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A lesson on Survival when Stranded


P.E. & Health, Social Studies  


4, 5  


Grade level: 4-5

Time required: 2 class periods

Note from This lesson plan uses a worksheet that is not included. You may be able to create your own version of the worksheet or do without the worksheet. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Performance expectations:

Students will identify the basic economic problem by finding specific examples that occur in society during the survival activity, state the three fundamental questions that every society must answer, and recognize that people try to make the best choice from among their alternatives.

Materials: One copy of the 1-6-1 Survival handout for each student.


To gain student’s attention and introduce the concept of scarcity, remove 10 chairs from the room while the students are at recess. Have a discussion about the scarcity of chairs and how they could/can overcome this situation. Ask the questions: “Does everyone want a chair?”, “Can everyone have a chair?”, “How will you make sure that everyone gets a chair?”.


1. Explain to the class that each society establishes rules that govern economic behavior. The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the three basic economic questions that each society must answer. If the students understand these questions, it will help them understand any country’s economy. (What should be produced? How should it be produced? How should it be distributed?)

2. Read the following account of a hypothetical situation to the class. Picture yourself on vacation-up in the southeast Alaskan waterways canoeing with a group of friends. The month is June, the scenery is spectacular and the weather is fair. So far, it’s been good times and smooth sailing, but today you’ve noticed more clouds than usual and a chill in the air. You and your friends climb into your canoes anyway, thinking that even if it does rain, you’ll be able to dry off after you travel the day’s course and make camp. The rain comes as you expected, but it doesn’t stop as you had hoped. The clouds get darker, the rain begins to pour, and gusts of wind whip your canoe, making it almost impossible to paddle. You know you are in real trouble. Suddenly, a huge wave hits your canoe and, without warning, you capsize and find yourself thrashing about amidst the white caps. The next thing you know, you are frantically swimming toward the nearest shore. Gasping for breath and shivering from the icy Alaskan water, you drag yourself up onto the shore-barely able to believe that you made it and are still alive.

Your problem: you and your friends are stranded on a small deserted island and don’t know how long you will be there. The nearest settlement is more than 75 miles away.

Your task: To survive.

3. Divide the class into groups (approximately 5 students per group).

4. Distribute Handout 1-6-1.

5. Briefly review the island’s environment and the equipment that was salvaged after the storm.

6. Tell students their group has 5-10 minutes to figure out how they will survive. Instruct students to describe briefly their group’s survival plan in the blank space at the bottom of their Survival sheets.

7. Call time and have someone from each group briefly report his or her survival plan to the entire class. Record the basic aspects of each plan on the chalkboard.

8. Instruct students to take notes on the back of their Survival sheets during the questioning. Ask:

A. What general type of behavior seems to be the same among groups of people trying to keep themselves alive? What were you involved in during the formulation of your survival plan? What choices were you making?

(Creating a survival plan forced the members of each group, or “society,” to make choices among alternative ways of using limited resources.)

B. Explain to the class that all societies must decide (a) what to produce, (b) how to produce, and (c) how to distribute produced items. It will probably be easy for students to see that every society produces. However, students may need to be pushed further to focus on the questions of how to produce and who receives. To push the students further, ask:

1. What will you make?

2. How will you make it?

3. Who will make it?

4. What natural resources will be used?

5. What tools will be used?

6. Will everyone get what is produced?

7. Will those who produce get the goods?

8. Will the leader decide who gets what?

9. Will those who do not produce get anything?

No society can survive without attending to all three fundamental economic questions. If evidence shows that students have not attended to all three survival questions, then instruct students to go back to their groups and figure our the rest of their survival plan.

C. Upon what criteria did you base your survival decisions?

Were your choices made randomly (by chance) or purposefully (with reason)?

What did you consider before making your final choices?

What seems to be most helpful for explaining the choices you made?

(Before making final decisions, students looked at a variety of alternatives and considered the costs and benefits of each choice. This process indicated that all choices were made purposefully.)

D. Each group made different choices about survival, yet all the choices were purposeful. How can you tell if they were purposeful choices?

E. What do cost and benefits have to do with explaining choices that have been made?

(Costs and benefits of alternatives influence final choices.)


Give the students one of the following statements to explain; ask them to use economic reasoning principles in their explanations:

–“People can make different choices and still make purposeful decisions.”

–“Different choices can result from purposeful choosing.”

(Purposeful choosing comes from considering costs and benefits of alternatives; however, when individuals value the costs and benefits of alternatives differently, different choices result.)

Have the students make a poster that conveys to the rest of the class not only the survival method that they used (either through picture or written form), but whether their choices were purposeful or not.


The students with reading /writing disabilities could be paired with other students. This way they could discuss solutions with the group without actually having to write anything. Perhaps they could be in charge of drawing the pictures on the poster or be the person who relates the survival plan to the class.


Brown, Tracy, personal communication, September 29, 1997.

Vogel, Christina, adaptations.

Christina Vogel


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