What Is Justice?

6, 7, 8

Students compare the meaning of justice with fairness, and distinguish the meanings of fair, just, and equitable. They write a definition for each term and display it on the wall for the duration of the unit.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne 20-minute lesson

The learner will:

  • discuss the meaning of justice.
  • compare and contrast the terms just, fair, and equitable.
  • define the terms just, fair, and equitable.

West Virginia University blog question: “What Is Justice” http://thequestion.blogs.wvu.edu/questions/2005/11/18/what-is-justice- [no longer available] 


  1. Anticipatory Set

    Say the Pledge of Allegiance as a class. At the end, ask the students,"What were the last four words?" (And justice for all) Tell them that Daniel Webster, an American statesman who lived between 1782 and 1852, said that “justice is the great interest of man on earth.” What does justice mean? Is it the same as fairness? Discuss.

  2. Read the following paragraph to the students and ask them to be ready to discuss and write definitions of fair, just, and equitable.

    • “On a public blog, a nine-year-old girl stated that justice means equal treatment for all—no matter what. She was asked, “does that mean if ten people want to share a cake, they should all get an equal size slice, even if some are two years old and some are five and some are forty?” She said, “That’s right. Justice means they all get the same. If they want to share their piece, they may.” The responses to her blog came from students and adults all over the world. Professors, lawyers, and other people praised and argued against her statement. Do you agree that justice is the same as equal treatment? Are there times when equitable treatment is not fair?”
  3. Discuss the definitions of fair, just, and equitable.

    • You may share this definition with the students before or after their discussion and writing: Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary distinguishes fair, just, and equitable under the definition of fair: “fair is about achieving a proper balance of conflicting interests (a fair decision); just implies an exact following of a standard of what is right and proper (a just settlement of territorial claims); equitable suggests equal treatment of all concerned.”
  4. Move the students into groups of three to five learners. Assign one term (fair, equitable, and just) to each group. More than one group will have each term. Tell the groups to write a definition of their term and a sentence to make the meaning clear. Have the team write their definition on a large sheet of paper to display on the wall. Display the definitions as reference for the remaining lessons.

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 generationon.org.

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. 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.