A Day with No Desks

At a glance:

Every day, millions of students throughout the African country of Malawi spend their days packed into tiny classrooms, sitting on dirt or cement floors for hours at a time, because they don’t have desks. This exercise gives your students a glimpse into what it would be like to attend school with no desks, and then challenges them to take action in order to give school children in Malawi a better education and a brighter future. 

Try this exercise with your students:

At the end of a school day, after your students have left the classroom, move all desks, tables, and chairs aside, so that there is open space on the floor of your classroom (perhaps about half the floor space in your classroom).

When students arrive the next morning, tell them to collect whatever books and materials they’ll need for the day and then to sit in the open space on the floor. The space should feel tight, with all the students and their materials near each other.

Tell students that for the entire day (or class period), they won’t be sitting in chairs or at tables or desks. This is “a day with no desks.” If they ask “why,” tell them they’ll find out later.

Conduct the day as you typically would, with students doing all of the lessons and activities they normally would….but all while sitting on the floor.

At the end of the day, reflect (have students journal individually or allow time for a whole class discussion, or both): 

  • What did you think about sitting on the floor all day? Did your thoughts change as the day progressed?
  • How did you feel sitting on the floor, both physically and mentally?
  • Did sitting on the floor for the day affect your learning? How?
  • How do you think you would feel if you had to sit on the floor all day, every day, for the entire school year? How would your learning be affected.
Show your students a few photos of children in Malawi who attend school with no desks. Discuss with your students:
  • Describe what you see in the photos. Describe what it might be like to attend school in these classrooms.
  • How do you think your experience as a student compares with the experiences of school children in Malawi?
  • The drop-out rate of students in Malawi is high. Only about 58%[1] of children complete primary (or elementary) school. What might be some reasons for this?

Take Action: Fundraise for Kids in Need of Desks

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF and MSNBC’s news anchor Lawrence O’Donnell created an ambitious campaign to provide thousands of desks to hundreds of schools in Malawi. The campaign is called K.I.N.D.: Kids in Need of Desks. Show your students part of the 12-minute video, Malawi: Kids in Need of Desks, which provides information about education in Malawi in general and information about the K.I.N.D. program specifically at its start nearly six years ago.


Encourage students to use their new knowledge of the importance of desks (and how it feels to go a whole day with them!) to organize a fundraiser, with all contributions going to the K.I.N.D. program.

  1. Set a fundraising target. How many desks will your students strive to provide for students in Malawi?
  2. Plan and conduct your fundraiser. Choose from these suggestions, or design your own:
  • Simple collections: Obtain permission to organize a money collection at your school. Choose well-attended areas, such as in the cafeteria, at sports events or in other high-traffic areas.
  • Pancake breakfasts: These are typically a high-profit fundraisers and can be a great community outreach event.
  • Coffeehouse: Have an art exhibit, poetry and prose readings, and performances by student bands or individual musicians, and of course serve great coffee and snacks.
  • Student-faculty benefit match: Students can challenge faculty and staff to a basketball or volleyball tournament. Charge admission to the game.
  1. Make your donation. With a credit card, you can purchase desks directly through UNICEF’s Inspired Gifts website, or you can mail a check, along with a completed donation form to:

U.S. Fund for UNICEF

125 Maiden Lane

New York, NY  10038

  1. Celebrate your success!

Thank you for your efforts to promote global citizenship and empower young people to take action to help children in need.

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