Center Stage--Focus on Poverty

6, 7, 8

Students will be engaged in reflections of stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination related to socio-economic status. From a cognitive and affective perspective, students will be involved with activities to assist them in developing sensitivity to working in direct service projects with individuals who are impoverished or disadvantaged in their socio-economic standing. Subsequently, students will also generate guidelines for positively and sensitively working with these individuals. Conduct/proper etiquette, as well as appropriate conversation will be addressed.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Periods

The learner will:

  • analyze a personal perspective of individuals who are in different economic conditions.
  • identify the task, skills and procedures for successful interaction with those who are impoverished.
  • Pictures of people with autobiographical sketches (see Anticipatory Set)
  • Am I Ready to Serve? (Attachment One)
  • Rag Coat by Lauren Mills (see Bibliographical References)
  • "Eat, My Fine Coat" by Barbara Walker (see Bibliographical References)
  • Mills, Lauren A. The Rag Coat. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1991. ISBN: 0316574074
  • Spaide, Deborah. Teaching Your Kids to Care. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN: 0806516372
  • Walker, Barbara. "Eat, My Fine Coat," Fight Hate and Promote Tolerance


  1. Anticipatory Set: Provide students with four or five pictures of individuals as well as corresponding autobiographical descriptions. (Pictures should reflect a variety of people of different ethnicities, gender, degree of cleanliness, physical stature, jobs, etc.) Individually, ask students to match the pictures to the descriptors. Then direct students to small groups to compare their choices and discuss the reasons why. Valuable assessment information can be gleaned by teacher observation of student responses in this activity. If Lesson One has been used, students should be able to make decisions that reflect greater awareness and insight.


  2. Ask students, "Why do you think I chose this beginning activity?" Impress upon the students that outward appearance and material wealth are not legitimate indicators of qualities related to inward character. With consideration to the personal experiences of students, invite students to dialogue about pre-judging the character of individuals based on stereotypes of appearance and material wealth. This is an opportunity for students to cognitively and affectively reflect upon stereotypes of different economic classes of individuals.

  3. Find a print or audio version online of the fable, "Eat, My Fine Coat." Have students read the fable, or the teacher can read the Turkish fable to students. Allow time for students to share their thoughts and feelings in response to the reading.

  4. Invite a guest speaker to educate students about myths and realities of individuals who are impoverished. Use Am I Ready to Serve? (Attachment One) as a guideline for information to gather. This can be given to the guest speaker ahead of time and previewed by students prior to the presentation. Information should be shared within a 10-15 minute period of time.


    Day Two:

  6. Read the book, The Rag Coat, by Lauren Mills. Stop reading at the encounter between Minna and Clyde when she bumps into him outside the schoolyard. In small groups of three students, using one to two pages maximum, have them write an ending to the story (it may be positive or it may be negative, including prejudice and discrimination). Direct students to identify prejudiced attitudes and/or acts of discrimination included in the created endings. If the outcome is positive, have students explain (using the five step "how to" model from Lesson One: Behind the Scenes—Closing the Curtain on Stereotypes if applicable) why the outcome was favorable.

  7. Now read the ending to The Rag Coat. Ask students to identify the attitudes of prejudice and acts of discrimination in both "Eat, My Fine Coat," and The Rag Coat. Ask students to compare and contrast the two stories.

  8. Ask students to consider a time in which they were treated unfairly/insensitively (discriminated against) based on prejudgment of appearance (clothing, hairstyle, braces, physical stature). Ask students ways in which they could identify with the experiences of the characters in the stories. Encourage students to share the emotional impact and any lasting consequences of their experiences.


Working in small groups, students will write a short verse to a song. First, the class will write the chorus to be repeated between each verse. The chorus will include the importance of acting without discrimination based on prejudice and stereotypes. It is suggested that the rhythm of any familiar lyrics be used as a framework (such as "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean"). The guidelines for writing the verse must include: the task (general description), skills necessary to successfully carry out the task, and key guidelines for sensitively interacting with people facing poverty. Students should use information gathered and recorded on Attachment One: Am I Ready to Serve? as a resource guide. The verses and chorus created should be saved for use later in Lesson Five: The Final Act—Reflections and Revisions.

Cross Curriculum 

Suggested service projects (see bibliography) relating to this lesson topic may include: Assisting in a local soup kitchen or food pantry Making "basic bags" of toiletries Creating "fresh start" kits for families who move from a shelter Host a "wish list" party Make re-usable placemats for meals at shelters, kitchens, or hospitals

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Analyze information to differentiate fact from opinion based on the investigation of issues related to the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Describe the task and the student role.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Demonstrate the skills needed for the successful performance of the volunteer job.
      3. Benchmark MS.6 Describe the procedures and the importance of sensitivity to the people with whom students are working.