Relief - You Can Count On Me! (3-5)

3, 4, 5

This lesson introduces learners to opportunities to respond to a natural disaster. The lesson will introduce vocabulary terms spend, save, and donate. The students learn the definition of philanthropy (giving time, talent and treasure, and taking action for the common good) as well as explore reasons why people choose to donate. As a class, they will discuss and sing the song "What is a Philanthropist?"

PrintLength of the Project Dependent on Teacher Preference

The learner will:

  • define philanthropy and identify themselves as philanthropists.
  • differentiate between the vocabulary words save, spend and donate.
  • sing a song called "What is a Philanthropist?"
  • brainstorm reasons to give and options for donating.
  • identify different choices with money.
  • choose an aid organization participating in disaster relief efforts to receive the class's donation.
  • reflect on himself/herself as a philanthropist and on personal contributions to the relief effort.
  • chart paper and markers
  • a copy of song lyrics for student pairs, handout: "What is a Philanthropist?" (also in Spanish)
  • copies to send home of handout: Letter to Families and Care Givers (also in Spanish)
  • a copy of the book Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chin 
  • signs, banners and labels to create a collection center
  • copies for each student of Forms for Poetic Reflection: Haiku and Cinquain (also in Spanish)
  • copies for each small group of  Conducting Research (in Spanish, Handout Nine) and Handout Five: Relief Organizations (also in Spanish)
Home Connection 

Send home a note introducing the project and explaining how you will be collecting money or items to donate to a charitable cause (Handout: Letter to Families and Caregivers).


Chin, Karen. Sam and the Lucky Money. Lee and Low Books (reprint edition), 1997. ISBN: 1880000539

FEMA for Kids web site at https://www.ready.gov/kids


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the students "If you had $10, what would you do with the money?" Ask students if they ever receive money as gifts for holidays and special occasions or if they earn money through doing jobs. Discuss with students what they usually do with their own money. Tell the students that today they are going to learn about choices children and adults have in making decisions about what to do with their money.

  2. Tell the students that there are three different things they can do with their money. They can spend it, save it, or donate it. On three separate pieces of chart paper, list the following words as headings: Save, Spend, and Donate. Lead a class discussion generating ideas to define these vocabulary words. (What does it mean to spend money? How do people save money? What does it mean to donate money?) List the children’s response on the appropriate charts.

  3. Following are some definitions for the teacher’s reference only:

  4. Save: a. to put by as a store or reserve (part of an allowance each week); to accumulate, hoard or make larger. b. to put aside for a particular purpose or occasion (a favorite shirt for a special day or some candy to share with a friend).

    Spend: a. to pay out, trade money for goods, use money freely. b. to make use of, employ. c. to exhaust or wear out by use or activity.

    Donate: a. to make a free gift or a grant of; contribute esp. to a charitable cause (money for a soup kitchen, food pantry, or a faith organization) or toward a public-service institution (a business donated a site for a park).

  5. Set aside the Save and Spend charts. Tell the class that you are going to teach them a word related to the word donate: Philanthropy is "giving your time, treasures or talents and taking action for the common good." Write that definition on the Donate chart. Talk about what the students’ treasures might be (money, candy, a special toy, etc.). Tell the students about some local examples of philanthropy: a park donated or maintained by someone, a soup kitchen, art events, etc. Talk about who benefits from philanthropy. Discuss the meaning of the core democratic principle of "common good" if the students are not familiar with it.

  6. Teach the students the lyrics for the song, "What is a Philanthropist?" (See handout.) Check for student understanding of the words and concepts in the lyrics. As a class, create a song or rap that incorporates the definition of philanthropy and philanthropist. 

  7. Show the students the cover of the book Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chin. Tell them that Sam is given money for the New Year and must decide how he will spend his money. Have the students make observations about Sam and the story based on details on the cover.

  8. Read aloud the book, stopping to allow students to make observations and predictions. Ask the students how they would feel about the man with no shoes. Discuss how Sam feels.

  9. Discuss the concepts from the book: Ask the students to recall what choices Sam had for his money. Discuss how they feel about what Sam finally did with his money. Ask the students if they ever felt the way Sam did in the story when he was angry that he didn’t have more money. Discuss whether the students have ever felt like giving their money to someone who needed it more than they did.

  10. Discuss the current major natural disaster. Listen to students' reports of facts and feelings about the events. Clarify the information the students share and help them locate the area effected on a classroom map. Ask the students to think about all the people and/or possessions they have in their homes that are important to them, and to imagine what it might be like to loose people you love or important things. Tell them that many children just like them are experiencing that loss because of the disaster. Ask the children to reflect about why someone might want to help the victims of the disaster by donating money or sharing goods in response to this crisis.

  11. Relate their feelings about sharing with victims of a natural disaster with Sam's choice to share his lucky money with the man without shoes.

  12. For homework, encourage students to talk with family members about the disaster and discuss ways they think they can help. Encourage them to tell their families about the meaning of the word philanthropy.

  13. Day Two

    Review the discussion from the previous day about raising money to help victims of the natural disaster. Talkabout the latest news about the natural disaster. Ask the students to share what they discuss at home with their families. Write down any ideas students generate about a fundraising project.

  14. Explain to the students that they have an opportunity to join together as a class and school to donate money to support the victims of the natural disaster.

  15. Encourage them to bring in coins from home and brainstorm with the students about where the money might come from. Suggest that they might offer to do jobs for family and friends to earn money, or their families might help them collect money from family members and friends.

  16. If this discussion is not already schoolwide, ask the students how they can involve other children in the school in the fundraising project. They may create posters/banners or presentations to share with others. They may choose to teach the song "What is a Philanthropist?" to their peers as part of a presentation to promote the project in other classrooms and school-wide.

  17. Day Three and beyond

    Have the students sort the coins and dollars collected each day and post the results. Create a "thermometer" graph to keep track of the donations or a paper "Chain of Caring" to hang in the classroom or school to tally the donations. Each time the money is counted, students add a link to the chain, one link per dollar, numbering each link so that the last link will indicate the total after each day.

  18. During the fundraising period the teacher or students (depending on ability level) should visit websites to access information about the organizations that are partnered in disaster relief (see Relief Organizations for a list of organizations). Assign each small group an organization to research. They use Conducting Research as a guide.

  19. Have the groups report whether or why they think their organization would be an appropriate organization to donate funds to. Vote or come to consensus about which organization(s) will receive the funds.

  20. Student voice is very important in making the decision of where to donate funds/items. The choice of organization can be made by voting or by consensus. The learners may decide on one organization to receive the donations, or decide to give a percentage of the donations to several organizations. Follow up on the work of the organization in thedisaster area by periodically researching their accomplishments and problems as they work to rebuild the area.

  21. During the project, ask students to talk about how they feel about their efforts. When the project is complete, have younger students draw pictures of what it will look like when their donations are turned into concrete relief (food, shelter, water). Ask students to write or dictate a sentence about how they feel about their philanthropy.

  22. Older students could write an essay, poem, or song about the need to help and their experience as philanthropists. See handout for a format for writing haiku or cinquain poems.


Assess student pictures and writing for understanding of philanthropy, and themselves as philanthropists. Look for evidence of awareness of the important contribution they have made to the relief effort.

Cross Curriculum 

The learners collect donations for disaster relief by acting as advocates for the cause to their families and school community. They choose a relief organization(s)through which they contribute to the specific disaster relief. Teacher Note: The majority of the relief organizations are requesting help through monetary donations. The logistics of making a financial donation are by far the least complicated for the teacher/school and for the aid agency. If your class/school wishes to collect other items such as blankets, new toys, personal hygiene products, diapers, etc., be sure to consult, in advance of any collection, with organizations about what is really needed. Find out in advance how the items will be collected, stored and transported to the relief agency or shelter. The instructional procedure for this lesson is written assuming that money will be collected. If the student/teacher choice is to collect items, research about the organizations should be done first so that the specific item needed can be determined before any collecting begins.

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.1 Give examples of needs met by government, business, civil society, and family.
      2. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe a benefit of group cooperation.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.4 Demonstrate listening skills.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.6 Identify and describe fundamental democratic principles.
    4. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark E.1 Explore and research issues and present solutions using communication tools.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe one reason why a person might give or volunteer.
      2. Benchmark E.6 Make a connection between fundamental democratic principles and philanthropy.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 04. Raising Private Resources
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify why private resources (volunteers and money) are needed.
      2. Benchmark E.4 Set a fund-raising goal and identify sources of private funds.
      3. Benchmark E.5 Discuss how private funds might be distributed among competing priorities.
    2. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark E.2 Evaluate progress on the service-learning project before, during, and after the project.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Identify outcomes from the service.