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This exercise would work well with any students from fourth grade through high school. It plays out over several weeks, but you can pick and choose the activities to fit with the timeframe you have.

Step One: Distinguishing Wants and Needs (part I)
Give the students a worksheet with the following questions:
1. What are some things you want?
2. What are some things you need?
3. What is the difference between what you want and what you need?
4. Do all people have the same wants?
5. Do all people have the same needs?
6. What should we do if what one person wants conflicts with what another person needs?

Give the students sufficient time to think about their responses and write them on their worksheets.

Step Two: Distinguishing Wants and Needs (part II)
When everyone has had a chance to think about these questions, do a large group conversation making two lists on the board: wants and needs. This generally spurs a discussion about the difference between wants and needs and whether something that is a want for one person could count as a need for another. Likely, you will not get through the whole list of questions in one session, so you can pick up where you left off the next time you meet with the kids. This could take a few sessions to get through if you find you are having a rich discussion.

Step Three: Ranking Needs
Provide students with the following list of needs (make any adjustments you’d like) and a blank numbered list from 1 to 10. Ask them to rank the needs with 1 the most important and 10 the least important. It is helpful to have the students work in groups of 4-6 for this so that they can think together and work through disagreements about the rankings.
• Safe shelter
• Food
• Education
• Water
• Family (it’s helpful to clarify you don’t mean literally having parents since clearly we need those to exist; this item is more about having people who love you and help care for you)
• Friends
• Clothes
• Medical Care
• Pets
• Ability to pursue projects or interests that help define who you are (depending on the age of the children, you may want to alter the language here; this item is aimed at the sorts of life projects that give life meaning and make it worth living like working to become a poet or being excellent at sports).

When the groups have finished ranking the needs, pull the class together as one group and ask each group to report what they put first through fifth. This works better than going through their lists one number at a time. Then, facilitate a discussion about the differences in the rankings. Why do some groups think food is more important than education? Why did other groups think medical care is most important? After this discussion is over, go through their rankings for sixth through tenth.

This lesson plan was contributed by Karen Emmerman.