What's Fair?

This lesson helps students explore the difference between being fair and unfair and how being fair helps everyone get along.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • explore and discuss issues related to fairness.
  • conceptualize fairness and draw pictures of fair and unfair situations.
  • brainstorm and discuss how one can show fairness toward others.
  • Enduring Understandings
    • Fairness is the act of doing things that treat all people equally and with respect.
    • Knowing what is fair or unfair is important in helping people get along with each other.
Essential Questions
  • What does it mean to be fair?
  • Why is it important to be fair?


  • Bag of new pencils
  • Paper cut into small circles (two for each student)
  • Art materials (paper, crayons, glue sticks)
  • Handout: Fair or Unfair (PDF) (copy and cut out cards)



bias (bi-uhs) (noun) prejudiced, or favoring one person or point of view more than others

discrimination (dih-skrim-uh-ney-shun] (noun) the practice of unfairly treating a person, or people, differently from others

fair (fair) (adjective) free from bias, dishonesty or injustice

favoritism (fey-ver-i-tiz-uhm) (noun) the favoring of one person or group over others with equal claims; partiality

unfair (uhn-fair) (adjective) not fair, not conforming to approved standards as of justice, honesty or ethics



1. Before students enter the room, divide them into two groups by the month they were born or first letters of first names. (e.g. January-June and July-December or A-M, N-Z). Then do the following:

  • Divide students into two groups (without explaining why they are being separated) and direct students in each group to sit in different areas of the room.
  • Take a moment to decide which group will be the “favored group.” Then without explaining why, give each student in the favored group a new pencil. Mention that only one group will get new pencils, and that group also will be getting other special privileges (such as extra recess time, no homework, being first in line, etc.) Students in the other group likely will protest.
  • After a few minutes (or until someone in the other group says, “That’s not fair!”) stop the exercise.
  • Explain the exercise to students. Ask: Which group were you in, the favored group or the non-favored group? How do you know? Encourage and discuss all responses.

2. Ask: Do you think that giving pencils to one group was fair or unfair? How did you feel about getting the pencils? How did you feel about not getting them? Why did you feel that way?

3. Write the word, “fair” on an easel or white board. Ask students to think about what the word, “fair” means to them. Ask students to work in pairs and to share their ideas about the definition of fair.

Then ask them to share their ideas aloud, and record the responses on the easel. Then come up with one definition as a class.

4. Ask: How might the exercise be done in a fair way? Would it be fair to give the pencils to students who earned them? Would it be fair if all students got them? Would it be fair if you picked 10 students names out of a hat to get the pencils?

5. Ahead of time, print out the “Fair or Unfair” handout page and cut out the five cards.

Option 1 (for students needing more teacher guidance):

  • Give each student two small paper circles and markers. Ask students to draw a happy face on one circle and a sad face on the other. Explain that you will read different situations (or short stories) that tell about people being fair and unfair. Ask students think about each situation and to hold up the happy face if they think the situation is fair, and to hold up the sad face if they think the situation is unfair.
  • Ask students to listen carefully as you read aloud the situation on each of the five cards.) If necessary, read each card a second time. Record responses on an easel and then discuss their responses
  • Discuss the responses to the situation that were “unfair.” Ask: “Why are they unfair? Which do you think is the most unfair? Why?”
  • Tell students to pick one of the unfair situations and talk with a classmate about how they could turn it into a fair situation. Share answers with the class.

Option 2:

  • Divide students into groups with each group getting the "Fair of Unfair" handout.  Ask groups to sort the cards into a fair or unfair stack.  With each unfair card they should discuss:  Why it's unfair?  How would they change it to make it fair?
  • Next, in their groups, determine which of the situations they think is most unfair and why. Ask students to share their answers. Record and compare the different answers. Ask: Do you all agree? If not, is it possible to reach consensus? Do you think situations that affect a greater number of people are more unfair than those that affect just a few? Are situations that show bias or discrimination more unfair than those that just show favoritism? What about those in which people’s lives are in danger?

6. Ask the class the following question: “Do you think the rules in the classroom are usually fair?” Invite students to share examples, then pose the following questions:

  • Why do you think it is important that the rules in the classroom are fair?
  • How would you feel if only certain kids got special privileges based on what they looked like or whether they were a boy or girl?
  • What does treating people fairly mean?
  • Have you ever seen anyone being treated unfairly or treated someone unfairly yourself? (students can discuss this or draw/write about in their journals)
  • What might you do if you think someone is being treated unfairly?

7. Provide drawing paper and art materials, or ask students to use their journals. Ask students to draw a line down the middle. Instruct them:

“On the left side of the paper, draw a picture of something you think would be unfair or that has happened to you that was unfair. It can be something that is unfair in class, in your family, on a team or in your community. Below the picture describe the event.  On the right side of the paper, draw a picture of how that same situation could change to become fair. Below the picture describe how the event would change to become fair."  


Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS W.3, SL.1, SL.2, SL.3, SL.4