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Could a Tiny Home Be the Home
For You?



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Grades 2-up

News Content

Some people are saving money and conserving energy by moving into homes the size of a closet.

Anticipation Guide

Invite students to answer this question:

If you could build the home of your dreams, what features would that home include?
Write down students responses so they can refer to them later.

Next, share this picture of Jay Shafer. Invite students to focus on the small structure in the background of the picture. Ask students to describe what they see. Students are likely to describe the structure as a small trailer or a dollhouse or something along those lines. The picture actually shows Shafer sitting in the doorway of his tiny home." The structure in the background is another tiny home" that he has built. He builds tiny homes for people who want to keep their lives simple and cut costs.

Ask students to share what they think it would be like to live in a home that size.

You might even take a moment to use chalk to mark out on the classroom floor a rectangle the size of Shafers 8- x 12-foot home.

News Words

Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: square feet, possessions, business, conserve, average, and utilities. In order to help young students understand the concept of square feet, you might cut a sheet of construction paper to a size of 12 inches x 12 inches so they can see what 1 square foot looks like. Discuss the meanings of any of the other words that might be unfamiliar to students. Then ask them to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • The Talbot family pays about $550 a month for home _____ such as gas, oil, electricity, and telephone. (utilities)
  • How many _____ of floor space does your classroom have? (square feet)*
  • The _____ boy in Mrs. Dickersons kindergarten class is 43 inches tall. (average)
  • A familys love is much more valuable than any _____ they might own. (possessions)
  • In order to _____ energy, my father commutes to work with a neighbor. (conserve)
  • The grand opening of Pams new landscaping ____ will be held next Tuesday. (business)
    * Note: To answer this question, you might have students measure the length and width of your classroom. To find the number of square feet of floor space in your classroom, simply multiply the length x width. For example, a classroom that is 20 feet long x 20 feet wide would have (20 x 20) 400 square feet of floor space.

    Read the News

    Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Could a Tiny Home Be the Home for You?.

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

    Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

    Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.

    Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

    Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

    More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

    Jay Shafer spends just $60 a year on propane to heat his tiny house in Sebastopol, California, which is about 50 miles north of San Francisco. Housing costs are sky-high in the area, so living in a house like Jays tiny home" makes sense to some people.

    Shafers 8- x 12-foot home is smaller than the bedrooms in most peoples homes. The construction is high quality even if the size is small. The home cost Shafer $18,000 in materials and 500 hours of labor. The floor space in his home is equivalent to the trucked of a 14-foot U-Haul economy van that rents for $19.95 a day.

    Shafers kitchen includes a sink, counter, stovetop, dorm fridge, and storage for pots and pans. It has everything a normal kitchen would have, but [its] smaller," says Shafer, who has to climb up a ladder to reach his bedroom. (Take Jays Tiny House Video Tour.)

    Shafer earns a living by designing homes through his company, Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. He draws and sells construction plans for homes that range in from smaller than his own to a nearly 800-square-foot mini-mansion. Given the current state of the economy, Shafer says we're getting a lot more orders these days." (See some of the other houses Shafer has designed.)

    Some people want tiny homes because they are eager to reduce the size of their carbon (ecological) footprint. High energy costs are driving many people to look into downsizing their homes.

    Shafer and others who believe small homes are the way to go envision a future where communities of small homes are clustered around a communal building that would have space for laundry facilities, book-club meetings, and holiday parties.

    Shafer grew up in a rambling, 4,000-square-foot house in Iowa. I always envied kids with smaller houses," he said. They were warmer -- and you didn't have to do as much housework."

    Bill and Sharon Kastrinos traded their 1,800-square-foot home for a new home that has 154 square feet of space. The house cost them $15,000, and the utilities cost $15 a month. They keep spare clothes in their car.

    Sharon Kastrinos told CNN that she is now free of the keeping up with the Joness" mentality in which so many people are stuck. I don't think bigger is better," added Bill Kastrinos.

    Watch this CNN video, which offers a glimpse into the tiny-home lives of Jay Shafer and the Kastrinos family.

    Additional Resource
    The Web site of the Small House Society averages about 1,000 hits a day. Thats up from about 100 hits a day five years ago. You can also visit the Small House Societys blog, Tiny House Blog.

    Comprehension Check

    Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students to take a look at the list of things their dream homes" might include. Ask: What do you think about your list now that youve read the story about tiny homes? Do you think you could ever live in a tiny home like the ones Jay Shafer and the Kastrinos family live in?

    You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:

    Recalling Detail

  • Why are some people choosing to move into tiny homes? (Accept reasoned responses.)
  • What are some of the things that tiny homes have that almost every home has? (A kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, a bedroom, a second floor)
  • How much do the Kastrinoss spend on utilities each month? (about $15)
  • Why do some tiny houses have wheels? (so people can take their homes with them if they have to move)
  • Why did Jay Shafer build his tiny house? (He didnt want to clean a lot of rooms, and he wanted to conserve energy/natural resources.)
  • Why is Shafer building a new tiny home near his own? (He recently got married, so he is building the new home for his wife.)
  • How many tiny homes has Bill Kastrinos sold in the last six months? (11 homes)

    Think About the News

    Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. You might have students create a two-column chart with one column labeled Things I Really Need" and the other labeled Thing I Could Live Without." After students have created their lists -- with at least 10 items in each column -- challenge them to consider their lists of Things I Really Need" and move two or three of them into the Things I Could Live Without" column. After they have completed that exercise, take time to let students share how they felt about having to pare down their possessions in this way.

    Follow-Up Activities

    Math area measurement. In order to help young students understand the concept of square feet, you might cut a sheet of construction paper to a size of 12 inches x 12 inches so they can see what 1 square foot looks like. Then you might have students measure the length and width of their desks, a bulletin board, or your classroom. They can find the square footage" of any of those things by simply multiplying its length by its width. For example, a table that is 2 feet wide x 6 feet long would have a total of 12 (6 x 2) square feet of space; or a classroom that is 20 feet long x 20 feet wide would have 400 (20 x 20) square feet of floor space. Ask students to use information in this weeks news story to figure out how many square feet of floor space is in Jay Shafers tiny home. (The story says his home is 8 feet wide and 12 feet long, so it has 96 [8 x 12] square feet of floor space. Of course, his home has more living space than that if you count the additional floor space" of the homes second floor. In the tiny home owned by the Kastrinos family, the first level has 98 square feet of living space -- a sitting area, tiny kitchen and bathroom -- and the upstairs loft has a bed in 56 square feet of space. If you teach students in grades 4 and up, you might use this math practice work sheet to reinforce the concept of area.

    More critical thinking. Next, you might invite students to think about the benefits of owning a tiny home on wheels. For example, as the sun moves during the day, you might actually push your house to keep it in the sun a bit longer in order to save on heat. What other benefits can students see in owning a tiny home? You might use the think-pair-share strategy with students to discuss this question. If you use this strategy

  • First, arrange students into pairs to discuss and list responses to the question.
  • Then merge two pairs of students together to create groups of four students. Have them discuss and add to the ideas they generated in their pairs.
  • Next, merge two groups of four students to form groups of eight students. Have students create a new combined list of ideas.
  • Finally, bring all students together for a class discussion about the benefits of living in a tiny home.

    Math figuring averages. Use this U.S. Weather resource to find the average monthly temperature in your city and state (or one nearby). Have students figure the average temperature for each month of the year. They can do that using this simple formula:

    average high temperature of the month + average low temperature of the month
    So, if the average high temperature in Boston in January is 35 degrees and the average low temperature is 21 degrees, then the average daily temperature would be
    35 + 21
    or 56 divided by 2, which equals 28 degrees. Students might extend the lesson by working with their parents to look at last years heating bills and figuring the average cost for heating their home last winter (December, January, and February).


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News question on the news story page.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.7 Evaluating Data
    NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    MATHEMATICS: Measurement
    GRADES Pre-K - 2
    NM-MEA.PK-2.1 Understand Measurable Attributes of Objects and the Units, Systems, and Processes of Measurement
    NM-MEA.PK-2.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements
    GRADES 3 - 5
    NM-MEA.3-5.1 Understand Measurable Attributes of Objects and the Units, Systems, and Processes of Measurement
    NM-MEA.3-5.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements
    GRADES 6 - 8
    NM-MEA.6-8.1 Understand Measurable Attributes of Objects and the Units, Systems, and Processes of Measurement
    NM-MEA.6-8.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NM-MEA.9-12.1 Understand Measurable Attributes of Objects and the Units, Systems, and Processes of Measurement
    NM-MEA.9-12.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements

    GRADES K - 4
    NS.K-4.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NS.5-8.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NS.9-12.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

    SOCIAL SCIENCES: Economics
    GRADES K - 4
    NSS-EC.K-4.2 Effective Decision Making
    NSS-EC.K-4.11 Money
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NSS-EC.5-8.2 Effective Decision Making
    NSS-EC.5-8.11 Money
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NSS-EC.9-12.2 Effective Decision Making
    NSS-EC.9-12.11 Money

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
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