Basic Needs

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 23, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Design History

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


People's basic needs have changed little since the beginning of time. We need air, water, food, shelter and clothing to survive. However, the objects people design to meet these basic needs have changed dramatically. In this activity, students will examine the unique and diverse historical artifacts that people have designed to fulfill their everyday needs in extraordinary ways.

National Standards

Historical Understanding. Standard 1. Level IV. Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns 1. Analyzes the values held by specific people who influenced history and the role their values played in influencing history 2. Analyzes the influences specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history and specifies how events might have been different in the absence of those ideas and beliefs 10. Understands how the past affects our private lives and society in general
Language Arts
Standard 4. Level IV. Gathers and uses information for research purposes 1. Uses appropriate research methodology (e.g., formulates questions and refines topics, develops a plan for research; organizes what is known about a topic; uses appropriate research methods, such as questionnaires, experiments, field studies; collects information to narrow and develop a topic and support a thesis) 2. Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics (e.g., news sources such as magazines, radio, television, newspapers; government publications; microfiche; telephone information services; databases; field studies; speeches; technical documents; periodicals; Internet) 3. Uses a variety of primary sources to gather information for research topics Standard 8. Level IV. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 1. Uses criteria to evaluate own and others' effectiveness in group discussions and formal presentations (e.g., accuracy, relevance, and organization of information; clarity of delivery; relationships among purpose, audience, and content; types of arguments used; effectiveness of own contributions) 2. Asks questions as a way to broaden and enrich classroom discussions 3. Uses a variety of strategies to enhance listening comprehension (e.g., focuses attention on message, monitors message for clarity and understanding, asks relevant questions, provides verbal and nonverbal feedback, notes cues such as change of pace or particular words that indicate a new point is about to be made; uses abbreviation system to record information quickly; selects and organizes essential information) 4. Adjusts message wording and delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes (e.g., to defend a position, to entertain, to inform, to persuade) 5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources) 6. Makes multimedia presentations using text, images, and sound (e.g., selects the appropriate medium, such as television broadcast, videos, web pages, films, newspapers, magazines, CD-ROMS, Internet, computer-media-generated images; edits and monitors for quality; organizes, writes, and designs media messages for specific purposes

Common Core State Standards:

Anchors for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Anchor Standards for Writing

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


Students will do the following:
  • identify ways humans have used design throughout history to enhance the ways they meet their basic needs
  • analyze why people have a need to design new objects and new technologies to meet their basic needs
  • develop an appreciation for the unique and diverse artifacts that people have created to meet their basic needs


  • Internet websites


  • Internet access
  • magazines
  • newspapers
  • catalogues


Building Background Stone Axes to Space Shuttles

The purpose of this activity is to provide an opportunity for students to examine how humans' basic needs have changed little since the beginning of time and yet the artifacts that people have created to meet these needs have changed dramatically. 1. Ask students to list what people need to survive. (Air, water, food, shelter and clothing.) 2. Show students the photographs of rudimentary tools found on the "Gathering the Jewels" section of the Casglu'r Tlysan Website. Gathering the Jewels Cooper Hewitt tools blog 3. Discuss how these tools were the beginning of humans' need to design. 4. Show students photographs of a cave dwelling and a renowned architectural building. Discuss how both structures fulfill the basic need for shelter. Involve students in a discussion about what they think drives people to leave a cave and design remarkable buildings. You may use the photographs on these sites for this activity. Cave Dwellings Taj Mahal

Steps for Learning

The Impulse to Design

In this activity, students will conduct a scavenger hunt to find artifacts that illustrate people's impulse to design since the beginning of time. 1. Lead your students in a discussion about how people's basic needs have changed little through the centuries, but the objects that we use to meet these needs have. 2. Explain to students that they are going to go on a scavenger hunt to find examples of artifacts that illustrate how people have designed extraordinary objects to fulfill their everyday needs. Students may use a variety of resources for this activity, e.g., the Internet, catalogues, magazines, newspapers, etc. 3. Ask students to find at least three artifacts for the following categories:
  • Buildings
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Household implements/furnishings
  4. Have students create a poster that contains the images for each category. 5. Have students present their posters to the class.


Answer the following:Give some examples of ways people design new objects and technologies to meet their basic needs.What do you think drives people to create these new objects and technologies?What new objects and technologies do you think might be developed one hundred years from now?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Into the Future
Divide the class into small groups. Have each group choose one of the categories listed below. Ask students to speculate on how people's needs and new technologies might impact future artifacts and technologies. Have students design an item that would address a need that people might have in the future as it relates to their chosen category.
  • Buildings
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Household implements/furnishings

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