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Differentiating Wants and Needs

Differentiating Wants and Needs

Author: Gina Bernhagen

First grade students will learn to differentiate between wants and needs and how to help meet others needs. 

First grade social studies standard of economic concepts includes, differentiating between wants and needs and identifying ways to meet wants and needs.  At Saxvik, first grader students are learning the difference between wants and needs. A want is explained as something that you would like to have, but don't really need it.  A need is explained as something you must have to live.   Differentiating wants and needs is taught by implementing sorts of objects and images and also videos.

Now that students have a good understanding of the difference between wants and needs we are focusing on the aspect on helping others meet their needs.  First grade has started a "needs" collection to help provide items to those in need. We are collecting non-perishable food items for the local food pantry, as well as personal hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, etc. Our school social worker and counselor are assisting with appropriate distribution of items we collect. Our first graders will be creating posters and videos to encourage others in our school to help as well.  We want to explain how small acts of kindness can make a big difference in others lives.  

This tutorial is focused specifically on creating  and implementing activities to teach students to differentiate between wants and needs.

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Wants and Needs

It is important that all students learn the difference between wants and needs.  Needs, are things that we can not live without, things we rely on to survive, such as food, water, shelter, and air.  Wants, are things that would be nice to have but are not essential to our health, hygiene, or survival, such as toys, games, electronic devices.

No matter how much or how little we have, it is important that students understand the reality of what is needed and what is simply wanted.  Teaching kids that they can’t always have what they want will help them prioritize their needs later in life, and will help increase the value of the things they do have.  

As educators, it is our job to help students differentiate between wants and needs and show them ways to help other meet their needs.  


Step One: Things I Want

First, introduce students to something they are most familiar with...things they want. Typically, it is easy for young students to come up a long list of things they want. This song introduces students to the concept of wants (vs. needs) via shopping. It lists several categories of things students could shop for: toys, stuffed animals, candy, games, costumes,etc..

Source: Amanda Ellis. (2013, February 7). Things I Want. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Step 2: Things I Need

Second, introduce students to the 4 basic needs to live. Explain that needs are things we can not live without. This song teaches students the basic things we need to live: food, water, air, and shelter.
Song written and recorded by Amanda G. Ellis, MT-BC

Source: Amanda Ellis. (2013, February 7). We Have Needs. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Graphic Organizers Anchor Charts

I found a graphic organizer created by Chrstine Fotia, that made a great anchor chart for my classroom.  You can download it from Christine's Teachers Pay Teachers store.They make a great option for anchor charts. 

Wants and Needs Graphic Organizers

Source: Christine Fotia (2013) Wants and Needs Graphic Organizers Retrieved from

Step 4: Independent Practice

This Mini Book is a great resource available for download from Tina Parker's Teachers Pay Teachers store. It is a wonderful way to allow students independent practice differentiating between wants and needs, and also connecting the learning to their lives and making it personal to them.  Just click on the link and it will bring you to Tina's store where you can download it for yourself.  

Source: Tina Parker (2012) Wants and Needs Mini Book Retrieved from

Step 5: Wants and Needs Sorts

Providing students with a variety of wants and needs images/items to sort, will help students become more familiar with differentiating between the two.

Source: Mrs. Ricca. Needs and Wants Stocking Sort. Retrieved from Melanie Mowery. Winter Wants and Needs Sort. Retrieved from Pricilla Fugate. Wants and Needs Sort. Retrieved from