Life Inspires Art Inspires Life

9, 10, 11, 12

The purpose of this lesson is for students to plan and develop a video documentary. Modeling their documentary after the West Michigan documentary The Gift of All, students create a multi-media story of their community and local philanthropy. Creating and sharing the documentary is an act of philanthropy as they teach and inspire others about philanthropy in the community.

PrintTwo 50-minute lessons, plus independent and class time to interview and create documentaries

The learner will:

  • define and discuss the concept of community.
  • identify characteristics of the local community.
  • work in a small production group of 5-8 students to create a documentary.
  • research individuals and conduct interviews with local philanthropists.
  • Video camera(s) for student use
  • Student copies of Handout One: Local Philanthropist
  • Student copies of Handout Two: Documentary Planning Guide
  • Student copies of Handout Three: Interview Questions
Teacher Preparation 

You will need student access to one or more video cameras. One camera can be shared with several groups if they take turns. 

Home Connection 

Students bring home copies of Handout One: Local Philanthropist to get input from family members on names of philanthropists in the community.


The Gift of All: a Community of Givers, produced by The S.O.U.L. of Philanthropy along with The Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Calvin College. Copyright © Grand Rapids Public Library, City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2008, 2009. Streaming video available at

Learning to Give. "SOUL of Philanthropy" project. Includes links to video, related quotations, and briefing papers (biographies) 


  1. Day One

    Anticipatory Set:

    Write the word community on the display board. Ask the students what this word means to them.

  2. On the board, create a concept map as students supply their definitions of community. Encourage students to develop a broad definition while asking the following questions:

    • Who does a community include?
    • What purposes does a community serve?
    • What services does a community provide its members?
    • What services can a member provide for the community?
  3. Ask the students if their community fits the definition they just developed.

  4. Discuss the characteristics of your community that make it unique. Include places, physical traits, important people, population, popular qualities, weather, industries and attractions, historic events, recurring events, and shared values.

  5. Tell the students that the documentary The Gift of All itself is an act of philanthropy. Ask the students how these stories about philanthropists can promote the common good. Tell them that the movie was funded by philanthropists. Why would they give their money and time to tell their stories to all of us? Remind the students of Margaret Voss's statement: "We have to stand up because we saw it. We have the gift of the life we've lived that needs to be told."

  6. Now it is the students' turn to tell stories of giving. The goal of this lesson is for student groups to create a documentary about the local community and highlight at least one local philanthropist. The movie itself will be an act of philanthropy because it will be shared and make the community a better place as it honors civic virtue (the behaviors that promote the success of the community).

  7. The students will work in small production groups of 5-8 students to create documentaries. Assign students to groups or use another system for determining groups.

  8. In the small groups, the students start their discussion by brainstorming individual philanthropists that they know or have heard about. The team will eventually decide who to research, interview, and feature in their documentary. Hand out student copies of Handout One: Local Philanthropist to guide their discussion. In addition, they may bring this handout home to get input from family members. For West Michigan students, select individuals that are not featured in The Gift of All documentary.

  9. Give the students a due date and guidelines for the final documentary. See Handout Two: Documentary Planning Guide. The small groups should start planning their interviews and research:

    • who they will interview
    • decide roles of each group member (camera, script, interviewer, phone contact, etc.)
    • discuss focus and storyline or script of documentary
  10. Day Two

    Anticipatory Set:

    Show the students the video camera they will be using to make their documentary about their community and its philanthropists. See Extensions if you are using a demonstration format other than video documentary.

  11. Explain to the students that their groups must interview at least two community members about the community we all share. These interviews should be video recorded, and parts of the interview will be used in the documentary.

  12. Give students copies of Handout Three: Interview Questions. As a whole class or in small groups, brainstorm other appropriate questions to ask to encourage the interviewee to talk about community and the value of philanthropy. They should choose the best 5-8 questions to ask in the interviews.

  13. During the next two or three weeks, student groups should arrange interviews, collect research, and write text drafts of their projects. During class each day, students may draft their projects, meet in peer conferences with classmates, meet with the teacher, and edit their documentaries.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Identify and discuss examples of philanthropy and charity in modern culture.
    2. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Identify how subgroups and families in society demonstrate giving, volunteering, and civic involvement.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.