What Is Sacrifice?

6, 7, 8

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.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne 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.
  • Chart paper or overhead projector for brainstorming list
  • Student copies of Attachment One: Small Sacrifices
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: None for this lesson.


Learning to Give: Quotation Search Engine http://www.learningtogive.org/search/quotes/Display_Quotes.asp?
> 22 March 2004 [no longer available] 


  1. 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)

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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.

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

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

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

Cross Curriculum 

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

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Compare and contrast philanthropy and charity from Greek and Roman traditions and other cultures.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Give examples of <i>opportunity cost</i> related to philanthropic giving by individuals and corporations.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
  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.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities and research.
    2. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Identify outcomes from the service.