Selfless - Selfish

K, 1, 2

To show students that responsible citizens can resolve social problems by constructively participating in their community.

To encourage children to consider the effects of their actions on others and realize that even very young people are capable of the kind of selfless actions that create positive change.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Sixty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • illustrate and describe the concepts of selflessness and selfishness.
  • describe the selfless act the protagonist in the story performed.
  • give examples of acts of selflessness that improve the quality of life.
  • The Legend of the Bluebonnet by Tomie de Paola (see Bibliographic References).
  • Construction paper
  • Pencils, crayons or markers

De Paola, Tomie. The Legend of the Bluebonnet. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1983.


  1. Anticipatory Set:The teacher will:

  2. Write the words selfless and selfish on the board.

  3. Ask the students what "selfish" means. (Selfish: caring only of oneself).

  4. What is the root word? What is the suffix?

  5. What does the suffix "ish" mean? (ish: having the qualities of).

  6. Allow children time to share personal experiences with selfish behavior. Remind them not to name names.

  7. Ask students what "selfless" means. (Selfless: not selfish, the opposite of selfish).

  8. What is the root word? What is the suffix?

  9. What does the suffix "less" mean? (less: without).

  10. Introduce The Legend of the Bluebonnet. Tell the class that the story is about a girl who does something that is very selfless.

  11. Set listening purpose. Have children listen to find out how the girl in the story is selfless and to find out what is selfish in the story.

  12. Read the story to the students. During the story, stop and check for understanding of the words drought and famine.

  13. Ask questions:Who was selfish in the story?In what ways could people be selfish to the earth?What did She-Who-Is-Alone do that was selfless? Why?Do you think that is was difficult for her to give up her doll?

  14. Conclude that even children perform selfless acts that bring about big change.

  15. Introduce Activity:

    • Students will fold a piece of construction paper in half.
    • Label one side of the paper Selfless and label the other side Selfish.
    • Under the label, the students will draw a picture to illustrate their understanding of these concepts.
    • The students will write descriptive sentences under each picture.

Teacher observation of student participation. Grade project according to rubric chart below. 4 Two pictures that illustrate and demonstrate the terms and at least one sentence that describes the action 3 Two pictures and one sentence; or two sentences and one picture 2 Two pictures and no sentences; or two sentences and no picture. 1 One picture or one sentence. 0 Pictures and/or sentences were not connected with the terms. Student cannot complete the task independently or shows little understanding of the concepts or skills

Cross Curriculum 

The students will choose an activity that is a benefit to a group or the community. They could plant flower seeds and later plant the flowers to beautify an area. They could make cards or decorations for a nursing home. They could write notes of appreciation and thanks to community service people like firemen and policemen. The students must come up with the idea. The only stipulation is that in order for the students to participate in the activity they will have to give up their free time (recess or after school) to do so.

Read about the service-learning project called Stocking Surprise by Mount Comfort Elementary students who were taught using this Selflessness unit to guide student learning and action.

Mrs. Stewart is an elementary teacher at Mount Comfort Elementary in Indiana. “Service and philanthropy are important to my students in order for them to better understand the world they live in today,” explained Stewart. “Many of them had not had the experience of volunteering or contributing to their community in a service way until this project was completed.”  

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.5 Give examples of actions students can take to improve the common good and list or describe responsibilities that go with those actions.
      2. Benchmark E.9 Give examples how people give time, talent or treasure in different cultures.