Activity 3:
Needs and Wants


Participants make cards illustrating things they think they need and want to be healthy and happy. Groups then sort these cards into "wants" and "needs." The whole group discusses what it means when people’s basic needs are not met and the relation of basic human needs to human rights.

Time: 30-60 minutes
Materials: 3"x5" cards, old magazines, glue, scissors, art supplies
Setting: Preschool - Middle school
Links: Fits well with Activity 1, Human Beings/Human Rights


1. Ask participants, working in pairs or small groups, to create 10-20 cards that illustrate the things they think children need and want to be healthy and happy. They may draw these things on the cards or cut out and paste on pictures from magazines.

2. Each pair or group exchanges cards with another. The group then sorts out the new cards into categories:

  • Which things are NEEDS (e.g., essentials for survival, such as food, health care, shelter)?

  • Which things are WANTS but not NEEDS (e.g., desirable but not necessary for survival, such as toys, education, or voting rights)?

  • Which things are neither?

3. The groups who exchanged cards join together and compare their cards. They then try to reach agreement on categories for all the cards. When they have done so, discuss:

  • Which pile of cards is bigger? Why?

  • If you had to move two cards from the NEEDS pile to the WANTS pile, which two would you choose? How would your life be affected by this change (e.g., if something you feel you really need were no longer available to you?).

4. Ask whole class to combine their cards. Attach them to the wall or blackboard to complete a class list. Discuss:

  • Are all human needs included in the NEEDS list? Are there other needs that should be added to the list?

  • Are all the wants included? Can the class think of others?

5. Discuss:

  • Is it easy to differentiate between wants and needs?

  • What happens to someone when his or her wants are not fulfilled?

  • What happens to someone when his or her basic needs are not met?

  • What happens to a community when many people’s basic needs are not met?

  • Are there people who don’t have their basic needs met in the world? In the USA? In your community? In your school?

  • Are there some kinds of people who often don’t get their basic needs met?

  • Should these needs be met? Why?

  • Should some people have their wants satisfied when others don’t have their needs met?

  • What can be done to meet people’s basic needs?

  • Whose responsibility is it to meet people’s basic needs?

  • What actions can you take to help meet the basic needs of others in your community?

Going Further

1. Discuss:

Are there such things as basic human needs common to everyone everywhere in the world?

  • Are these needs always met?

  • What influences our wants?

  • How are wants influenced by age? Gender? Class? Culture? Ethnicity?

  • What is the relationship of human needs to human rights? (See Activity 1, Human Beings/Human Rights)


1. Follow up – Keep the cards and reuse them in another subject area. For example, apply the needs and wants categories to a mathematics, current events, or a foreign language lesson.

2. For younger children – Younger children may benefit from seeing concrete examples of children in order to imagine what a specific child’s wants and needs might be. Have children look through magazines or pictures and choose a specific child to be an "imaginary friend." Children could imagine characteristics of this friend (e.g., name, age, toys, pleasures, etc.). Children could cut out this picture, mount it on paper, and introduce their new friend. This step might be done before Step 1 in the procedure section.

3. A Geography Activity – If the class is learning about a different locality in geography, they could explore needs and wants of people living in a different environment, especially considering the effects of climate, landscape, and rural or urban setting. They might reconsider the cards they made: what pictures might be changed? What categories?

4. A Literature Activity – Have students make their piles based on the needs and wants of characters in a short story or novel they are reading.

Source: Adapted from Margot Brown, Our World, Our Rights, 23-26.


Equality is the result of human organization
We were not born equal

-Hannah Arendt



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  Human Rights Fundamentals The Right to Know Your Rights Activities Taking Action for Human Rights Appendices