Charity and Justice: What’s the Difference?

This lesson has students distinguish between charity (volunteering in a soup kitchen) and justice (working to end the inequalities that make soup kitchens necessary). It asks students to think about root causes (inequality) versus symptoms (poverty that leads to the need for soup kitchens).
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • distinguish between charity and justice
  • identify causes of societal problems, such as poverty
  • think about ways to address the underlying causes of societal problems
Essential Questions
  • What is the difference between charity and justice?
  • What causes societal problems?
  • How can we address the root causes of societal problems?
  • How can graphic organizers facilitate understanding? 

Handout 1: Definitions

Handout 2: Charity and Justice: A Scenario

Handout 3: Solving Problems


Professional Development

Read an explanation of the Difference Between Charity and Justice


charity [char-i-tee] (noun) aid given to those in need

justice [juhs-tis] (noun) characterized by fairness, ethics, equity, and law



1. This lesson is about charity and justice. Working in a small group, complete "Definitions" to explore the meanings of the two concepts. Share with the class your examples of charity and justice.

2. On your own, read "Charity and Justice: A Scenario." Summarize what you’ve read by completing the chart at the bottom of that page.

3. Look at the list of societal problems on "Solving Problems." Follow the directions on the handout to fill in the chart.

4. As a class, brainstorm a list of some societal problems in your community. For ideas, use the problems on the "Solving Problems" handout. Find out if any person or group in the community has taken action to address the problem. If so, find out what they have done. Is the action taken a charitable response? If so, what would be a justice response? As a class, brainstorm possible justice responses to the problem.

5. Then, working on your own, write a letter to your local government or to your state representatives, explaining the justice solution you are proposing and why you think it is a good idea.


Political Cartoon 

Artist: Jeff Parker. Reprinted with Permission. Teachers may purchase individual cartoons for other lesson plans at PoliticalCartoons.com.

In this lesson, you have explored the differences between charity and justice. Apply what you’ve learned to this cartoon. Use these questions to guide you:

  • What is the societal problem that this cartoon addresses?
  • What in the cartoon represents a charitable response to the problem?
  • What in the cartoon gets in the way of the charitable response?
  • How would you address the problem in a justice-oriented way?