Is That Fair?

6, 7, 8

Students define what fairness means to them and compare and contrast definitions. They build empathy as they discuss others' experiences with fairness.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne 20-minute lesson

The learner will:

  • construct a meaning of fairness.
  • compare and contrast several definitions of fairness.
  • identify positive attributes of a definition.
  • discuss issues of fairness in different situations.

Printout of Handout One: Fairness Definitions. These definitions will be cut apart and displayed around the room.


  1. Anticipatory Set

    Ask the students if they remember in elementary school when their teachers gave rewards (such as candy, stickers, or privileges) for good work or behavior. Discuss whether they thought it was fair to give some students and not others a reward [something given in return for a desired behavior] for good work. How did they feel about not getting a privilege [a right granted as a benefit] when someone else got one? Discuss whether it is fair to reward good behavior or good work in middle school with candy, privileges, or grades. Ask the students if fair treatment changes for different ages and in different settings.Discuss how fairness could mean different things to different people.

  2. Ask the students to think about what fairness means to them. Allow them a minute of thinking time. Then tell them you have some possible definitions of the concept. Display different definitions of fairness on the walls around the room. See Handout One: Fairness Definitions. Tell them to read over all the definitions and then stand by the definition that makes most sense to them. (Note: If a student ends up alone in a group, ask him or her to choose a second favorite definition. He or she may bring the first choice definition along when moving to a different group. The two definitions may be combined.)

  3. When they have chosen their favorite definitions, tell them to discuss in their groups why they chose the definition and why they like it better than the others. They may like others, but they should focus on the positive aspects of the chosen definition.

  4. After five minutes of discussion, the groups choose a representative who reads aloud the definition and tells the rest of the class why they like their definition.

  5. Debrief by asking the students to tell what they heard about fairness, reflecting on ideas from all of the definitions that resonated with them, or made the most sense to them.

  6. Ask the following discussion questions: Did you find yourself agreeing with some people and disagreeing with others about fairness? Why do you think different people have different ideas about fairness? Is it possible to solve a conflict [a competitive action between two people of different viewpoints] in which everyone thinks the resolution [conflict is answered or solved] is fair? When we talked about the definitions, did you recall times when you thought something wasn't fair? How do you feel when something seems unfair to you? How can you act on those feelings?

Cross Curriculum 

This character education mini-lesson is not intended to be a service learning lesson or to meet the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice. The character education units will be most effective when taught in conjunction with a student-designed service project that provides a real world setting in which students can develop and practice good character and leadership skills. For ideas and suggestions for organizing service events go to

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
    2. Standard DP 03. Names and Types of Organizations within the Civil Society Sector
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Recognize terms that describe the civil society sector.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.