Hunger and Homelessness

K, 1, 2

This lesson introduces the students to concepts about homelessness, hunger and philanthropy. A story about a Chinese boy who chooses to give his precious four dollars ("lucky money") to a homeless man sets the tone for initial discussions about selflessness, small ways to help and hunger. Several interdisciplinary centers focus on the concept of home.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo and One-Half Hours (includes center time)

The learners will:

  • define homeless as not having a dwelling or structure in which to live in.
  • understand that some people don't have enough food to eat all the time.
  • define the words philanthropist and philanthropy.
  • Book: The Lady in the Box (see Bibliographical References)
  • Graphing materials for a simple two-option graph
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework:Challenge students (be sure it is understood that it is not a requirement) to go to bed every night without a snack for a week. Encourage them to share their experience with the class.

  • McGovern, Ann. The Lady in the Box. Turtle Books, 1997. ISBN: 978-1890515010
  • Rosen, Michael J. (editor of collaboration). Home. New York: Harper Trophy, 1996. ISBN: 0064434702


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    As the students enter the room, have each child respond to the following question by placing a mark on a graph. Did you have a snack before you went to bed last night?

    Yes No

  2. Discuss the student responses on the graph. Allow several students to tell what they had for a snack, where they ate it and who ate with them. Reflect on how they would have felt if they were not able to have a snack when they were hungry.

  3. Ask students to share a time when they were really hungry. What did they do about it? Be very sensitive to children who may be hungry or even homeless. Ask the students to imagine feeling hungry every night or wondering if there would even be enough food at home for supper.

  4. Lighten the atmosphere a little by asking the children if they would like to learn a big new word today. After their eagerness is displayed, tell them to listen closely. The teacher should say it in a slow and deliberate way. "The word is philanthropist." Have them listen again and then say it with the teacher. Explain that a philanthropist is someone who helps other people even though he or she has to give something up for him or herself. Give some examples of philanthropy, such as giving food or clothing to someone who is hungry or cold. Tell them that you are going to read them a story about some children who discovered a lady who not only was hungry but also had no house. Ask questions to stimulate their thinking like, "Where do you think she lived? Where did she get her food?"

  5. After the reading The Lady in the Box, ask if anyone can remember the big word that means "someone who helps others." If they can't, tell them to listen very closely because you're going to whisper the word. Whisper, "philanthropist." The children will probably yell it out then. Ask individual children to repeat the word individually.

  6. Ask if anyone can tell you who the philanthropists were in the story. Discuss how the children gave in ways that did not embarrass the woman.

  7. Lead the group in a retelling of the story. Help students to make connections to the ideas of selflessness. Ask, "How were the children selfless in this story?" "What decisions might they have made if they were selfish?" Ask, "Did the storekeeper have the right to protect his private property?" "What else could he have done?" Help the students to see that a situation was helped through the cooperation of several people. If possible, tell the class about an individual in your community who has helped your community through giving and/or service. Is there a place in your community that is like the community in the book?

  8. Ask the students to help you describe the setting of the story. Encourage them to see that the story takes place in a city in the winter and help them to experience the setting from the homeless woman's perspective-cold, limited resources, feelings of hope found in small experiences. Lead the students to guess some of the causes of the woman's situation (loss of job, no family).

  9. Centers:

    • WRITING: Students will copy the word "philanthropist" in their writing journals and draw a picture of someone helping another. (It may be a picture about a part of the story.) Students will use their best writing to tell about their illustrations.
    • DRAMATIC PLAY: Provide a large box and other props for students to act out the story.
    • MATH: Provide soup bowls with mixed dried beans to represent bean soup at a soup kitchen. Children can sort and count the different kinds of beans. Have them draw the different kinds of beans and record the numbers they counted. As an additional challenge, they count all the beans. Encourage them to use a calculator to add up the totals of each kind of bean.
    • ART: Provide geometric shapes cut out of construction paper for the students to glue onto paper to create images of their homes.
    • BLOCK AREA: Students will use the blocks to design a space (outline) large enough for them to fit inside. (How small of a space can you curl up in? How large of a space do you need to stretch out?)

Observe participation in class discussion and center activities. School district's penmanship guidelines for letter formation.

Cross Curriculum 

Read about the service-learning project called Lunches of Love by Thomas A. Edison Elementary students who were taught using this Hunger and Homelessness lesson to guide student learning and action.

Ms. Peters is an elementary teacher at Thomas A. Edison Elementary in Michigan. “Children who get a chance to be exposed to other people's challenges and unfortunate situations gain a broader sense of the world and a stronger sense of empathy,” said Peters. “Teaching philanthropy helps children who are facing their own hardships to know that they are not alone; empowering them with the confidence and the tools to know that they can change their situations and others around them as well.”

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.4 Define and give examples of selfishness and selflessness.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
    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 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe a benefit of group cooperation.
      2. Benchmark E.5 Identify one local citizen who has helped the community through giving and/or service.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service