Students strive to be fair and just in all their actions.

Key Beliefs:

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

  • People deserve to be treated fairly in all situations.
  • There is a need to have pre-established rules that are consistently applied.
  • Having a clear system for making decisions promotes fairness.
  • I should treat all people equitably based on their merits and abilities.
  • I must understand the different perspectives that others have when determining what is fair.
  • Role–play a variety of situations in which people are being both unfair and fair to each other. Make lists specifying when people do not play fair. Document how students can respond appropriately.
  • Make two lists: a list of things we sometimes do in our personal lives that are unfair, and a list of things we do as a society that are unfair. What could be done to rectify these injustices so we can cross them off the list? Whose responsibility is it to correct the injustices in our society? How could students contribute to the effort?
  • Bring in articles from newspapers and magazines describing situations in which fairness and justice are issues. Discuss who is acting fairly in these situations, and then discuss who is acting unfairly.
  • Research attempts that are made to administer fairness or justice in a democracy’s legal system.
  • Put literary characters or historical figures ‘on trial’ to determine appropriate consequences.
  • Examine a school rule from the differing viewpoints of students, teachers, parents, and administrators, and why each stakeholder finds it fair or unfair.
  • One aspect of fairness is equal opportunity. Do a research study in your school to see if students feel that they have equal opportunities. Are there groups of students who don’t think they do? Is there a group of ‘outcasts’ in your school who feel that they’re being treated unfairly? What could be done to address these complaints?
  • “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” – Dennis Wholey
  • “It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “Examine what is said, not the person who speaks.” – Native American proverb
  • “These men ask for just the same thing, fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “If you cannot catch a fish, do not blame the sea.” – Greek proverb
  • “Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration, and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower,
  • “Win or lose, do it fairly.” – Knute Rockne
  • “Justice knows no friendship.” – Estonian proverb
  • “In a community, it’s better for every person to have a little of something than for one person to have everything.” – African proverb
  • “Let us keep our mouths shut and our pens dry until we know the facts.” – A.J. Carlson

Where’s My Candy?

Learning Objective: To gain an understanding of different ways to look at fairness

Materials: Bags of mixed candy (include at least one piece of chocolate in the mix)


  • Divide the students into groups of 6 – 10.
  • Tell them they’ll have five minutes to divide the candy fairly (do not say ‘evenly’).
  • Without answering any questions, allow the groups to work out their own solutions.

Process and Reflection:

  • Ask students to raise their hand if they thought their group achieved a fair solution.
  • Did anybody go along with the decision to avoid causing a fuss? If so, how did that feel? How did it feel to the others in their group?
  • What was your strategy for dividing the candy?
  • Did any group make a decision based on Merit? Need? Might? Equality? Seniority? Effort?
  • How do you think this activity is related to situations that concern fairness here at our school?
  • Did leadership change during the course of the activity?
  • What strategies do you use to ensure that tasks, benefits, time, etc., expected from members of groups they lead are handled fairly?

Tower Building

Learning Objective: To identify factors in dealing fairly with others

Materials: See the list below (others items could be included – just make sure you have different supplies in each packet)

Label the packets:    
Packet 1 234 5


13 straws

1 pack of index cards

20 sheets of paper

This group has seven minutes

13 straws

1 pack of index cards


20 sheets of paper


20 index cards

2 sheets of paper

10 straws

Ten index cards

10 sheets of paper



Paper clips

Crayons or markers

20 sheets of paper

Extra points for a colorful tower


  • Set up five workstations, each with different supplies and different instructions.
  • Say: “We all have a sense of what’s fair and what isn’t. Think of a time when someone treated you unfairly and a time when someone treated you fairly.” Take responses from a few volunteers who would like to share.
  • The instructions for this tower-building contest are at your tables.
  • The objective is to build the tallest free–standing tower in five minutes.

Process and Reflection:

  • How successful was your group?
  • Were all groups operating under the same rules?
  • Did you have the same supplies? Were all groups treated fairly?
  • How did your group handle themselves? Were they respectful and caring of people and their ideas?
  • Based on this experience, what are some fairness ‘don’ts?’ Fairness ‘do’s?’
  • Even if everything is done fairly, some will still believe the solution to be unfair. Why is this the case?
  • How can we use these do’s in everyday life as a student?

Making Fair Decisions

Learning Objective: To evaluate a scenario in which they must apply theories of fairness

Materials: Handout of scenario

Say, “Pretend you are a classroom teacher and you have to decide who is going to represent your class at luncheon with the superintendent. Who is the student who fairly deserves to be chosen?”

Distribute the handout and read through the descriptions of each student together. Students are likely to ask you to provide more background information. Instruct them to make their decisions based on the information available.


Juan is the smallest, but he is the one who works the hardest and does the best work in class.

Kishara is older than Juan and is competent. She has very few friends and is the one who needs the most praise to help with her poor self–esteem.

Benny is the oldest and is moving on to high school after this year.

Keara is a natural leader and has the best attitude. She is always willing to help.

Ricky is the principal’s son.

Variation: You could have any situation that students face as a member of your school when a selection needs to be made. Just make the descriptions of the students be related to the various theories of substantive fairness. Make sure that students understand the importance of providing pre-established rules, being impartial, and determining facts before a decision is made.

 Process and Reflection:

  • Was your decision easy or difficult?
  • Did everyone in your group agree from the start?
  • Did you find yourself defending certain students? Why do you think you did that?
  • How was your group able to finally arrive at a consensus? Which theory of substantive fairness did your group follow? Equality? Need? Effort? Might? Seniority?
  • Why do students sometimes say, Tthat’s not fair?”
  • How is this example similar to the way decisions are made in our class or school?
  • Do you recall a situation in which you think the decision that was made could have been considered unfair?
  • What should teachers do to make situations at our school to be considered fair?
  • If you are in charge, what would you do to make a situation fair?

That’s Not Fair! Teaching Kids the Difference Between Fair and Equal By Barbara Gruener

Fairness Is More Rewarding Than Money by Stuart Wolpert

UCLA neuroscience and human–behavior researchers have demonstrated a link between fairness and reward in the brain. “Receiving a fair offer activates the same brain circuitry as when we eat craved food, win money, or see a beautiful face,” explained Golnaz Tabibnia.

The experiment utilized the ultimatum game, a test in which money is divided between two parties. The ‘proposer’ determines how the money will be split. The ‘responder’ can either accept the offer (in which case both parties keep the cash) or reject it (in which neither party gets anything, thus penalizing the proposer for making an unfair offer). There’s no chance for reciprocity because students only play once.

During the test

Tabibnia and her team charted the responders’ brain activity with a functional MRI. When a proposed offer was fair, such as $5 out of $10, the reward center in the responder’s brain was triggered. On the contrary, when a responder received a lopsided offer, like $5 out of $23, the region associated with disgust was aroused.

Even though responders in both examples would get the same amount ($5), most who received a fair deal ($5 out of $10) accepted the offer while nearly half of those who were given a bad deal ($5 out of $23) rejected it. Fewer than 2% accepted offers with a 10% – 90% split. This is significant because logically even 10% of the money would have been again.

“We had never thought of ethics or fairness as being tied to neurons,” Joy Hirsch. “Certainly money is rewarding, but more and more research is suggesting that our social relations with other people…can be very strong determinants of our happiness and satisfaction.”