Mother Teresa

3, 4, 5

This lesson will help students identify the attributes of a hero as related to acting for the common good. The students will identify Mother Teresa as a hero for her philanthropic work and highlight examples of her work and character. While written for a Catholic Elementary School, this lesson may be easily adapted for public school use.

Lesson Rating 
PrintFour Thirty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • list characteristics of a hero.
  • describe the work of Mother Teresa and her ministry with the poor.
  • identify heroes in his/her own life.
  • Student copies of Handout One: Mother Teresa of Calcutta Quiz (Spanish version, Handout Two)
  • Mother Teresa, Sister of the Poor by Patricia Reilly Giff (see Bibliographical References)
  • The Children's Book of Heroes by William J. Bennett (see Bibliographical References)
  • Pictures of homeless people for group story
  • Paper and pencils
Home Connection 

Send the students home on Day One with instructions to talk to their parents about what it means to be a hero. Have the students discuss the idea with their parents and write down any descriptors proposed by their parents. They can bring their parents' ideas with them for the discussion on day three and the writing on day four.



  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Read the following quote by Mother Teresa to the class:

    Give! Give the love you have received. To those around you. You must love with your time, your hands and your hearts. You need to share all that you have. -Mother Teresa, from Hearts of Joy

    Day One:

  2. Review the definition of a philanthropist. Discuss the above poem as it relates to philanthropy. Ask the students whether they think Mother Teresa was a philanthropist. Discuss whether a philanthropist can be a hero. Divide the class into small groups to come up with a list of words or phrases that describes a hero. Each group will present its ideas to the class. For purposes of this lesson, use the following definition of hero: a person who is admired for great courage, special achievements, or noble character.

  3. Day Two:

  4. Arrange students in small groups. Give each group a picture of a pooror homeless person. Discuss with the class the needs (food, shelter, friends, medical and dental care) of the poor and homeless. (Teacher Note: During the discussion, be sensitive to the possibility that some members of the class may have been, or may presently be homeless. Emphasize that no one intentionally chooses to be homeless or that it is a result of being "lazy" or ignorant, it is a circumstance in which anyone could find themselves.) Tell each group to give the person in the picture a name and write a short biography. Upon completion, have students share their stories. Discuss ways people help homeless people. Challenge the students to think of ways they personally can help.

  5. Day Three:

  6. Read the story from The Children's Book of Heroes about Mother Teresa. Review the story and discuss the fact that all over the world Mother Teresa was known as a person of good character with personal virtue. Discuss the importance of personal virtue, good character, and ethical behavior in a democracy. Brainstorm personal traits they should work toward. Talk about the deeds that made Mother Teresa a hero to many. Another good book about Mother Teresa is Mother Teresa: Sister to the Poor by Patricia Reilly Giff.

    • On a wall map locate the city of Calcutta, India, and where we live in the United States. Locate (on individual desk maps, if possible): New Delhi, the Himalayan Mountains, the Ganges River, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean.
    • Give students the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Quiz (Handout One).
  7. Day Four:

  8. Have students write about Mother Teresa. They may write a poem, a song, a biography, or a comparison with a hero of their choosing. Students should incorporate their ideas about philanthropy and heroes in their writing.


The biographies that students write about a homeless person will indicate if they understand the needs of the homeless. The quiz about Mother Teresa will assess factual information on Mother Teresa. Writing about Mother Teresa will assess their understanding of Mother Teresa's role as philanthropist and hero.

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. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.3 Discuss the importance of personal virtue, good character, and ethical behavior in a democracy.
  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.