Philanthro What?: Philanthropy Lesson (5th)

3, 4, 5

Students will understand the vocabulary of philanthropy and the importance of the tradition of philanthropy to the community and civil society.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Forty-Five-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • explore philanthropy as an important tradition of U.S. democracy.
  • draw a picture illustrating philanthropy vocabulary word.
  • One square of burlap or other open weave fabric
  • Student copies of handout: Philanthropy Vocabulary List (Spanish version available)
  • Crayons, drawing paper – cut into approximately 8 x 8 squares


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Tell the students families often have traditions around celebrations. Share a family tradition and why it is meaningful, such as: “On the Fourth of July we always have a picnic with all my relatives and grill hotdogs – I remember doing it even as a little kid”, or “On Thanksgiving we always have sweet potato pie – its my great grandma’s recipe.” Ask if some students would like to share their family’s tradition and why it is meaningful.

    Play the song “Traditions” from the musical Fiddler on the Roof (see Bibliographical References). Explain that this is a song the traditions in a small Jewish community in Russia, set in 1905. The community was being persecuted because of their religion and it was their traditions that helped keep them strong. Discuss the meaning of the words.

    A tradition is a special way of doing something that has lasted a long time because people care about it and pass it on to others. Families have traditions. Communities have traditions. Traditions hold people together. 

  2. Traditions are like the threads of a piece of woven fabric. Illustrate this concept by using the burlap square to represent the strength of a community and the individual woven threads to represent traditions. Show how a community can be weakened, by removing some of the threads.

  3. Display the definition of philanthropy – “giving time, talent and treasure and taking action for the common good,” and discuss the meaning as a group. Ask students if they can think of examples of philanthropy, or helping other people, that exist or have existed for a long time in their community. Discuss the importance of the tradition of philanthropy to the community. Explain that philanthropy is a tradition of U.S. democracy and if the tradition is not continued it will weaken our civil society and democracy just as the piece of cloth was weakened when some of the threads were removed.

  4. Distribute the handout Student Vocabulary List to each student. Find the words “philanthropy” and “tradition” and review the definitions. Tell students that all of the words on the list will help them understand more about the meaning of philanthropy.

  5. Divide the class into groups of about four students. Give students jobs in the group, such as leader, reader, writer, summarizer, and reporter. Ask the groups to read through the list of words and their definitions and to discuss any that are not clear. After 5-8 minutes, ask the reporters to share words that generated the most discussion. 

  6. Assign one word each to students to use in a sentence and illustrate. 

  7. Students write the sentence and illustrate its meaning colorfully on a square of white paper.

  8. Join all the completed squares to form a “Philanthropy Vocabulary Quilt” to display in the classroom or school.

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. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.1 Give examples of philanthropic traditions of diverse cultures.