Teaching Economics with the Holidays

‘Tis the season for good cheer, family togetherness, and list of gifts to give as well as to receive. Wish lists are probably something your students are quite familiar with, they may even be experts in the field. But can they identify and differentiate the items on their list into the categories of needs and wants? Do they understand that not all needs and wants can be met? Or that resources used for providing a need and want could serve an alternative purpose? The holidays provide an excellent opportunity to engage students in one of the anchor standards in economics: scarcity, beginning with an exploration of needs and wants. To achieve student comprehension of this concept and to explore needs and wants we’ve built a reading and activity designed for elementary learners.

What Are People’s Basic Needs?

This short reading provides definitions and explanations of both what is a need and a want. Students will learn that not all wants can be obtained, and in many parts of the world people struggle to have their basic needs met. After completing the text students can discuss what solutions there are for meeting needs, starting within their own community. Explore familiar services that provide for needs and wants, such as grocery stores and barbershops. Can students have all of their needs and wants met by the services in their community? See if students can identify what needs and wants come from somewhere else.

Comparing Needs and Wants

In this activity everyday items will be used as props for students to label as either a need or a want. Collect an assortment of items, such as a newspaper, pencil, DVD, water, cell phone, etc. and present the items one by one to the class. Ask students to share whether they define the item as a need or as a want. Have students clarify and explain why they identified an item in one category over the other. After each item has been labeled, present students with the items cards contained within the activity PDF. Students identify these additional items independently or in pairs to build their comprehension. When this part is complete check-in with students to see how the items have been categorized. If there are items that were placed in both categories go over those together as a class. Students should be able to differentiate between a need and a want. One extension for this activity is to have students build collages of both needs and wants. Or to tie this activity in with the holidays have students create a wish list and see what category the items they’ve selected fall under.

From all of us here at Population Education, we hope that you and your students have a very safe and happy holidays!