Lesson 1 Activity: What is Poverty and Who are the Poor? A WebQuest

WebQuest – What Is Poverty and Who Are the Poor?

Web Quest (2012 revision) directions and handouts (.doc file)


A guided web search, or “webquest,” introduces students to a variety of easily accessible data about poverty. The search activity performs double-duty in exposing students to the nature and magnitude of world poverty and in confronting them with different types and quality of internet resources.

National Voluntary Economics Content Standards

Standard 13: Income for most people is determined by the market value of the productive resources they sell.  What workers earn depends, primarily, on the market value of what they produce and how productive they are.

  • Changes in the structure of the economy, the level of gross domestic product, technology, government policies, and discrimination can influence personal income.
  • Two methods for classifying how income is distributed in a nation – the personal distribution of income and the functional distribution – reflect, respectively, the distribution of income among different groups of households and the distribution of income among different businesses and occupations in the economy.

Standard 15:  Investment in factories, machinery, new technology, and the health, education, and training of people can raise future standards of living.

  • Economic growth is a sustained rise in a nation’s production of goods and services.  It results from investments in human and physical capital, research and development, technological change, and improved institutional arrangements and incentives.
  • Historically, economic growth has been the primary vehicle for alleviating poverty and raising standards of living.

National Education Technology Standards

  • Technology productivity tools
    • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.
    • Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.
  • Technology communications tools
    • Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.
  • Technology research tools
    • Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.
    • Students use technology tools to process data and report results.
    • Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness for specific tasks.
  • Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools
    • Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
    • Students employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world.


  • overhead transparencies of visuals
  • student handout – 1 copy per student
  • access to Internet, either in the classroom, library, computer lab, or students’ homes
  • poster paper


  • 1 ½ – 4 class periods (depending on whether homework is assigned)


  • After completing the KWL activity and before assigning the webquest, review or provide students with definitions of the following terms. (See Visual #1))
    • income
    • wealth
    • absolute poverty
    • relative poverty
  • Announce that students will be participating in a small group webquest and producing a poster with the results of their search.
  • Introduce or review website evaluation guidelines:
    • Is the author / sponsor of the site identified? Is contact information or a contact link provided?
    • Is there an “About Us” (or similar) section, in which the organization or individual identifies its mission and the purpose of the website?
      • (Use the URL ending to begin answering this question: .com is a commercial site; .org is a non-profit organization; .gov is government; and .edu is an educational institution, etc.
    • Is the purpose of the website to provide data/information, to support a cause or point of view, to urge people to action? Is there any reason to suspect that the information offered on the website has been filtered by bias or a “strong” point of view
    • Is the data provided on the site verified or supported by other sites you’ve visited?
  • Distribute the webquest instructions (see handout below) and answer questions to ensure that students understand the task.
    • Allow time to complete the small group discussions and Internet research from the provided links. Suggestion: You may wish to assign the investigations for homework and allow class time for the small group discussions.
    • Note:  If you wish to conduct this exercise in the computer lab, or to assign the computer search for homework, direct students to url for the student handout linked in the materials above.
  • When student groups have completed their tasks, hang the posters on the wall.  Allow groups 2 minutes to explain their proposals about the critical attributes of “world poverty” and “the poor.” Conduct a discussion to arrive at a consensus definition of world poverty.

OR: After hanging the visuals on the wall, conduct a silent “gallery walk.” After the gallery walk create a panel composed of a spokesperson from each group. Allow remaining students to address comments and questions to the panel, and charge the panel with arriving at a working definition of world poverty for future class discussion.
Suggested Debriefing / Large group discussion questions:

    • What are the distinguishing features (“critical attributes”) of world poverty?
    • Is there a difference between world poverty and American poverty? This is a good place to reinforce the concepts of relative and absolute poverty.
    • Are all people without jobs poor? (elderly, children, people who have accumulated wealth over time, etc.)
    • How do the poor earn what income they have? Is their income always in money? (Most of the world’s poor are subsistence farmers and/or herders. Their “income” is called “in-kind.” It is the crop or the animals they produce, consume, or trade for other things they consume.)
    • For the purposes of our class discussions about world poverty, how do we want to define poverty?
    • Given our definition of poverty, who is poor? Where in the world do the poor live?
    • What did you discover about websites in your search? Which sites were the most valuable to you? Why? Can you generalize about the characteristics of the valuable sites?
    • Which is the appropriate focus when discussing solutions to world poverty – wealth or income? (Income is the appropriate focus.)

Additional background note for debriefingUnequal distribution of wealth is an issue both among world nations and within individual economies, from the richest to the poorest. Students are often struck by the data showing that the largest gap between the GDP per capita of the “rich” and “poor” is found in the wealthiest countries.  Two important reminders can help students to put this fact in perspective: First, use student groups’ webquest data to emphasize that the poor in the wealthiest countries are rich relative to the poor – and indeed, the middle classes – in the developing world.  Second, use the quintile comparison data in the outline for Lesson 1, Part I, to explain  that the percent of the population identified as poor varies relatively little among nations, and does not seem to be related to the type of government or the relative wealth or poverty of the nation. In rich and poor nations alike, those at the bottom 1/10th of the income distribution, typically receive between 2 and 3 percent of national income.

  • If the poorest in any country are likely to have only a small portion of the economic pie, then having a small portion of a much larger, and growing, economic pie is far better than having that same portion of a small or shrinking economic pie. It would be prudent to add, “all else being equal,” to this generalization and to acknowledge that in the political world people’s perceptions of inequality may be of greater import than the reality of their relative well-being.
  • It should also be noted in any discussion of economic well-being and the plight of the poor that while the size of the pie may increase more rapidly in the presence of the institutions of capitalism, a growing pie does not guarantee any increased degree of economic mobility for the poor. Investments in education and healthcare for all, plus the presence of open markets appear to be key to upward mobility among those at the bottom of the income scale.
  • Return to the KWL charts. Ask students if there is anything they wish to enter in the What Have We LEARNED? column of the chart.
  • Assessment Option:  Assign students to complete the Reflection exercise individually, for homework, or during class time.


Write a page about what you learned on your webquest.  Reflect on:

    • What was your personal definition of “poverty” or “the poor” before beginning your group research?
    • Describe your mental picture of the characteristics of the world’s poor and how it compared to what your group discovered by doing the research.
    • Did your group’s research challenge/contradict/support your beliefs or viewpoints concerning the poorest regions of the world?  Were you surprised?
    • How would you describe the poor person that your group created to someone outside of this room, without using pictures?
    • How would you distinguish between world poverty and being “poor” as we see it in the United States?

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