Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Creating Volunteers
Lesson 2
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


Students will see themselves as volunteers.


Two Forty-Five to Sixty-Minute Class Periods


The learner will:

  • define "volunteer."
  • describe the benefits, as well as the opportunity cost, of volunteering.

Service Experience:

Although this lesson contains a service project example, decisions about service plans and implementation should be made by students, as age appropriate.
Learn more about the stages of service-learning.

Please see the Extension portion of this lesson.


  • Poster board
  • Sticky notes
  • Writing paper
  • Large, roll-type construction paper or butcher paper
  • Writing and drawing materials

Instructional Procedure(s):

Anticipatory Set:
Ask students: If a famous athlete goes to visit sick children in the hospital, does he or she get paid for doing it? (No, he or she is volunteering his or her time.)


  • Display a T-chart on the chalkboard with the headings "Volunteer" and "Non-volunteer." Under volunteer, list: no pay or reward, and free will or choice. Under the non-volunteer list: pay (or $$$$) and required, forced, or have to do. Do a brief direct instruction to make sure students understand the distinctions, then draw a line beneath the last entry on the T-chart. As an entire class, brainstorm a list of paying jobs (such as family member occupations) and jobs that kids "have to do" (such as schoolwork, chores at home, obey laws and rules, etc.).

  • In cooperative groups of four to six students, give students five minutes to create a list of jobs done by volunteers. It may be necessary to help students get started. A good first example can usually be found with parents and other volunteers at school.

  • Next ask the students to tune in to "everyone's favorite radio station - WII-FM." (This stands for "What's in it for me?"

  • Create another list of what students gain from volunteering. Again the students may need some prompting. Ideas such as "appreciation," "smiles," or "a good feeling" are good starters. Be sure students understand that "a reward," "a treat," or "an allowance" are not acceptable answers.

  • Now that they have determined the "benefit" to them of volunteering, ask: "What will it cost you to volunteer?"

  • Explain that any time we choose to "spend" our time, talents or treasure for the common good (philanthropy), it costs us something because we have given up the opportunity to use those resources in a different way. This is called opportunity cost.

  • Have the students turn to a neighbor and complete the following sentence:
    If I _________ (name a volunteer opportunity), the opportunity cost will be ___________ (name what is being given up). For example, "If I help the first graders read books during lunch recess, the opportunity cost will be not playing with my friends." Ask several of the students to share their neighbor's sentence with the entire class.

  • The teacher will give one sticky note to each student. Students will be asked to think individually, then write their own answer to this question on their sticky note. After writing their answers, students are to place their sticky notes on a piect of poster board. Allow no more than five minutes for this. After all students have completed their answers, the teacher again will need to do some brief direct instruction, read the answers aloud, then discuss whether or not the students agree.

  • Returning to their small groups, ask each group to create and then perform a song to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." The first line of the song will have the words "I am a vol-un-teer." The students will make up their own words for the rest of the tune. Criteria: The song must explain that volunteers get no pay (or choose to do their work), must give one reason why it is good to volunteer, and name one possible job that a volunteer could do.



Using the large roll-paper, students (with the aid of a partner—a volunteer!) will lie down on the paper while their partner traces the outline of their body with crayon. Students will be asked to illustrate their image by writing words in the white space (around their figure), describing how the volunteer uses that "part" of the body outline while volunteering. The teacher will require that the students write about his/her brain, hands, feet, heart, and face. The students may add other parts, if they choose, as appropriate. The students who finish quickly may also color in their clothing, shoes, hair, etc. (These "volunteer outlines" make a good display for the hallway outside of your classroom.)

Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

  • Possible extension activities would include asking a person who regularly does volunteer work to come in to the classroom and allow you (or a student) to conduct an interview about volunteering. As a class, make up a list of interview questions ahead of time. (It is very helpful if you can give the questions to the visitor ahead of time.)
  • Another extension, which may or may not be available in your area, is to take the students to a center where volunteers work, such as International Aid, the Red Cross, a hospital, etc. Once again, it is advisable to make up interview questions ahead of time.

Lesson Developed By:

Sally Engleman Cioe
Reeths-Puffer Schools
McMillan Elementary School
Muskegon, MI 49445


Philanthropy Framework:


Nancy, Teacher – Montrose, MI10/26/2007 12:57:55 PM

What an excellent lesson! We volunteered at a nursing home. The students learned so much. Opportunity cost seems to have been a hard concept in the past. They "get it" now.

Denise, Teacher – Saginaw, MI10/26/2007 1:05:27 PM

(The positive aspect of using this lesson was) I found the "If...then" statement to be very effective in communicating to students the idea of opportunity cost.

Antje, Teacher – Muskegon, MI10/26/2007 1:11:41 PM

This was an excellent lesson to help students understand philanthropy, common good, opportunity cost. It ties in well with economics and democrarcy values in our curriculum.

Scott, Teacher – Riverview, MI10/26/2007 1:13:18 PM

(The positive aspect of using this lesson is) it teaches the students the benefits and positives that come from volunteering and helping the people around them.

Eileen, Teacher – Muskegon, MI10/26/2007 1:15:21 PM

(The positive aspect of using this lesson was) students begin to understand that volunteering has benefits for the philanthropist but also "costs" them something. My students were also surprised that some jobs they thought were volunteer were not.

Submit a Comment

All rights reserved. Permission is granted to freely use this information for nonprofit (noncommercial), educational purposes only. Copyright must be acknowledged on all copies.