One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Equality and Equity at Work for Students

What’s one thing we can do more to promote equity in our schools? Make sure student voices and perspectives are included in the process! Despite our best efforts, this concept is not one that we can tackle alone. We need to set a foundation for students to also understand and embrace equity so that educators and students can work collaboratively to create safe, equitable school environments. Here are some lessons to get students thinking more deeply about these critical concepts.

Elementary Lesson


As students are entering the classroom, divide them into three groups by having everyone count out loud from 1-3 as they enter until each student is accounted for. Each group (groups 1, 2, and 3) will be separated into different corners of the room. Each group will then be given a different “instrument.” Group one will be given a pencil (for each student). Group two will be given a sheet of paper (for each student) and group three will be given a paper with the activity instructions on it (for each student). 

Once the groups are divided and each group has the designated instruments, then give students the following instructions: 

“Everyone, please draw me a picture of students playing on the playground.” 

Give students a couple of minutes to realize they do not have the materials they need to complete the assignment, even allowing for a small level of frustration for younger K-2 students. 

After 60-90 seconds, ask students what it is that they need from you as the teacher to help them complete their task. This can be done as a whole class shares out, from their groups. Once students are able to identify what else they need (paper, pencil, notebook, etc.), then have students return to their seats. 

Use the following script to then introduce the concept of equality and equity to students: 

“Class, the activity that we just completed taught us two very important ideas about equality and equity. Equality is the idea that everyone receives the same thing in a particular situation. Equity is giving someone what they need in a situation to be successful at completing their task. For example, the students who were given pencils needed paper and something to write on in order to complete their assignment. Would it have been helpful for me to hand everyone another pencil? No. It would be helpful for me to find out what you specifically needed- right? That’s equity."

Finally, in pairs, have students brainstorm 3 ways or opportunities you have in your classroom to be more “equitable” by asking the question, “What do students in our classroom need, and how can we make sure they get their needs met?” Share some examples with students such as giving students with vision problems preferential seating. Make sure there are opportunities to learn in different formats (visual, auditory, etc.), allowing others to have their own opinions and perspectives without being argumentative. 

Secondary Lesson


Inform students that they will be watching a video about educational equity (you do not need to define what it is at this juncture because the video will do so). Prior to actually viewing the video, instruct students to consider the following questions while projecting or writing the questions on a board for all to see: 

  1. What part of the video do you agree most strongly with and why? 
  2. Is there any point made in the video that you strongly disagree with? Why? 
  3. Is there anything you would want educators to consider that is NOT mentioned in the video? 
  4. What is one important takeaway from the video for you? 

Next, show students the following video about educational equity:

Once students have finished watching the video, provide them with 5-6 minutes to write their answers down to the four previous questions posed. 

Next, split students up into groups of four. Provide 10 minutes for students to share their answers (to whichever questions they feel comfortable sharing about) with each other and discuss similarities and differences in their answers. 

Finally, provide students with an opportunity to share their answers to question number three on a sheet of paper that can be turned in anonymously. Praise students for being open-minded, listening, and sharing their needs and perspectives with one another. This is what equity is all about!

Teacher Tips

One thing you can do regularly to promote equity within your classroom and at school is to take inventory of your own feelings surrounding the topic. It’s normal to be most comfortable around people who are like you and who think like you. It can become problematic when those who think and look like you become an “us” and those who aren’t like you become a “them.” Use a journal to sort through your personal feelings on racism or read books that provide perspective on the topics that you want to know more about, like systemic inequities and implicit bias. These long-haul strategies will produce change in you while you take more immediate action in other ways with your students.