Why Should We Clean the Beach?

3, 4, 5

The teacher will introduce the concept of philanthropy and lay the groundwork for the students to participate as philanthropists in the International Coastal Cleanup, a volunteer action for the common good.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Sixty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • describe the difference between selfishness and selflessness.
  • differentiate between private property and common resources.
  • explain the purpose of the Lake Michigan Federation.
  • give a brief history of the Lake Michigan dunes.
  • We Are Plooters (Handout One)
  • Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Optional other titles: River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry; Kids Explore Who Makes a Difference by Jefferson County School District; The Kids Guide to Social Action by Barbara A. Lewis
  • Cherry, Lynne. A River Ran Wild. Boston: Houghton Mifflin College, 1995. ISBN: 0395732409
  • Cherry, Lynne. The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest. Voyager Picture Book, 2000. ISBN: 0152026142
  • Jefferson County School District (1997). Kids Explore Who Makes a Difference. Mexico: Jon Muir Publications, 1997.
  • Lewis, Barbara A. The Kids Guide to Social Action. New York: Spirit Publishing, 1991.
  • Prelutsky, Jack. "We Are Plooters," It's Raining Pigs and Noodles. New York: Greenwillow, 2000. ISBN: 0060291958
  • Van Allsburg, Chris. Just a Dream. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990. ISBN: 0395533082


  1. Anticipatory Set:Ask the learners if they have ever seen dirty water, dirty beaches or parks, or smelled filthy air. Continue by asking how that made them feel. Explain that Walter had a dream about those problems and ask students to listen to what he did as a result of his dream.

  2. Read aloud Just a Dream.

  3. Discuss how Walter's actions and attitudes about his environment changed from the beginning of the story to the end. (At the beginning he threw garbage on the ground, put all the trash together instead of separating it for recycling, and said he didn't know why Rose would want a tree for her birthday. After his dream about the future, he felt terrible about his lack of concern. He ran to pick up his wrapper and sort the trash, and decided on a tree for his birthday!).

  4. Ask why the dream changed (Walter was frightened by the bleak prospects of a future where nobody cared about the environment). Ask students for specific examples (mountains of trash, forests that were all cut down, smog, Hotel Everest, no fish in the sea, crazy congestion of cars, a Grand Canyon that couldn't be seen, etc.).

  5. Read Jack Prelutsky's poem, We Are Plooters (see Handout One).

  6. Define philanthropy: (These could be written on the board or overhead.)

    • Voluntary action for the common good
    • Giving of one's time, talents, and treasures
    • Selfless rather than selfish (competing self-interest)
  7. Define common good (wealth or well-being shared by the whole group of people) and ask if citizens have a responsibility to contribute to the common good. Discuss if any of the actions portrayed could be considered philanthropic.

  8. Discuss the difference between selfishness and selflessness in VanAllsburg's story. (Walter was selfish to throw the wrapper on the ground and just put all the trash in one container because it was faster that way. Rose and Walter were philanthropists because they were selfless in their choice of a tree for birthday gifts. Also Walter was selfless in going out in the morning to pick up his doughnut wrapper, and sort and recycle the trash.). Discuss how the author of the poem sees us (he sees us all as selfish).

  9. Differentiate between private and public land/resources in the story. (Walter cleaned up the public area by the fire hydrant in retrieving his wrapper, and he sorted and recycled his own private trash.)

  10. Explain that there is a private sector made up of nonprofit businesses and agencies which work to prevent the awful pictures Walter saw in his dream. Explain that they are concerned for the wise use of our resources, stewardship.

  11. Give a brief overview of the history of Lake Michigan dunes(or the area to be cleaned):

    • how they were formed thousands of years ago by moving glaciers which crushed the rock into sand and were formed by wind and water;
    • where they are located on a map;
    • the fragility of the dunes ecosystem.
  12. Ask how we could apply this story and poem to our own Lake Michigan and local parks. (Our parks are not able to clean themselves. We need to help keep the public environment clean.) (Note: Substitute your own local natural resource, if that is more applicable.)

  13. Tell students that there are agencies concerned with the problems Walter saw in his dream. Introduce them to the Lake Michigan Federation as a local example of an agency and explain that it is a "watchdog" to preserve our lakes and dunes. Tell students they will learn more about this organization and how they will be acting in a philanthropic way to help clean the beach as part of the International Coastal Cleanup in the coming days. (See https://greatlakes.org/ and http://www.oceanconservancy.org/​ for helpful information.)

  14. Point out that Walter took pride in his environment and acted as a philanthropist to make a difference in the future of the environment. Tell the learners that they will be doing the same by participating in the International Coastal Cleanup.


Students will hold a blank sheet of paper horizontally, fold it in half, label one half Selfishness and label the other half Selflessness. They will list two examples from the story to show how Walter or the people in the poem demonstrated each of these traits. Below that they will draw a picture showing one result of selfishness in the story and in the second column a picture showing selflessness from the story. The teacher may ask review questions about the formation of the dunes as well as about the organizations to be sure students have a good understanding.

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.
      3. Benchmark E.4 Define and give examples of selfishness and selflessness.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.7 Describe the concept of competing self-interest.
    3. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize the wise use of resources as <i>stewardship</i>.
      2. Benchmark E.7 Define and describe private property and common resources.
    2. Standard PCS 04. Philanthropy and Geography
      1. Benchmark E.2 Identify and describe how civil society organizations help the community.
    3. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark E.2 Discuss an issue affecting the common good in the classroom or school and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.
  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.