Making Choices with Scarce Resources

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will use economic thinking to determine how to allocate their scarce resources for community service.

Lesson Rating 
PrintThree Forty-Minute Class Periods (Plus Time to Complete the Service Project)

The learner will:

  • describe how scarcity forces consumers and producers to make choices for allocating their resources.
  • give examples of opportunity costs and tradeoffs that accompany decisions on the use of scarce resources.
  • use cost/benefit analysis to select a service project.
  • evaluate the impact of philanthropic service on the common good of the community.

Vocabulary (Handout One)

Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework:Interview family members for their ideas as to time, talent and treasure contributions to their group’s project idea assignment and the possible reciprocal impact of their group’s project idea assignment on their family, the community and the nation/world.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the learners to identify three options they might have of what to do the first two hours after leaving school this afternoon. Ask them how they would make a decision when three options are available. Would all learners decide the same way or would some learners select a different option? Explain that decisions are made based on individual choices. Not everyone values the options the same way.

  2. Using Vocabulary (Handout One), define scarcity, resource, tradeoff and opportunity cost. Let the learners give exampl

    es of each.

  3. Referring back to the Service Opportunity Profile Worksheets (Handout Three of Lesson Two: Citizen Participation), explain that there are many options for a class service project, based on the information collected by the survey. It is, however, impossible to do them all. Resources (time, talent and treasure) in the class are limited. As a result, the learners must choose some things and give up others.

  4. Divide the learners into groups of three or four. Give each group one of the potential projects as identified through the needs assessment. Explain that choices involve trading off the expected value of one opportunity against the expected value of its best alternative. When we make a tradeoff, something may be given up and something may be gained. Satisfaction for a tradeoff can be measured against the gain of something else.

  5. Ask the learners to answer the following guiding questions:For your assigned project idea, if this were to become the chosen project:

  6. What is the cost (what is given up) for you personally to engage in this project considering time, talents and treasures?

    What is the cost (what might be given up) for your family?

    What is the cost to the school and community?

  7. Have the learners chart their findings on large poster paper for whole group discussion and analysis.

  8. Discuss and compare findings as a group using the following questions:

  9. Which project would best satisfy your personal goals?

    Which project would best promote the principles of the common good?

  10. Consider the opportunity cost for each option. What is given up by choosing one option over another? What is its value over the next best alternative? Who profits from volunteer activities? Who benefits? Is there a benefit to the community?

  11. Vote as a class from among the project ideas charted. Tally results and answer questions or allow students to justify their vote from their analysis if desired.

  12. Discuss and list what might be a reciprocal impact of this chosen service learning idea on the families in the community, the community as a whole, the nation or the entire world. Add cost and benefit ideas to the charts as needed.

  13. Working in a whole group, have the learners discuss the goals for the completed project, both for themselves, the recipients and the common good of the community. List the major steps for completing the service project. Let the learners split into teams to take responsibility for all the task areas. Each team should plan their portion of the project and report to the other groups. Discuss the completed plan and explain the importance of sensitivity to the people who are the recipients of the aid.

  14. Complete the community service activity.

  15. Evaluate whether the activity accomplished its aims. Make suggestions for changes if this activity is repeated.

  16. Forming again into their previous small teams, have the learners summarize their learning on this project orally. The small team topics should include a discussion of the following items:


The small group reports and small group summary discussions will serve as an assessment of learning.

Cross Curriculum 

Learners will make a decision on what service projects to complete using the survey that was completed in Lesson Two: Citizen Participation. They will consider the costs and benefits to themselves and the community through the selection of the proper project.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities, and research.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Provide a needed service.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Describe the goals of the project and their impact.
      3. Benchmark HS.3 Describe the task and the student role.
      4. Benchmark HS.6 Describe the procedures and the importance of sensitivity to the people with whom students are working.
    3. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Identify outcomes from the service.