Fairness – Acting It Out

If you want to put Fairness on center stage, click here for a fun skit from the Josephson Institute. Follow it up with their suggested activities or have your little actors write their own “That’s Not Fair!” script to see what fairness issues they’re wrestling with at home (or at school). You can also read The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume for an interesting point-of-view discussion.

Fair or Foul?
I have found that a fun and meaningful way to talk with kids about fairness is using a sports analogy as most every child has, at one time or another, had some exposure to sports. Pose the question, “What happens if you hit a foul ball in baseball or draw a foul in basketball?” You’ll have an interesting discussion about fouls since basically they’re not fair practices. A foul ball in softball or baseball isn’t hit in fair territory. A foul in basketball means you have broken a rule and are not playing fair. What about in other sports? What kind of penalties are there for not playing fair?

After this discussion, play a game of Fair Or Foul? Make a statement and let students decide if the scenario is fair or not. If it’s not, have them call a foul and explain what makes that scenario unfair and what would have to be done to make it fair. Ask what might happen next in each FOUL situation were there no penalties for not playing fair.

Try these examples, then have the kids make up some of their own.

1. You use your mom’s educator discount card at a book store to buy a book that’s not for school.
2. You let your friend cut in front of you in a long line to buy tickets for a concert you’re both eager to see.
3. You only share with kids who live on your street.
4. You lend your friend some money and he pays you back the next day.
5. You take a soccer ball out to recess so you can decide who gets to play with it.
6. You don’t like the center that you’re assigned to today, so you trade clips with your friend when nobody’s looking.
7. You really want an iPod so you save up your money and buy one on your own.
8. You see your friend take something that doesn’t belong to her and you don’t say anything.
9. You notice that no one is playing with the new kid, so you invite her to join your team at recess.
10. You don’t know the answer to a question on your homework, so your friend gives you their paper to copy.

Note: If you have a chicken or rooster puppet, use it as a visual and choose a student to put the little “fowl” in the air to call a foul in the game. Then you could even do the Chicken Dance to throw movement into this activity.

Clapping Rules
This easy-to-do fairness activity is good for students and staff alike. Announce that you’re going to have a contest and ask for three contestants and two judges, five volunteers in all. The rest of your class or group will watch and see what happens. Tell the contestants that they’re going to clap, one at a time, to see who can win the Clapping Contest. Tell the judges that their job is to assess the clap. Without any further instructions, ask contestant number one to clap for the judges. After the first contestant claps, ask judges to rate that clap on a scale of one to five with five being the highest. They might ask if they should each give a score or discuss and come to an agreement on one score, to which you can reply that it doesn’t really matter, whatever they want to do. They’ll probably give something fairly high, maybe even a five.

Whatever happens, go on to contestant number two. Before he or she claps, give some additional information which will help achieve a higher score. Research shows, for example, that if you clap with enthusiasm using more than just your hands for a simple clap, then the round of applause is deemed more effective and will garner a higher score, etc. Then ask contestant number two to clap for the judges. After the clap, tell the judges that they can now use a ten-point scale with ten being the highest. Have them assess the clap and assign a score.

Ignore any grumblings of “that’s not fair” and continue. Before contestant number three claps, ask the judges if they would please model for him or her what exactly they’re looking for in a good clap. Have them clap for the third contestant prior to his or her turn. After their modeling clap, ask contestant number three to clap for the judges. They’ll then assign a number (you can keep 1-10 as the scale or go ahead and make it higher again) which will undoubtedly be the highest of the contest, crowning contestant number 3 the winner.

This activity has many fairness issues at stake. Find out from the contestants how it felt to be them. Was the contest fair for any of the contestants? Why or why not? Was it equally unfair to all three? If so, how? Was the contest easy to judge? Why or why not? What, if anything, made it particularly unfair? Then find out from the rest of the group what they observed and what they thought. These questions will generate an interesting discussion about setting the rules up front, changing the grading criteria or scale in the middle of the game, and giving participants unfair advantage by adding information and/or modeling for them. See where the discussion takes you, then ask the class to come up with appropriate Clapping Contest Rules that they would have set up front if they were going to hold a legitimate – and fair – Clapping Contest.

When Two Pillars Collide

This activity came out of a conversation in a third-grade classroom about Rosa Parks. A Westwood student told her teacher that Rosa Parks was kind of disrespecting a law – unfair as it may have been – when she refused to give up her seat on the bus that day. It seemed that two pillars – respect and fairness – were in conflict. So how does one choose when two pillars collide? The rule of thumb is that we must choose the greater good for the most people. Rosa Parks chose to break one law to win equality for many people then and for years to come.

Try this activity. Take your kids back to Hitler’s Germany and World War II. Tell students that you’re putting together a family, but in your family you’re only allowed to have blue-eyed blonde children. Students that fit that description can come with you. Weed out the strawberry blondes and the dishwater blondes, only true blondes can join you. Tell them that the rest of them are on their own. Stop there and ask them how it feels. Find out what family members are thinking and feeling about being in, and what the others are thinking and feeling about being out. Then, as a family, select one student to represent a Jewish friend that you’ve chosen to hide.

Finally, have someone knock on your door looking for people of Jewish descent. Do you lie and risk your own safety? Or do you give your friend up? What do you do when fairness and trustworthiness are in conflict? Discuss this (or a similar) difficult situation with your students, keeping in mind the rule of thumb. Follow it up with a writing exercise penning a letter to a policy-maker to change a rule, law, or policy that they think is unfair or morally wrong.


There are many good books that help illustrate the concepts of the Fairness Pillar, but none quite as brilliantly as the book entitled MINE! by Kevin Luthardt. This author isn’t a man of many words; in fact, when I first paged through the book only to find that MINE! is one of the only words in the entire story, I was a little miffed and actually thought about sending it back. But all it took was one visit to a room full of kindergarteners to know that this book is indeed a keeper. Since there aren’t many words, watch the saying, “A picture paints a thousand words,” come true. Take the book into a classroom and have the students write the story aloud, one page at a time.

Let the students pick names for the boys, have them name the dog, figure out who’s sending the package, have them guess what’s in it, and what’s going to happen. Start with something corny like “Once Upon A Time . . .” The amazing illustrations in this book practically guarantee that hands will go up and the story will come alive. Let them guess what happens from page to page. I think you’ll be amazed at what you hear from the mouths of babes. And listen closely to their sidebar commentaries because I learned a lot about my students as they used their words to script the tale. My favorite comment? One student said that if the mom had been outside with the boys, then she could have stopped the fight and the toy wouldn’t have broken. Interesting.

Find out if the boys could have done anything differently or what might happen the next time a package arrives with both names on it. See if they like the ending or if they’d have drawn some other conclusion. Have fun sharing ideas! If you like this one, HATS by the same author, a muralist on the side, is worth your investment as well.