Grade K-2, 3-5

Specialists Light Up Our Lives!

Updated: April 12 2023,
Author: Marsha Masters

Peppe and his family moved to America to pursue the American dream. His mother has passed away, his father is ill,and all the children need to find work to help provide for basic essentials. Peppe is excited to find a job, only to be told by his dad that it is not a job he should be proud of.

This lesson will challenge students to consider specialists in the community and the valuable goods and services they produce.  They will also learn how specialists depend on each other to satisfy their wants.


Students of all ages love Peppe the Lamplighter, a Caledecott Honor Book. Students are introduced to someone their age who became a specialist to earn income to provide for the family’s basic necessities. They will learn about specialists in their community and the value that each provides as they produce goods and services for the marketplace. They will also be able to understand interdependence through a role playing activity.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Define specialization and give an example of the term.
  • Define interdependence and give an example of the term.
  • Role play a specialist in the community and create a web of interdependence.
  • Identify six specialists and explain the concept of interdependence by creating a web of interdependence.

Resource List


  1. Introduce the lesson by holding up the book cover for Peppe the Lamplighter. Ask students to share what the story might be about based on the title and the cover. (Allow students an opportunity to share ideas. Some might suggest it happened a long time ago based on the boy’s clothes or the fact that he is lighting a streetlamp.) Draw attention to the Caldecott Honor Medal on the cover. (If students do not know, share that this special recognition is given annually to recognize artists for the most distinguished American picture books for children.) Challenge students to pay close attention to the illustrations and how they help explain the mood of the story.
  2. Read the first page of the book. Ask students what they have learned about Peppe and his family. (Peppe’s family lived a long time ago. Times were hard. His mother had passed away, and his father was sick and couldn’t work. All the kids in the family had to find work to help pay bills.)
  3. In economics, we learn that people who work to earn an income, money for their work, are called human resources. Sometimes that means a human resource makes a good, which is something that can be held, touched, or used. A human resource that produces a good might be a baker who makes bread or a carpenter who makes furniture. Other human resources provide services that help others by doing actions. A doctor helps make people feel better if they are sick. A hair stylst might produce an action such as cutting or styling other people’s hair.
  4. Looking at the illustrations, does it look like a happy time for Peppe and his family? (No.) The story says they lived in a tenement. A tenement is a type of housing that was often overcrowded and in poor condition. Do you see toys, games and other goods like you might find at your home? (No. It appears the family had little income left after paying bills to consume extra goods and services.)
  5. Read pages 2-7. (The pages are not numbered. Stop after reading about Fat Mary, the cigar maker.) Peppe met several human resources who had special jobs. Who were they? (Gennaro, Don Salvatore, Commare Antonietta and Fat Mary.) In the story, we learn that Commare Antonietta was the candy maker. She produced a good. What was it? (She produced candy.) You can touch, hold or eat the candy that she made. We consider these human resources to be specialists because they do one job very well and depend on others in the community to satisfy their wants for other goods and services. Each time Peppe asked for a job with each specialist, how did the specialists respond? (No, they didn’t need help. Either business was slow, or he was too young.)
  6. Read the next page. What did Domenico, the lamplighter, ask Peppe? (He asked him if he would light the streetlamps for him while he returned to Italy for his wife.) Because this was long ago, there was no electricity. The only way that people could see at night was by the light these lamps provided. Did a lamplighter produce a good or provide a service? (A lamplighter provided a service.) Domenico provided a service, the action of lighting the lamps, for the people who lived in the city. Ask them if this was an important job. (Allow students an opportunity to respond.)
  7. Read the next page. Why was Peppe excited? (He had a job. He could earn income for the family.) Did Peppe’s father think this was an important job? (No, he didn’t think it was an important job. He had made many sacrifices for his family to come to America for a better way of life. He wanted each of them to have a great career, earn a big income, and have all the things they wanted.)
  8. Read the rest of the story.
    • Why did Peppe think the job of the lamplighter was a stupid job? (His dad continually said negative things, Fat Mary teased him, and his dad said he was ashamed of him. He told him he would belong to the streets.)
    • What did Assunta think about the job of a lamplighter? (She thought it was the best job in America because it scared the dark away.)
    • We don’t have specialists who light street lamps today, but there are many jobs that might be considered to be similar to the lamplighter in today’s workforce. Allow students to suggest specialists that come to mind that provide important services for people traveling on the roads/streets. (Examples might include sanitation worker, street light repair worker, etc.)
    • A specialist is a human resource that does a “special” job. An example might be Dr. Smith who is a dentist. He spends his day providing services to his patients. He pulls teeth, fills cavities, and takes care of teeth. Mrs. Brown is a teacher. She spends her day providing the service of educating students. When she needs her teeth cleaned, she makes an appointment with Dr. Smith’s office. Dr. Smith’s children are students at Mrs. Brown’s school. Both Dr. Smith and Mrs. Brown benefit by specializing, but they must depend on one another to help satisfy their wants.
  9. All jobs are important. Challenge students to brainstorm a list of specialists they depend on in their city or community. (Accept all appropriate answers. It might be best to first make a list of specialists at school with younger students and then look at specialists in the community.)
  10. Introduce the concept of interdependence. This occurs when people and nations depend on one another to provide each other’s wants. Greater specialization leads to greater interdependence. Because a baker spends his time baking cupcakes, bread and pies all day, he doesn’t devote time to making his own clothes, growing his own vegetables, cutting his hair, servicing his car, etc. He “depends” on other specialists to assist. Other specialists also depend on the baker for the same reason.
  11. Have students form a circle. Give each student a specialist lanyard card to wear. Start with the baker. Hand him/her the ball of string. Ask the baker to share with the others in the circle what he specializes in doing. Then have him toss the ball while keeping the end of the string, to someone in the circle he depends on. (NOTE: Make sure the students hold one end of the string before tossing. With younger students, it is beneficial to have students sit in a circle and roll the ball of yarn for the activity. When they stand up, they will have formed a web of interdependence.)
  12. Repeat the process until all in the circle have had an opportunity to share how they are specialists and who they depend on in the circle. You will have a web of interdependence when you are finished, which provides a wonderful visual for students to see interdependence in action. (Optional: Create a bulletin board with the lanyard and the yarn/web.)


As a review of the interdependence web, ask the following questions:

  • What is the name for each of the human resources in the web? (specialist)
  • What does that mean? (A specialist is a worker who produces a narrower range of goods and services than they consume.)
  • Remind students that today they created an interdependence web. What does the term interdependence mean? (We depend on others to satisfy our desires for goods and services. For example: A baker spends his/her day producing breads, pies and cupcakes. A baker consumes much more than that daily such as gasoline for his/her car, food, clothing, entertainment, etc.)
  • Ask students if they believe all jobs are important? (Allow students to express their thoughts.)
  • In the story, Assunta relied on the services of a lamplighter. Why did interdependence create a problem for her? (The night Peppe didn’t light the lamps, Assunta didn’t come home and his father sent him out to light the lamps. She was afraid of the dark and wouldn’t walk home until the lamps were lit)
  • Optional: What would happen if the police officers went on strike and didn’t work? (There could be an increase in crime and problems in the city. This provides a nice visual of how the web is weakened.)

Extension Activity

As a family connection, challenge each student and their family to make a list of specialists in the community they depend on and list the good or service the specialist provides that satisfies their wants.

Host a Career Fair at school. Invite specialists from the community to share information about the goods and services they produce.

Students may research different careers using this site for kids from

The following EconEdLink concept videos provide clear explanations of the concepts introduced in this lesson:   Division of Labor/Specialization, Human Capital Video and Quiz, Trade and Interdependence Video and Quiz


Distribute an interdependence web assessment sheet to each student. (Accept all appropriate answers.)