The students will explore the ideas of scarcity and choices by exploring a virtual model of the Mayflower. They will then pack a virtual suitcase making good choices about what they pack.


Choice, Scarcity


  • Explain why scarcity of space limits choices.


Initiate a discussion that will prompt your students to think about the journey the Pilgrims made on the Mayflower.

Everybody loves the Thanksgiving holiday, right? What are some things you think about when you think about TurkeyThanksgiving? Maybe you think about are turkey, stuffing, Massachusetts, Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims, and the ship called the Mayflower.

Let's take a closer look at the Mayflower. Would you like to take a trip on the Mayflower? How about living on the Mayflower for 66 days? What would you want to take with you from your room? What would you need to take with you?


  • Virtual Suitcase Interactive:  This EconEdLink interactive asks students to decide what is important to bring on a cross-sea journey and what they should leave behind.
    Interactive Activity
  • Fill Your Suitcase!:  This handout has students discuss what they would bring with them when they came to the Americas in the Mayflower and why.
    Fill Your Suitcase!
  • If You Lived In Colonial Times by Ann McGovern:  This book provides answers to frequently asked questions to colonial times that students may have about life in Colonial America.


 Note to teachers: The concept of scarcity, as economists use it, implies the following ideas: Individuals have wants that are, for practical purposes, unlimited. But the total resources of society, including natural resources, human resources, capital goods and entrepreneurship, are limited; that is why scarcity exists. Scarcity means that it isn't possible for everyone to have everything he or she wants. No society has ever had enough resources to produce the full amount and variety of goods and services its members wanted.  In a world of scarcity, producing any one good or service means that other goods and services cannot be produced, and trade-offs are inevitable.

Instruct your students to picture themselves as English Pilgrims in 1617. They are a people persecuted for their religious beliefs. Tell your students to imagine that their families have just gained passage on a ship called the Mayflower, bound for America. Tell your students they will need to start packing for the long voyage, but they must keep in mind that the Mayflower is not a large ship, and there will be 101 other people on the ship. Tell them to pack only the important items.

To help your students gain background knowledge about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, have them explore the Scholastic Tour of the Virtual Mayflower .   Students will be able to access the Web site by clicking on the picture of the ship.

*For the youngest students, teachers guide the exploration of this site and help with the task of reading it.

This site will take the students step by step through the Mayflower. There are 10 different parts of the ship to explore. Each section of the ship is described in kid-friendly language and with a picture. Section eight describes the area the Pilgrims lived in for the entire voyage.

After visiting the site, lead the class in a discussion of life on the Mayflower. Ask the students if they think they would have liked living on the Mayflower. Talk with them about how little space the Pilgrims had to live in. Explain that the limited space is an example of scarcity. Scarcity is not having all the goods and services people want. In this case, the people on the Mayflower did not have all the space they wanted.

*Suggestion: Conduct a brainstorming session in which the task is to list things the Pilgrims would need in the new land. Ask the students if they have ever packed a suitcase to stay for an overnight visit. Explain that, as they imagine themselves in the role of Pilgrims, they will have limited space in their suitcases, just like the Pilgrims had limited space. Below are some questions that can be used in discussion after the students have toured the Mayflower.

  • What would the trip have been like?
  • What would you have missed the most?
  • Why didn't the Pilgrims bring everything they wanted with them?
  • How does the idea of scarcity help to explain why we can't always get what we want? What was scarce on the Mayflower?

Have the students complete this interactive activity to learn more about the tough decisions the Pilgrims had to make. After the students have finished the activity, ask them to explain why they couldn't get everything into their suitcases.


Students will complete this handout and write about their choices.


Discuss the choices the students made. Questions to focus on include: Could you take everything you wanted with you? Could the Pilgrims take everything they wanted? Why or why not? How does a scarcity of space limit your choices? What is the economic term for not having all of the goods we need?


Students can read If You Lived in Colonial Times by Ann McGovern to help them understand the concepts.


  • “One suggestion: Have some sort of easy way for students to estimate how much room they have left. Some students, especially those that are younger or lower-achieving, get frustrated because they can't easily add unit weights up to 150. As the point is you can't take everything, and this is not a math lesson per say, the point gets lost in the frustrating of trying to calculate. Something like a simple bar with unit weight marked out with the weight, so that they can see how much space is left, would help. So would, perhaps, making the relative weight equal the size of the graphics to fit the suitcase. Students could easily see a 20 pound item is a smaller volume than a 200 pound item.”

    Heather Kenyon-Haff, VT   POSTED ON May 9, 2007

  • “I liked your site - very useful resource. The best! Thanks.”

    Renaty Kiy Li   POSTED ON May 31, 2007

  • “I have created a local Maritime History Unit for 2nd grade students, as a component of our Neighborhoods and Communities unit, because our community is rich in maritime history, both past and present. Students learn about schooners, and how shipbuilders in their community have influenced the evolution of the schooner hull. This lesson provides a tremendous opportunity to further compare and explore maritime history and weave it into further understanding of the Maritime side of our Thanksgiving holiday.”

    Angela Janda   POSTED ON October 30, 2007

  • “I think that this lesson is overall very good. It is written so that it is easily understood. I love that the attachments/websites are written write in the lesson so that I can easily click the links. The lesson allows the children to make their own choices about what they want to pack to take with them. It allows the class to have an open discussion about scarcity and choices, as well as what is important to them. I think that the reinforcement of the worksheet and the other websites available for the students to view really allow this lesson to be expanded as much as a teacher wants. The extension activity page is also good if the teacher or students want to further explore this idea.”

    Stephanie M., Ohio   POSTED ON February 15, 2008

  • “Having the audio is a really good idea for the early grades. The website for exploring the Mayflower had really good realistic pictures. This would be a really good activity to do with the whole class and then give the handout for each individual.”

    Micjenlin   POSTED ON February 21, 2008

  • “This will help children to learn about social studies. Good job!”

    Taylar T.   POSTED ON May 7, 2008

  • “This was a good lesson with easy-to-follow links.”

    Cruize F., Honolulu, HI   POSTED ON December 3, 2008

  • “I really like your site!”

    Pat W., Newton Centre, MA   POSTED ON February 18, 2009

  • “Really helpful out of Thanksgiving too! Reading Across the Wide Dark Sea and this was a great resource to bring it home! Thanks!”

    Cyndee J., Camarillo, CA   POSTED ON May 12, 2010

Add a Review