Ethical Decisions

Students demonstrate the ability to evaluate the ethical dimension of their choices and a commitment to make ethical decisions. Students demonstrate discernment, the ability to choose the best course of action in terms of ethical principles and discipline, and the strength to do what should be done even when it is difficult, risky, or personally costly;

  • Students understand that they are morally and legally accountable for the consequences of their decisions (including a decision not to decide);
  • Students evaluate their options in terms of core ethical principles (e.g., honesty, loyalty, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, kindness, and good citizenship) and they eliminate any option that is either illegal or unethical; and
  • Students understand that in situations where ethical principles clash (e.g., their grandmother gives them an ugly sweater, the ethical principle of honesty conflicts with the ethical principle of kindness) the best possible result is to choose the option likely to create the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.
Key Beliefs:

I will be a better student if I act on the following beliefs. I can:

  • make the best decisions if I consider all the options carefully and thoughtfully. 
  • make informed decisions when I gather and analyze the information. This will help me make better choices. 
  • learn how to make a variety of choices will enhance the outcomes of my actions. 
  • realize that my behavior and the choices I make affects others. 
  • Explain and illustrate how different decisions can lead to alternative outcomes. 
  • Review the actions of celebrities who have made notorious press and create the best possible result mind maps for how things could have turned out. 
  • Study a variety of media presentations of the same story and analyze how the reporting is different depending on the media. 
  • Ensure an understanding that responsible decision-making affects interpersonal and group relationships. 
  • Use the newspaper to write your own moral dilemmas.
  • “Life is the sum of all your choices.” – Albert Camus
  • “Indecision becomes a decision with time.” – Author unknown
  • “The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” – Flora Whittemore
  • “To decide is to walk facing forward with nary a crick in your neck from looking back at the crossroads.” – Betsy Cañas Garmon
  • “Where there is no decision there is no life.” – JJ Dewey
  • “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” – Jim Collins
  • “Decision is a sharp knife that cuts clean and straight; indecision, a dull one that hacks and tears and leaves ragged edges behind it.” – Gordon Graham
  • “One’s philosophy is not the best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And, the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Identity Defined By Choices Made

Learning Objective: To understand that our character is reflected in the outcomes of the choices we make

Materials: Story words; decision-making worksheet


Part 1

  • Divide the class into groups of either 4 or 5 students
  • When groups have formed, determine which students will be the first to begin the activity.  Each group needs to determine who will be #1 by selecting the student who had the most recent birthday. Then moving clockwise from #1, have the students count off up to 10.
  • Introduce the activity by saying, “We have no control over some things that happen; other times we do have control and that is exercised by what it is we say and do.  Then, there are some situations by the choice we make, we can influence the outcome.”
  • The activity will include 10 words put up individually on a screen or board with which students will tell a story.

The rules to be followed are:

  • Once the word is put on the screen and told to your group, the #1 student will have 15 seconds to tell a story with the word.
  • The story can be fictional or true.
  • After 15 seconds, the next word will be shown and shared with each group, and the student clockwise from #1 will tell a story with that word. The student does not have to repeat what was said before – he or she is in total control of what is said.
  • Again, after 15 seconds, another word is shared and the next student tells a story with the assigned word.
  • The pattern continues until all 10 words have been used and stories told.

Process and Reflection:

So What?

  • What did you not have control over?
  • What did you have control over?
  • What could you influence with the choice of words that you shared when it was your turn to tell the story?
  • Why is it important to make good decisions that are effective and ethical?

Now What?

  • What are examples of some things that students face over which they have no control?
  • Even when we have no control over what exists, a decision or choice will need to be made. Provide an example of what that choice will look like.
  • “Every student has the power to decide what he or she will say and do.” Do you agree or disagree? Explain your answer.
  • Complete this sentence: Decision-making is not easy but…

Part 2


  • Using the same groups, students in a role-play will discuss a decision-making scenario.
  • The student with the next birthday will be Jamie.


Jamie is a High School Junior. As part of a science class, Jamie is one member of a cooperative learning group that has to complete a project by the following Monday. Each member of the group has a specific responsibility to complete the project. The group has decided to work on Friday after school and on Saturday morning to put together the project so it can be completed by the Monday deadline. On Thursday, a good friend invites Jamie to a concert on Friday evening.  Jamie quickly responds with a quick, “YES.” Before leaving on Friday, Jamie meets with the other members of the group to share the decision to go to the concert and that it will not be possible to get up early on Saturday to work on the project. Sunday is out as two other members of the group have a family commitment.

In the role-play, Jamie needs to:

  • Present arguments that explain the choice made.
  • Convey the process used to make the decision to go to the concert.
  • The other three or four students are members of a cooperative learning group. Each will need to:
  • Respond to Jamie about the choice made.
  • Identify who the stakeholders are in his decision.
  • Discuss what is important in order to accomplish the assigned project.
  • Share what are the unintended consequences of the choice Jamie has made.
  • Jamie will try to rationalize the choice as he (she) refutes the key points being made by the members of the cooperative learning group.
  • Finally, as a group, discuss what could be a decision that Jamie may make to produce the best possible result.

Pass a Problem

Learning Objective: To identify and solve a problem related to character.

Materials: Worksheet of possible problems; recorder sheet


  • Divide students into small groups.
  • Have each group spend up to five minutes solving a problem related to character and choices.
  • Students are to brainstorm possible solutions and then reach consensus as to one that they believe will produce the best possible result. A recorder for the groups writes down the solution to the problem.
  • Have the groups pass their problem with solution to another group for review and then the second group can add to the original solutions.
  • Continue until all groups have had a chance to see/solve each problem. When each group gets back its original problem, they are to review all solutions and either pick the best one or create a new one that synthesizes two or more of the solutions.

Process and Reflection:

So What?

  • How easy was it to come up with a solution to the problem?
  • Why did you have differing points of view?
  • What was the strategy that your group used to determine a possible solution?
  • How significant were the difference in the solutions other groups gave to the problem?

Now What?

  • What process do you use when you have to make a decision?
  • What makes choosing a solution with the best possible result hard for a student to actually do?
  • Were the solutions you chose as the best, ones that the majority of students at our school would also do? Why or why not?

Possible problems to discuss:

  • You’re grounded and your parents are away for the evening. Friends drop by and ask you to join them for a hamburger. It will be two hours before your parents come home. Your friends say the punishment given by your parents was unfair.
  • Your best friend drives you to a party. After three hours, it’s time to go. You smell alcohol on his breath, and he seems rowdier and louder than normal. You tell him you’d rather drive. Offended that you think his driving would be impaired, he refuses. This is the third weekend in a row this has happened. What do you do for yourself? For your friend?
  • It’s the first week of a new school year. Your best friends tease a new student who’s moved into the neighborhood. They joke about how she looks and talks. While walking home after school, one of them picks a fight with her. Before you know it, others join in.
  • When you see your best friend take cash from the secretary’s desk at school, she asks you to promise not to tell anyone. The incident could lead to suspension and possible expulsion. She says if you tell, she’ll never speak to you again. And, she’ll tell your parents about how you lied to them about staying overnight at her house when you were really with your boyfriend.
  • A clerk at a record store forgets to charge you for one of the DVDs you purchased. You realize this as you leave the store. You turn to go back but see a long line at the register. You rationalize: Not my mistake. Maybe it’ll teach the clerk a lesson about being more careful. And I’m really hungry. The money I just saved could feed me nicely.
  • You find a wallet containing $500. No one sees you pick it up. There’s identification inside, but the address isn’t close to your house. No one will know you found the wallet. You could really use the cash. 
  • At lunchtime, you realize you forgot to do your math homework. The assignment has 45 problems to complete. Instead of eating, you hurriedly try to get through it. A friend sees what you’re doing and offers his completed assignment to copy.
  • Carlos is your best friend. Your class is taking a math test. You notice him peeking at your paper and writing down your answers. Earlier, Carlos told you he went to the mall’s game arcade last night instead of studying (while you were at home cramming).
  • Now that you’re a high school senior, your dad’s on your case whenever you go out on Saturday night. It all started when you told him your friends drink at parties and always pressure you to do so. You’ve been honest with your dad and said you have no interest in drinking because if you’re caught, you’ll be off the basketball team and lose your scholarship. Your dad concocts a strategy: Next time you’re asked to drink, lie and say your dad gives you a breathalyzer test after every party. This bothers you because it’s not the truth.
  • The principal announces over the intercom that a teacher’s laptop has been stolen. If it’s not turned in by noon, all lockers will be searched. You remember seeing your friend, whose locker is next to yours, stuffing what looked like a laptop in his backpack that morning.