Volunteering Our Time

3, 4, 5

The students volunteer their time at a local soup kitchen.  Before the visit, the students gain sensitivity to the people who visit the soup kitchen through discussion and role-playing.  After the visit, the students reflect on the experience through writing.

PrintTwo Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • compare and contrast images and experiences of people eating together.
  • discuss sensitivity issues as related to visiting a soup kitchen.
  • practice appropriate behavior while visiting a soup kitchen.
  • role-play assigned volunteer jobs within a soup kitchen.
  • volunteer time helping in a soup kitchen.
  • reflect on the experience in writing.
  • art images of people eating around a table
  • journals
  • permission from caregivers for field trip
  • chaperones and transportation to soup kitchen

Use a search engine to access some famous images of meals. Use the following key words to get started:

  • Renoir + "Luncheon Boating Party"
  • Renoir + "Inn of Mother Anthony"
  • Renoir + "Luncheon Boating Party"
  • Ringgold + "Dinner at Gertrude Stein's"   


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Show the students some images of people eating together around a table. (See Bibliographical References.) Guide the students to observe their attitudes, postures, facial expressions, and the abundance of food. Encourage the students to compare and contrast the paintings to their own dining experiences with family, at restaurants, and in the school cafeteria. Through discussion, build an image in students' minds of what a dinner table looks like and what happens at the dinner table.

  2. Pass out lined paper or have students write in their journals. Tell the students to use lots of details to describe in writing what a meal looks like in their house. (They may choose a special meal such as Thanksgiving or a typical meal--breakfast, lunch or dinner.) They should describe where they eat, with whom, what they eat, what they do during the meal, what they talk about, what jobs or rules they have, how they feel, etc.). These writings may be shared aloud or taken through the writing process and published.

  3. Raise the students' sensitivity about the meal they will observe when they visit a soup kitchen in a couple days. Describe the appearance of the soup kitchen. Talk about the mission of the soup kitchen to feed hungry people who are not able to feed themselves right now. Discuss how the soup kitchen might look and feel different than the meals in the paintings and in their homes.

  4. Explain how they should behave to show respect for the people they meet. Help the students to understand that they are guests who are there to help and show respect. Describe polite behavior and discourage staring and focusing on things that seem different. Reassure the students that there will be time to talk about their observations and feelings when they come back to class.

  5. TEACHER NOTE: Go to http://www.learningtogive.org/units/setting-stage-service-learning-relationships/center-stage-focus-poverty​ This 6th-8th-grade lesson teaches about sensitivity to the people in your service learning project. (Unit title: Setting the Stage for Service Learning Relationships--Lesson Two).

  6. Describe to the class the layout of the soup kitchen or sketch a map. Tell the class that they are going to pretend the classroom is the soup kitchen and practice their roles for when they go. Divide the class into two groups: volunteer group 1 and volunteer group 2. Designate a student manager for each group. One group role-plays helping with serving, cleaning, and greeting, while the other group role-plays being soup-kitchen guests using appropriate manners. The student manager observes and reports on how well the volunteeers perform their roles. Then switch roles and repeat the process.(Teacher should find out in advance what roles the students will play in the actual soup kitchen. It may be helpful to make signs to label the different areas.)

  7. Discuss student role-playing and address any questions that come up.

  8. Review the meaning of volunteering and philanthropy. Discuss how helping in the soup kitchen is an act of philanthropy.

  9. Day Two:

  10. Remind the students that the soup kitchen is a nonprofit organization. Discuss where the funds to feed the guests comes from and what the funds are used for.

  11. Before leaving for the field trip, review appropriate behavior, sensitivity, and manners. Make sure the chaperones understand your expectations.

  12. Go to the soup kitchen and help in the ways directed by the kitchen managers.

  13. Thank the kitchen managers for allowing you to visit.

  14. After returning from the visit, the students reflect on the experience by writing in their journals. You may give them some writing prompts to help them get started:

    • "Before we went to the soup kitchen, I thought . . . "
    • Divide the journal into three boxes with the labels beginning, middle, and end.
  15. After writing, pair up students with a partner so they can share their reflections.


Student writing should demonstrate honesty and specific observations of the experience.

Cross Curriculum 

Students will participate ina service-learning project by visiting a nonprofit organization (soup kitchen). They will assist with serving and clean-up. They may also have the opportunity to interact with the patrons of the kitchen.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize that volunteering requires freedom of choice.
    2. Standard DP 03. Names and Types of Organizations within the Civil Society Sector
      1. Benchmark E.2 Name an example of a civil society charitable organization.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe the task and the student role.
      2. Benchmark E.6 Describe the procedures and the importance of sensitivity to the people with whom students are working.