Letters from the Heart

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, December 4, 2007

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Design for the Other 90%

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

One or two fifty-minute class periods


Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s Design for the Other 90% exhibition demonstrates how design can be a dynamic force in saving and transforming lives, at home and around the world. Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion, 5.8 billion people, or 90%, have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted. In fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter. Design for the Other 90% explores a growing movement among designers to design low-cost solutions for this “other 90%.” In this lesson, students will examine the importance of design in creating positive change in the world, and write letters to share their thoughts with a larger community.

National Standards

Common Core Literacy for Other Subjects 
Common Core English Language Arts 
Language Arts - Reading
Language Arts - Writing
Working With Others


Students will:
  • explore varied aspects of the design process
  • investigate the Design for the Other 90% exhibition
  • conduct internet research
  • create a class presentation
  • write a letter
  • participate in small-group and large-group discussion
  • work collaboratively in small groups



Computer with internet access


Building Background Activity One: Introducing Design
The purpose of this activity is to introduce students to different aspects of design.
  1. Explore the Design for the Other 90% website with your students: https://www.designother90.org/solutions/?exhibition=12.
  2. Have the students listen to the brief introductory video featuring information about design at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g37QUl6RPI.
  3. Invite the students to share their responses to this information with their classmates. Ask the students to generate a list of questions that were raised by this project, and have them include any questions they might have about design.
  4. Divide the class into small groups. Tell the students that each group is going to watch a brief video on one aspect of design and create a presentation summarizing what the students in the group have learned.
Steps for Learning
  1. Tell the students that they are going to think about the message behind the Design for the Other 90% exhibition, and think of ways to share this message. Give the students a copy of the “Dear….” handout.
  2. Provide time for each group to fill out the handout.
  3. After each group has presented its work, lead a class discussion based on the following questions:
  • What did you learn from your classmates’ presentations?
  • What was the best part of each presentation?
  • What was the most effective part of each letter?
  • How did this exercise help raise awareness of this growing design movement?


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their work. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric.
  • Rate the quality of your group’s discussion.
  • Rate the quality of your group’s ability to analyze the elements of your task.
  • Rate the quality of your group’s letter.
  • Rate the quality of your group’s presentation in conveying its ideas.
  • Rate your creativity.
  • Rate how well your group was able to collaborate.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Differentiation for High School
Ask the students to return to the list of questions that were generated earlier in the activity and choose one to research further.

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