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

Is That Fair?
Lesson 1
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


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


One 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.


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.

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.


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

Handout 1
Fairness Definitions

Instructional Procedure(s):

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.

  • 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 Attachment 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Extensions:

Have each group create an illustrated poster or a role-play that exemplifies their definition of fairness.

Lesson Developed By:

Betsy Flikkema
Associate Director
Learning to Give

Barbara Dillbeck
Learning to Give


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Fairness Definitions


Fairness is treating everybody the same.
Fairness is responding to people with what they need and deserve, even if means different treatment.
Fairness is using the same rules for everyone.
Fairness is using an impartial and just manner.
Fairness is being free from prejudice or favoritism.
Fairness is following the rules.
Fairness is listening to others to make sure you understand their thoughts and feelings.
Fairness is considering all the facts before making a decision.

Philanthropy Framework:

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