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Need or Want?

Author(s): Nancy P. Moreno, PhD, Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, and Paula H. Cutler, BA.
Need or Want?

© BrandXPictures.

  • Grades:
  • K-2
  • Length: 60 Minutes

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Students learn to distinguish between basic survival “needs” of human beings and things that are not essential for life (“wants”).

This activity is from the Living Things and Their Needs Teacher's Guide. Although it is most appropriate for use with students in grades K-2, the lesson is easily adaptable for other grade levels. The guide also is available in print format.

Teacher Background

Human beings have the same needs as other animals. Namely, people need food, water and air. In addition, they need to keep themselves at an optimal temperature with clothing and/or shelter. Just like many animals, people need safe places to rest and care for themselves and their offspring. 

At the same time, human beings also create things for themselves that make life safer, easier and more pleasurable. Examples include new and improved kinds of foods, televisions and radios, computers, comfortable furniture, air conditioning, convenience food, automobiles and games. Many of these things are not essential for basic survival. This activity is designed to help students distinguish between actual needs of people and other things that are desirable, but not necessary for life.

Objectives and Standards


  • People, like other animals, have basic needs.

  • People need water, food, air and a place to be.

  • People also need ways to keep themselves warm or cool enough.

  • “Needs” are things that are essential for survival; “wants” are things that are desired, but not essential.

Science Skills

  • Observing

  • Sorting and classifying

  • Predicting

  • Generalizing

  • Applying knowledge

  • Charting

  • Identifying patterns

Mathematics Skills

  • Sorting and classifying

Language Arts Skills

  • Listening

  • Communicating

  • Identifying words

  • Understanding word meanings

  • Developing comprehension skills

  • Following directions

Materials and Setup

Materials per Student

  • Clear tape

  • Crayons or markers

  • Glue

  • Pair of scissors

  • Pencil

  • Ruler

  • Sheet of white construction paper, 18 in. x 12 in.

  • 2 copies of “A Kid Like Me,” and 1 copy of “My Stuff” student pages 

  • Copy of “My Science Journal” (optional)


  1. Make copies of the activity sheets for each child. Students also will be folding 18-in. x 12-in. sheets of construction paper to create pocket charts. 

  2. You may want to prepare the construction paper in advance for younger children. First, fold the paper in half (to 9 in. x 12 in.). Unfold the sheet and draw a vertical line on the crease. Flip the sheet over and draw a horizontal line 2 inches from the bottom of the page (to create a guide for folding).

Procedure and Extensions

  1. Ask students, What do people need to live? As students answer, call attention to the difference between a need and a want or desire. Ask students, Could a person survive without this (the item)? Help students understand that an item is identified as a need or want by whether it is necessary for a person to stay alive. Prompt students to think about some of the characteristics of living things, including the ability to grow, reproduce and move, and the need for resources such as air and water.

  2. Explain to students that they will make a “Things I Need or Want” pocket chart. 

  3. Distribute a 18-in. x 12-in. sheet of paper to each student. Tell students to fold the sheet in half like a book (18-in. side is horizontal) and crease the fold. Have them open the sheet up and draw a vertical line on the crease. With the sheet still open, have students fold the paper up from the bottom to form a 2-in. pocket. Students should secure the pocket with a small piece of tape on each folded-up side and in the middle of the sheet.

    Note. Pockets on the chart will be used to hold cutouts from the “My Stuff” student sheet until final decisions are made by each student about where the images belong on the chart.

  4. Have students write “Needs” on the left pocket and “Wants” on the right pocket.

  5. Give each student two copies of the student page, “A Kid Like Me.” Have students completely color the figure of the child on only one of the pages. Students should cut out both figures.

  6. Have students paste the blank figure in the middle of the “Needs” page (above the pocket on the left) and paste the colored-in figure in the middle of the “Wants” page (above the pocket on the right).  

  7. Distribute copies of the “My Stuff” student pages. Have students color the drawings, then cut out the pictures. Ask students to identify each item and put the items in either the “Needs” or “Wants” pocket of their folders. 

  8. As a group, discuss the students’ decisions, allowing the students to justify or explain their choices. Reiterate the difference between need and want: if the item is necessary for a person to stay alive and healthy, it is a need; if it is not necessary for survival, it is a want. 

  9. Instruct students to pull the items out of the pockets carefully, keeping each group of items in two separate stacks (needs and wants).

  10. Follow by having students arrange “Needs” pictures on the left side of the chart and “Wants” images on the right side of the chart. Allow students to change their minds about their initial choices. Then, ask them to paste each of the “Needs” inside of (or on top of) the blank figure and paste the “Wants” around the colored-in figure.


  • Allow students to add additional items to their “Things I Need or Want” charts. Have students select and cut items from magazines or have them draw the items on a separate sheet of paper.

  • Have students think about the ways in which people are unique from other animals. Possibilities include building and using complicated tools and machines to do work or to extend their senses; building large complex cities in which to live and work; creating new forms of transportation; etc.

  • Challenge students to think about whether all living things can move on their own. Have them compare familiar animals with familiar plants to prompt their thinking.

Related Content

  • Living Things and Their Needs

    Living Things and Their Needs Teacher Guide

    The Living Things and Their Needs Teacher's Guide allows very young students to explore living and non-living things, and learn about the basic needs of plants, animals and people. (10 activities)

  • Tillena Lou's Day in the Sun

    Tillena Lou's Day in the Sun Reading

    Tillena Lou and her siblings spend a lazy day imagining what it might be like if they were other types of animals. What would they need to survive?

Funded by the following grant(s)

Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Filling the Gaps: K-6 Science/Health Education
Grant Number: 5R25RR013454