Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

What Is Sacrifice?
Lesson 3
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


Students explore different forms of sacrifice for the common good and answer the question: When is a sacrifice justified and necessary, and when is it a violation of individual rights? Students write a personal goal to make a small sacrifice for the common good.


One to Two Forty-Five Minute Class Periods (Plus time to perform act of kindness)


The learner will:

  • give examples of big and small sacrifices in present-day circumstances.

  • list reasons for and benefits of these sacrifices.

  • list opportunity costs of these sacrifices.

  • discuss and come to consensus about when a sacrifice violates individual rights or when the cost exceeds the benefits.

  • brainstorm small sacrifices made in the school and home settings.

  • write a personal goal to make a small sacrifice.

  • write about the benefits and opportunity costs of a performed sacrifice.

Service Experience:

Although this lesson contains a service project example, decisions about service plans and implementation should be made by students, as age appropriate.
Learn more about the stages of service-learning.

Students perform an act of personal sacrifice with a measurable opportunity cost that benefits someone else or the common good.


  • Chart paper or overhead projector for brainstorming list

  • Student copies of Attachment One: Small Sacrifices

Handout 1
Small Sacrifices

Instructional Procedure(s):

Anticipatory Set:

Copy the following quotes for the students to read and discuss together the meaning of sacrifice.

“In this world it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.” (Henry Ward Beecher)

“They never fail who die in a great cause.” (Lord Byron)

“If you’re outraged at conditions, then you can’t possibly be free or happy until you devote all your time to changing them and do nothing but that. But you can’t change anything if you want to hold onto a good job, a good way of life and avoid sacrifice.” (Cesar Chavez)

“No sacrifice short of individual liberty, individual self-respect and individual enterprise is too great a price to pay for permanent peace.” (Clark H. Minor)

“We can offer up much in the large, but to make sacrifices in little things is what we are seldom equal to.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

  • Brainstorm a list of ways that people or nations sacrifice for the common good. Get the students thinking in terms of the sacrifice of soldiers, relief workers, medical workers, fire fighters, etc. Bring into the discussion suicidal sacrifice and people who kill themselves for a religious cause.

  • In these examples, discuss the motivations and opportunity costs of each type of sacrifice.

  • Take one example from the brainstormed list at a time. Discuss at what point the costs become too high for the benefits of the sacrifice.

  • Talk about the balance of individual rights and community responsibility in each example.

  • Discuss when an act of sacrifice seems like a selfish rather than selfless act.

  • Compare the acts of sacrifice of today with the acts of sacrifice by the Aztecs.

  • Pass out Attachment One: Small Sacrifices. Brainstorm a list of small ways that individuals make sacrifices for others or the common good at school, at home and in the local community (letting your sister have the last yogurt, giving up study hall to help someone with a project, etc.). Students write down these examples and evaluate them for themselves. Students may add their own ideas later.

  • Assign to the students that they must find one small way to make a sacrifice for the common good. They may use the examples on the worksheet or come up with a unique plan. Give them a time limit to carry out their small sacrifices.

  • When the students make their sacrifices, they must write an evaluation of the act including what they did, what the benefits and opportunity costs were, and whether the act was worth the cost.


The students write a paragraph evaluating the costs and benefits of their acts of sacrifice. The paragraph should demonstrate understanding of the concepts of sacrifice, selflessness, opportunity costs and common good.

School/Home Connection:

  • Interactive Parent / Student Homework:
    None for this lesson.

Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

Have students put the human sacrifices of the Aztecs on the worksheet (Attachment One: Small Sacrifices) and evaluate the benefits and opportunity costs.

Bibliographical References:

Lesson Developed By:

Cheryl Carr
Bridgman Public Schools
Reed Middle School
Bridgman, MI 49106


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Small Sacrifices

Write comments to evaluate the costs and benefits of some small, selfless sacrifices in which you and your classmates may participate.

Act of Sacrifice

Benefits of Act (to self and others)

Who Benefits?

Opportunity Costs (to self and others)

Are Benefits Greater than Costs?

Is the Act Selfless?

Philanthropy Framework:


Lisa, Teacher – Indianapolis, IN10/27/2007 8:12:45 PM

(The positive aspects about using this lesson was) the students could take the information that they researched about the Aztec culture and apply it to a modern day practical situation.

Heather, Teacher – Vassar, MI10/27/2007 8:14:04 PM

This lesson was perfect for having the students apply the concept of sacrifice into their quality world. It did stretch them into a high level of learning.

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Unit Contents:

Overview:Common Good in Aztec Culture Summary


Aztec Culture
Aztec Religion
What Is Sacrifice?

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