A Billion Hungry People

K, 1, 2

This lesson includes a simulation that helps children understand the number of people in the world who are food insecure. The simulation generates empathy for the injustice of the unequal distribution of food. They learn that food is unequally distributed and discuss how they feel about taking action to address this issue.

PrintOne 30-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • compare the needs of a plant to the needs of people.
  • compare the concepts of hunger and food security in a simulation.
  • count, predict, and use problem-solving to estimate numbers.
  • connect access to adequate healthy food and a person's well-being.
  • empathize with people who have insufficient food to be healthy.
  • a small, healthy plant
  • a small plant that has been taken out of its soil and is withered
  • small manipulatives, such as beads or math cubes
  • seven copies of the handout Days of the Week Chart
Teacher Preparation 
Note: In this activity students learn firsthand about the injustice of food distribution in the world. Because these children are young, the activity uses manipulatives to represent the meals.
To prepare for the counting activity, you may pre-count the manipulatives into paper cups or little bags. You will need seven cups filled with the following amounts: 4, 7, 10, 14, 16, 21, and 28 manipulatives.
  • food insecurity: the risk or fear of not having consistent access to food that meets people's dietary needs and food preferences; not being sure one will have enough food or the right food to feel full, grow, and be healthy
  • starving: not having enough food to grow or be healthy
  • hunger: an uneasy or unpleasant feeling caused by an empty stomach
  • food distribution: a method of distributing or transporting food or drink from one place to another – an important part of public nutrition

For reflection after the simulation, have children draw a picture to illustrate how they feel or what they want to do about the one billion hungry people in the world. As an alternative, they may compare the one billion hungry people to a familiar object (other than a plant) and tell how they are alike. For example, the hungry people in the world are like a car. They start out capable and strong, like a car does, but without good care and food (like a car needs maintenance and gas), they don't have the energy to be the best they can be.


Feeding America--Scroll over the different states to see their hunger statistics and compare:

FreeRice.com--Practice basic skills while earning rice for hungry people worldwide:

Heifer International--A nonprofit that provides livestock and training to families in need.


  1. Anticipatory Set

    Show the children two plants (see Materials). Ask, "What do you observe about each plant?" Record their observations for each plant.

  2. Ask, "Which plant looks like it is growing and is healthy? Why do you think one plant looks healthy and alive and the other does not?" Lead the children’s discussion to the realization that the second plant did not have what it needed to grow and be healthy. Plants need a safe place to be planted (a pot or garden) and soil and water.

  3. Ask the children if they need the same things as a plant to stay alive and grow healthy. Do they need water like the plant does? Do they need a safe place to grow, and if so, what kind of safe place to grow place do children need? (home/shelter) Ask why soil or dirt is important to a plant. If no one volunteers that soil is a plant’s source of food, share that information with them. Ask, "Do children also need food to grow healthy?"

  4. Ask the children what foods they eat and how much they need to grow and be healthy like the healthy plant? Facilitate a discussion that allows them to express their diverse ideas about healthy foods and quantities. They may discuss how they feel when they eat healthy foods and regular meals. Ask what eating habits might make them feel like the unhealthy plant. (eating too little, eating junk food, eating too much).

  5. Tell them they are going to look at one example of how much someone might eat in a week. Group the children into seven groups. give a copy of the handout Days of the Week Chart to each group and ask the children to read the days of the week along with you. Ask them to name the meals people can eat in a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner/supper). Ask how many meals that would be in a day (three).

  6. Tell them you are giving them some manipulatives to help them figure out the number of meals in a week if someone eats all three meals a day. Give each group a handful of the manipulatives (more than 21). Tell them that each manipulative represents one meal (a breakfast, lunch or dinner). Say, "Use the manipulatives to figure out how many meals there are in a week if someone eats three meals a day." (They place three manipulatives in each day-of-the-week box, one for each meal, and then count the total for the week.)

  7. Allow time for the groups to count and share their totals (21). 

  8. Collect all the manipulatives and tell the children that you are going to distribute the “meals” again. Give each group a different number of meals: 4, 7, 10, 14, 16, 21, and 28 manipulatives. Tell the groups to distribute their “meals” as evenly as possible onto the days of the week. (Allow the children to problem-solve about the best distribution of meals if they are not evenly divided.)

  9. Listen and observe the interactions in the groups as they distribute their meals. After a few minutes, ask the class if there is a problem. Ask them to define the problem. The children will probably react with concern about not having enough. Some may feel concern that another group didn't get enough when they had too much. Discuss their reactions using the questions below:

    • How did you feel about some groups not having enough to fill the days of the week with “meals”?
    • How did you feel about some groups having too much?
    • Did everyone who got food get the same amount of food?
    • Is there any way to make this more fair? (Children with more meals may share with others.)
    • Tell the children that like in this game, in the real world some people get more than they need, while others get enough and others do not get what they need.
  10. Ask, "If this were not just a game but really represented the meals someone would get to eat in the next week, how would their bodies feel and work? Why?"

  11. Sit in a circle on the floor with all seven Days of the Week Charts in the middle. Work together to fill in six of the charts with three meals a day, seven days a week. In the seventh chart, put four manipulatives on the week. Then explain that there are nearly seven billion people on the earth right now, and one billion of them are hungry (define: don't have enough food to have energy to be healthy and grow and develop). Explain that each chart represents one billion people. Six billion people have access to the food they need to grow and be healthy. And one billion people do not have the food they need to grow and be healthy.

  12. These people are living in places all over the world, including their community. Ask the children how they think they can help those one billion people.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Explain the difference between wants and needs.
  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.5 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibility.
  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.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.