Lesson Plans

Roger Thurow's The First 1,000 Days, Exploring the Global Impacts of Malnutrition

Image by Roger Thurow. Uganda, 2013.

Image by Anne Thurow. Uganda, 2015.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.2: Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.3: Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.


Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Students will be able to analyze the content and structure of Roger Thurow’s reporting on the The First 1,000 Days in order to write blog posts and design advocacy campaigns informing their communities about the impact of malnutrition.


1. Create a chart with two columns. In the first column, quickly jot down a list of the dreams you have for your life. Think of your dreams for your childhood, your teen years, your adulthood, your old age. Be as general or as specific as you wish. In the second column, make a list of things you will need to make it happen. As you write, consider the following: What are the most important things people need to achieve the dreams they have for themselves?

2. Now imagine a dream you have for a younger person in your life. It could be a sibling, a future sibling or child you hope to have, or even a child you imagine.

  • Write an acrostic poem using the child’s name. To write your poem, use each letter from that child’s name to write a dream you have for that person. The dreams can be about things you hope the person will do, your hopes for things that will happen to the person and your hopes for the person’s demeanor and personality. (For example: A- Aspirations to change the world)
  • Make a list of things that child will need to achieve the dreams you have for them. Compare how that list is alike, or different, from the list you made about yourself.
  • Compare your list to the one created by Jessica from Chicago for her daughter Alitzel:

“A is for amenable, for your easy going nature.

L is for luster, your shine.

I is for inspire, others to seek your guidance.

T is for traditional, somewhat old fashioned.

Z is for zany, the funny side of you.

E is for enrich, a quality you have.

L is for love, everlasting.”

3. Research suggests that one of the most important factors determining children’s access to successful futures is their nutrition within the first two years of their lives.

  • Discuss: What messages do you get about nutrition? From whom?
  • Predict: How does what people eat when they are babies connect to the opportunities they will have as adults?

4. Check your prediction by watching this video from journalist Roger Thurow and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. As you watch, answer the questions attached.

Introducing the lesson:

“ ‘ Your child can achieve great things.’ Two young women on opposite sides of the world — one in northern Uganda, one on the South-Side of Chicago— heard these words and dearly hoped they could be true,” Roger Thurow writes in The First 1,000 Days.

What do you think a child needs to make this true?

This lesson looks at the direct connection between a child’s dreams and his/her/their first two years of life through an analysis of Roger Thurow’s book The First 1,000 Days.

Research has shown that the first one thousand days of a person’s life (birth to second birthday) are the most important because of the rapid mental and physical development that happens during that time. In an October 2015 report, UNICEF wrote that “Nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributable to undernutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year.” The report continues, “Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can also lead to stunted growth, which is irreversible and associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance.”

The First 1,000 Days investigates what babies need during the first 1,000 days of their lives, the barriers that some families face in providing those things for their babies and the different ways that people are working to combat malnutrition and stunting around the world.

As your review the following resources, pay special attention to the different ways that Roger investigates this issue. Make a prediction: Who do you think he will interview? Where do you think he will go to investigate the causes and impacts of malnutrition?

Reading (Contact The Chicago Council on Global Affairs if you need help accessing the first chapter)

1. Read “Introduction To A Movement,” the introductory chapter for The First 1,000 Days, and answer the questions attached. As you read, also keep track of the following:

  • Who does Roger interview as part of the project?
  • How does Roger balance stories with data?
  • What part of the chapter sticks with you the most? Why?
    • Use a table like the one below to track Roger’s reporting as you read:
      Interesting stories/moments/interviews Interesting facts/statistics Questions I have
      Ex: p.1, esther resting under the shade after walking to the doctor's office    

2. Watch the attached video, “Ugandan mothers learn about changing diets and foods to add to nutrition value,” which was created while Roger was reporting The First 1,000 Days.

  • As you watch, pay attention to how Roger balances storytelling and facts/statistics.
  • How does the reporting in this slideshow report similarly/differently than the introduction to the book? Make a list of similarities and differences.

Post-Reading Reflection Activities:

1. Analyze the similarities and differences between Thurow’s online introduction to The First 1,000 Days and the first chapter of the book.

  • Review the digital preview of The First 1,000 Days on the website for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
  • Use a VENN diagram or table chart to identify what information Thurow chooses to include that is similar to or different from the information provided in the first chapter of the book.
  • Create a list of new information you learned from the website that you think would be important for members of your community to know
  • Discuss with a partner, or as a class, how you think Thurow chose what information to include in the introduction and on the website. Use the following questions to guide your discussion:
  • How does Thurow structure the book and website introductions differently?
  • What does Thurow choose to include in both introductions?
  • How do you think Thurow determined what information to include for each introduction? How does the information selected reflect the author’s purposes for each section?
  • If you were to create a revised introduction, which information would you pull from the website and which information would you pull from the book?

2. Engage in a discussion relating The First 1,000 Days to you.

Use the notes from your reading to engage in a discussion responding to the following questions:

  • How does Roger balance stories with data?
  • What part of the chapter sticks with you the most? Why?
  • What questions do you hope that Roger answers in the book?
  • How does this issue connect to you?

3. Write a blog post connecting The First 1,000 Days to your community

Write a 200-500 word blog post that uses details from the first chapter of The First 1,000 Days to respond to the following questions:

  • Where do you see barriers to good nutrition in your own community?
  • What do you think should be done to combat malnutrition around the world?
  • How does this issue connect to you? Why does it matter?

Interested in having your post published on a professional blog? Contact education@pulitzercenter.org.

Extension Projects and Activities:

1. Design a campaign that communicates the importance of the first 1,000 days to your community:

  • Use the information and stories from Roger’s book as part of your own research in creating a campaign to make your community aware of the importance of the first 1,000 days in a child’s life. Think: How can I get the current and future parents/families/siblings in my community to provide better nutrition for children?
  • Consider the following as your design your project:
    • Who is your target audience?
    • What does your audience need to know about the first 1,000 days?
    • What stories and information would help your community connect to this issue?
    • What would be the best way to get this information to your community? (marketing materials, letters, a community meeting, social media, etc.)
    • What action steps would you like your audience to take to curb malnutrition in your community?
  • Share your project with Roger Thurow and the Pulitzer Center by sending your final project to education@pulitzercenter.org. Please include a brief statement alongside your project that explains why you chose this particular campaign for your community.

2. Create an educational resource for your community about the roles that different vitamins play in our bodies

  • Using passages from The First 1,000 Days, as well as other online articles and multimedia, create a resource for members of your community that explains what different vitamins do for the body. Your goal is to encourage your audience to consume more vitamin-rich foods.
  • Consider the following as you create your resource:
    • Who will be your audience? Who could you reach in your community that would have the greatest impact?
    • What would catch the attention of your chosen audience?
    • What vitamins do you want your audience to know about? What do you want them to know about those vitamins? How can you get them to incorporate foods with those vitamins in their diets?
  • Share your resource with the Pulitzer Center by sending a photo to education@pulitzercenter.org or tweeting it to @pulitzercenter #first1000days.
  • Here are some videos to get you started:

3. Conduct a debate exploring the best methods for curbing malnutrition around the world

  • The situation: You are a part of an organization that focuses on curbing malnutrition and you have been given the opportunity to apply for one $100,000.00 grant from the World Health Organization to design an initiative that focuses on one community covered in The First 1,000 Days. You will not be the only organization requesting the grant, so it will be your job to pick one country to focus on, and to convince the World Health Organization that the initiative you design for that country is the one that deserves the funding.
  • The debate: Break into groups and assign each group one of the communities described in The First 1,000 Days. Each group should use the book and outside resources to design an argument for why it should receive the $100,000.
  • Here is a sample rubric from educationworld.com that can be used as a template for scoring the debate. You should ultimately decide who the judge for the debate should be. (a teacher, a local organization, a government official, etc.)
  • * Contact education@pulitzercenter.org if you would like support finding a judge for your debate.

Write a proposal for a program that would bring a nutrition program to your community

  • Use the community programs described in The First 1,000 Days as inspiration for designing a program that would address a nutrition challenge that you see in your community. Write a program proposal describing your new program that you could potentially send to a person/organization that could fund it.
  • Consider the following as you design your program:
    • Where do you see malnutrition in your community? Who is affected?
    • What do those community members need?
    • How could you get the community members what they need? Who would need to get involved? What supplies would you need? How much would your program cost?
    • Who could you ask to support this program? (your school, the local government, etc.)
    • How do you clearly communicate your program’s goals, structure, cost and benefits to the person/organization that would fund your program?
  • Create a clear presentation of your program and send it to education@pulitzercenter.org. You might also want to talk to the supporter you identified about actually starting this program in your community!

5. Create visual art inspired by The First 1,000 Days.

  • Option 1: Visualizing the ripple effect
    • On page 10 of The First 1,000 Days, Roger Thurow describes the “ripple effect” of malnutrition. Using this passage as inspiration, create a drawing/graphic design/collage that illustrates how malnutrition can affect families, communities and countries.
  • Option 2: Presenting solutions
    • On page 16 of The First 1,000 Days, Thurow describes a variety of people and organizations that could be involved in curbing malnutrition. Create a visual presentation that illustrates how different sectors can be involved in supporting efforts to counter malnutrition.
  • Option 3: Designing portraits and captions inspired by The First 1,000 Days
  • See how students in Wheeling, IL created visual art inspired by global issues by interpreting the issue through the lens of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.
Educator Notes: 

This lesson plan introduces students to Roger Thurow's book The First 1,000 Days, which analyzes the importance of nutrition on the first 1,000 days of a child's life. The lesson plan utilizes videos, multimedia, and the first chapter of the book to explore how the dreams people have for their futures are impacted by what they ate from birth until they are two years old. The lesson also examines how Thurow structures written and filmed components of this project to emphasize different details. The plan concludes with a selection of extension activities that you can choose from to further student engagement in this topic through discussion, writing, presentation design, and advocacy work.

For an overview of the content of this chapter, check out the digital experience from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. For support with extension projects, or with connecting your class to Roger Thurow, contact education@pulitzercenter.org or call the Pulitzer Center education department at 202-734-3769.

Lesson Facilitation Notes:

1. The lesson plan is written for students to be able to explore the resources and reflection exercises independently. 

2. Students may need to have an extra sheet of paper, or a blank online document open, to answer the warm up, comprehension and extension questions.

3. The lesson lists several extension exercises. Students could choose one or work through all of the listed exercises.

4. The warm up and post-reading reflections in this lesson could also lead to rich conversations. You may want to work through the lesson along with the students and denote moments for interactive activities.

6. With questions about this lesson, contact education@pulitzercenter.org

Lesson Builder Survey