I came across this activity while I was writing lesson plans for our Economics unit. I thought it looked like a fun way to introduce Needs and Wants. The quick version of it is:
1) Divide students into groups.
2) Give each group a list of 40 or so items (see page 3 of the activity) - including things like sunglasses, fertile soil, a cow, a car, toilet paper, forks and knives, a good bed, a toothbrush, a pig, etc.
3) Tell students their group is being sent to a brand new planet and their spaceship is only big enough to take them and 15 of the items. (Thankfully in 1st/2nd grade they don't draw the conclusion that a toothbrush weighs differently than a car so this logic is faulty!)
4) Give them a few minutes to narrow down their items.
5) Then, bring them all together and make a master list of the items they kept. (I only have seven students, so we jumped immediately to whole group. If you have a bigger class, they suggest pairing up the groups first and slowly working up to whole group.)
6) Tell them that now the space company is limiting your supplies to only TEN items and have them discuss which items to bring.
7) Continue narrowing down the number until they decide on the top 3-4 crucial items.
8) Tie this into the vocabulary of 'wants' and 'needs'.
Half of my students were in my class last year and we studied needs and wants then, so I figured they'd pick up on the lesson right away. Surprisingly, they didn't. I think one boy did, but his group members were two girls that are new this year and so he had a rough time convincing them of what they actually needed to bring. One group of all girls couldn't possibly figure out why we would bring a pig or cow, and in the original elimination they only chose to bring luxuries (a bed, toilet paper, a car, a full set of dishes, etc). Once we came together whole group and the other kids started explaining why they brought certain items, it seemed to click that they wouldn't probably last too long and you could see looks of "oops".
We ran out of time the first day of the lesson, so I put the list on the board and told them we would finish narrowing it down during Social Studies the next day. Social Studies is our last block of the day, so all I heard them discussing on day two was this activity. Some of their reasoning was hilarious, some of it a little scary. Haha.
"We need sunglasses, because what if the new planet is right next to the sun?"
"Then you'd be dead."
"Oh yeah. But, we should still pack sunglasses."
The activity results and discussion were fascinating to watch. As we narrowed down the list, the kids had to take turns defending the items they felt were necessary, weighing pros and cons, assigning values and rankings to the items, and learning how to respectfully disagree. It was really clear by the end who actually understood the terms 'wants' and 'needs' versus those who still thought that a camera and sunglasses were more important or useful than a pig or seeds.