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Building to Prosperity

60 min

Video supplements additionally published on a product of Hoover Institution, Stanford University. To view them in their original format, click here.

Guiding Questions

  • What does it mean to live a prosperous life?
  • What role do social safety nets play in a prosperous society?
  • How do people rise out of poverty in prosperous societies?


  • Students will define key terms: prosperity, poverty and social safety net.
  • Students will analyze examples of government approaches to providing equal access to prosperity.
  • Students will consider the role innovation has played in helping people achieve prosperity
  • Students will analyze examples of charitable/philanthropic approaches to helping people rise out of poverty to prosperity.
  • Students will analyze social programs and their effectiveness at minimizing poverty.

Student Resources:

Teacher Resources:


  • Prosperity
  • Poverty
  • Social Safety Net

Facilitation Notes

  • Depending on the level of scaffolding needed for your students, consider distributing the video viewing guides for added support.
  • For the Engage activity, it is ok if students do not have time to read the entire page. They will be introduced to types of government social safety nets in the Explore section.
  • For the “Four Corners Activity” place large poster paper or write on the board these four titles:
    • Lack of adequate education
    • Excessive, unmanageable debt, e.g. student debt, medical expenses, and consumer debt (credit cards)
    • Personal choices: e.g. substance abuse, dropping out of school, investments.
    • Personality characteristics, e.g. ambition, conscientiousness, etc.
  • Modify the list of government programs, local charitable/philanthropic organizations, and entrepreneurs to suit your own community as needed.
  • Information about all safety net programs can be found on, an informational website run by the United States Federal Government.


  • Scaffolding Note: Prior to engaging with the videos and other aspects of the lesson, have students review and complete the interactive glossary.  Alternatively, focus on a term at a time just before it is introduced.  Notes of where in the lesson terms are introduced are provided throughout the lesson plan. 
  • Optional:  Use the following activity if you have not yet defined and discussed Prosperity.
    • Have students watch the Prosperity video either independently or as a whole class. As students watch, they should think about what prosperity means or looks like to you and how it might be achieved. Students can record notes in their journal, notebook, or online.
      • Have students turn to a neighbor and share reflections. As a pair, students decide which focus question and response to share aloud with the class.
      • Allow students to share their reflections with the class.  Engage in class discussion as time allows.
      • Scaffolding notes:  
        • Glossary term(s): Prosperity
        • Use the viewing guides to create checks for understanding.  The questions from these guides could be added to a video editing tool such as Playposit or Edpuzzle.


  • Transition:  We’ve spent a lot of time discussing what prosperity is and how it can be fostered by individuals and the government.  But what happens when that prosperity doesn’t reach everyone?  As you watch our next video, Poverty, consider the following questions: How has the United States tried to combat poverty? Name at least two ways. What has been the result? 
    • Have students turn to a neighbor and share reflections. 
    • Allow students to share their reflections with the class.  Engage in class discussion as time allows.
  • Transition: Now, in your group, let’s do a little bit of research into the causes and effects of poverty.  Work collaboratively to complete the Poverty in the U.S. Webquest.
  • Allow students to work in small groups to gather the information and discuss what they think poverty is.
  • Provide each student with a sticky note.  Have them write a short response to the following question: What do you believe to be the leading cause of poverty in the United States: lack of education, excess debt, poor choices, or systemic barriers?
  • Have students vote for the leading cause by placing their sticky note on the board or wall to vote.

Scaffolding Note(s): Poverty can be a difficult topic in class as you may have students currently experiencing it.  To reduce barriers, do not require students to self-identify by writing their names on the sticky-notes in the outlined activity, or allow students to self-opt out of this part of the activity.


  • Transition: Let’s explore ways we could address poverty in our community. There are three common approaches, which we’ve already discussed a little. Let’s dig deeper into some examples. Then we’ll have a structured discussion around which you think would work best in our community. As you research your approach, you’ll be trying to answer the question: What is the most innovative and strongest approach to helping my community address poverty? Think about the pros and cons of your approach and gather evidence to support choosing your particular approach.
    • Split students into three groups. Group A will review public assistance programs that are often supported by the government. Group B will review charities and philanthropies to identify ways in which they provide public assistance. Group C will review the role of entrepreneurship in creating innovative solutions.
    • Once students have completed their research, reassign students to mixed groups.  Each new group should have at least one representative from each research group.  
    • Each side will take turns making a case for their approach as the most innovative and strongest for their community using evidence from their research.  They will have 3 minutes to present their side.  Following the presentation, the other groups will have an opportunity to ask clarifying questions.  See the example structure:
      • Group A presentation 3 minutes
      • Group B and C can ask clarifying questions 2 minutes
      • Group B presentation 3 minutes
      • Group A and C can ask clarifying questions 2 minutes
      • Group C presentation 3 minutes
      • Group A and B can ask clarifying questions 2 minutes
    • Once each side has had an opportunity to share their perspective, they can abandon their roles and work collaboratively to answer the initial question: What is the most innovative and strongest approach to helping my community address poverty?  The goal is to build consensus on the answer, using evidence from all perspectives.

Assess & Reflect

  • Students will develop an “Op Ed” piece for a local newspaper addressing their opinions on the following question. Responses can be written or recorded and must include evidence from their research.
    • Which do you think is most effective in helping people out of poverty: government programs, private charities/philanthropy, or innovations?


  • Scaffolding Note: The following options can be done in class but would need several more days to complete. 
  • Students can create a project, such as:
    • An innovative plan to address poverty in their communities, which they share with their town/city councils.
    • A project to help those in need in their community.


  • Create an infographic that illustrates at least three pieces that need to be woven together to create a safety net (government programs, private charities, etc.). And three “ladders” providing a way out of becoming trapped in a safety net (education, transferable skills).

Student Handouts

Related Resources