Africa/United States-How do we compare materially?


Author: Sarah Smith

Grade Level: Early Elementary




1) Given a picture, students will make a list of possessions for an African or American family, then select and justify what they think would be one of the family's most valued possessions.

2) Students will contribute in a discussion on how the material possessions of a family and the uses of their possessions are affected by their place of living.


Materials Needed:


•Manzel, Peter. Material World: A Global Family Portrait. San Francisco, Sierra Club Books. 1996.

•laminated color photo copies of the title pages of Mali, South Africa, and U.S.A. which show the families, and all of their possessions, in front of their homes

•paper for each group of students to write their list of their family's possessions

background information for class discussion




1) Ask the students to think about all of their family's material possessions. Then ask:

What is one of the most valued material possessions of your family?

To explain this concept you may use the example--if there was a fire in your house what would be the most important thing to save? Then have the students share their answers in small groups. Call on two students to share their answers with the whole class.


2) Explain to the class that they will be divided into three groups and each group will research the material possessions of a family from one of the three following places: Mali, South Africa, or the U.S.A.. Using a world map, ask for three volunteers to come up to the map and find one of the land areas of Mali, South Africa, or Texas, U.S.A..


3) Explain to the students that they will be divided into three teams, one for each country. In the team each student will have a job.

Jobs: (for a class size of 21)
Researcher (4)

Scribe (1)

Problem Solver (1)

Presenter (1)

Each team will be given a picture of a family in their country, with all of their possessions in front of their house. Hold up one of the pictures to show them what you are talking about. The Researchers will study the picture and dictate to the Scribe the possessions of the family. If there are any questions of what a possession is the Problem Solver will help to make the final decision or will be in charge of asking the teacher. The Presenter needs to be listening and watching in order to be able to do his/her job.


 4) After making a list of all the possessions the team must decide on what they think is one of the family's most valuable possessions and why. The Problem Solver will help make the final decision if there are too many ideas.


5) The class will meet back together and the Presenters will share their list of possessions, what they selected as the valuable possession, and their explanation why. Give the actual data to the students - what the families listed as some of their large and most valuable possessions. (Check background information.) *Note that in the background information the South African family doesn't list one specific most valued possession. Instead talk about the large possessions of the family.


6) Lead a class discussion on how the material possessions of a family and how their uses of them are affected by their place of living. Begin with asking the class about the differences in the major possessions each family owns. Ask why the possessions of each family are so different.

Possible answers: electricity, price, cultural tradition, environment

Next point out the different uses of the possessions among the families. For example - The Malian father may use their bicycle for transportation for getting to the food market, whereas, the American children may use their bicycles for play or riding to school. End the discussion by summing up what they have learned about the possessions and why the uses of the possessions of families differ from their place of living.




1) Evaluate the list and the justification of the most valued possession selected.

2) Assess the contributions to the class discussion on reasons for differences of material possessions among families.