Introducing The Social Problem Of Poverty

Offering Social Action To Address Poverty

Lesson Plan


Dr. Ava L. McCall






  1. To help students understand the concept of poverty
  2. To help students understand the causes of poverty
  3. To encourage students to develop empathy for the poor
  4. To help students understand their power to make life a little better for the poor in the local community
  5. To help students develop cooperation, listening, writing, reading, and speaking skills
  6. To help students develop the ability to express their knowledge through art


Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen, students' journals, drawing paper, large chart paper for making class lists



1. What is a soup kitchen? Talk with a partner about: Who might work at a soup kitchen? Who might come there? What would people do in a soup kitchen? What furniture might you see? With your partner, draw a picture of a soup kitchen, include people, their activities, how a soup kitchen might look.

(A soup kitchen is a place where people prepare and serve food for those who cannot afford to purchase and prepare their own food. The people who come for the meal do not have to pay for it. The soup kitchen would have a kitchen area for preparing the food and tables and chairs for people to sit and eat.)

2. Share one thing that is in your drawing. Make a class list of what we might expect to find in a soup kitchen. Hang list in the classroom.


3. Please listen to a story about a soup kitchen and find out ways your soup kitchen is like the one in the story.

4. Read Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen aloud to the class. The story is told by Uncle Willie's nephew who is cared for every day after school by Uncle Willie. While the young boy is in school, his uncle works at a soup kitchen. When he asks about the soup kitchen, Uncle Willie invites him to spend a day with him helping to prepare and serve lunch for others who "need help." The day at the soup kitchen portrays friendly people working together preparing food often donated from local markets and welcoming the people who come to eat.

5. What did we learn about soup kitchens? What should we add to our list? (Add to class list any new ideas students learned from the story).

6. Why did the people in the story come to eat in the soup kitchen? (they might be homeless, they may have a place to live but not enough money for food)

7. What other reasons cause people to eat a meal in a soup kitchen?

8. How do you think the people felt who served the food? Why might they have those feelings?

9. How do you think the people felt who came to eat in a soup kitchen? Why might they have those feelings?

TEACHING SUGGESTION: It is important to know students' backgrounds and be sensitive to them during this discussion. Respect the privacy of poor and working class students who may have eaten at soup kitchens or taken food from food pantries and not pressure them to share personal experiences.


Families with low incomes run out of food on a regular basis. The hungry are a diverse group including the working poor (those who have jobs but do not earn enough to provide for food, clothing, and shelter--all their basic needs), farm families, single mothers, the elderly, and the disabled. Some families receive food stamps (a government program to help poor people purchase the food they need), but sometimes families run out of the food stamps allotted to them before the month is over. (Oshkosh Northwestern, October 18, 1994.)

More and more children might eat at soup kitchens because growing numbers of children are poor. Children are 40% of the poor (Oshkosh Northwestern, October 7, 1994.)

10. What might be some reasons why people are poor enough that they cannot afford to purchase food, clothing, and shelter? Work in cooperative groups to make a list. One person is the recorder, everyone in group contributes ideas.


Adults might have lost a job or have a low-paying job which does not pay enough for basic necessities. They may have little education or skills to get a job which pays more than minimum wage. Minimum wage does not allow a wage-earner for a family of four to move above poverty since someone working 40 hours a week at the minimum wage would still earn less than the poverty level. The parents might be divorced and the father may pay little or no child support. Since women make only $.72 for every $1 men earn, their incomes would be less which would increase their chances for living in poverty. For children of color in Wisconsin, the poverty rate is very high revealing the connection between racism and poverty. Racism includes fewer educational opportunities and employment opportunities leading to lower income. 49% of Asians under 18 live in poverty, 56% of African Americans under age 18 live in poverty, 34% of Hispanics under age 18 live in poverty, 46% of Native Americans under age 18 live in poverty, and 10% of EuroAmericans under age 18 live in poverty. Oshkosh Northwestern, July 8, 1992.

11. Make a class list of reasons for poverty. Hang list in the classroom.

12. What might we do to assist people who do not have enough money for food in Oshkosh? Work collaboratively with the class to discuss and select a social action project. Social action means we are working together to help solve the problem of people not having enough food. Brainstorm possible projects, such as:

We could earn money to buy food to prepare and donate to Father Carr's soup kitchen.

We could earn money and buy books for children who can't afford to buy their own books and donate to the Salvation Army. The books would be included with food baskets.

We could have a penny drop and donate the money to the Salvation Army.

We could earn money and donate food to the Salvation Army.

We could go to the Salvation Army after school and help prepare bags of groceries for families who need them.

After discussing all possibilities, the children choose one they are most interested in.

13. If students select a project involving earning money, decide on means of raising money; for example, creating crafts and art for sale, holding a bake sale of food they made as a class, or having a math-a-thon with sponsors pledging money for each problem solved accurately.

14. Complete fundraising. Make arrangements with Father Carr's soup kitchen or the Salvation Army for completion of social action project. All students should be involved in the fundraising and completing the social action project in some way. Ask a guest speaker from Father Carr's soup kitchen or the Salvation Army to come to school to accept the donation and talk about how they will use it or ask a class representative take the donation to the organization and report back on how the organization will use it. Students need to see their contribution was helpful to people.


15. Following completion of the social action project, ask students: What did we learn about soup kitchens and places like the Salvation Army? Why do people go to soup kitchens to eat? What did you learn from our project to help provide some food or books to families who cannot afford them? How did you feel about helping others have the food and books they needed? Write in your journal about what you learned and how you felt about this project.


Observe students' cooperation, listening, writing, art, and participation in the discussion and project. Evaluate students' journals for understanding of soup kitchens, reasons for eating at soup kitchens, and empathetic responses to families who do not have enough money for food.

Social problems/social action

Annotated bibliography list