Equity, Equality, and Justice in Third Grade

Holly Dunn and Dionysia Loufas, Third Grade Teachers
At Live Oak, we take pride in helping our students to gain valuable perspective on the issues that face them and our society at large. One central concept that our students explore is the distinction between equity, equality, and justice and how that knowledge can be used to create positive change.
In third grade we spend a lot of time learning about ourselves so that we can understand others and the world around us. We learn new vocabulary words, share our cultures and spend time connecting with each other. One of the first activities we complete is called the Equity Ball Activity.

For this activity the third graders were asked to stand in a silent circle and touch a ball hanging from the ceiling. Some third graders were able to stand on the floor and touch it, others had to stand on their tip-toes or jump to touch it, while some were unable to touch it at all. After everyone had one try they returned to their table groups and filled out a See/Think/Wonder/Feel chart. They discussed what they saw as each third grader tried to touch the ball and what they were thinking, either after the activity or during. They were asked to notice their wonders and finally, they talked about how this activity made them feel. We heard things like, “I really wanted to touch it,” “I was sad,” “I wonder why we are doing this,” and “I was really frustrated.”

We reconvened in a circle around the ball again, but this time they were encouraged to touch the ball in any way that would allow them to successfully touch the ball. We saw students jump again to see if they could do it the second time around. When that was unsuccessful, many used tools to help them. We had many students stand on a chair or grab an object to help them touch the ball. The mood in the room changed as the third graders began to smile as their peers found success.

This activity was designed to start a conversation on the difference between equity and equality. Equality is connected to sameness. It promotes fairness and justice by giving everyone the same thing. It only works if everyone starts from the same point. So in the example of the baseball game picture it only works if everyone is the same height. Equity is connected to fairness. It is about making sure people get access to the same opportunities. It means that each person is getting what they need to find success. Sometimes our differences and/or history can create barriers to participation, so we must first ensure equity before we can enjoy equality. So in the case of the baseball game picture, not everyone needs two boxes to see.

Once we looked at the baseball picture, we talked about what it meant and how it was connected to this activity. The third graders talked about needing wiggle stools or special tools. We also connected equity to using a fidget. Some people benefit from using a fidget, while for other people it is just a distraction. This is not only about what learning will look like in the third grade room, but how we will think and talk about the world as we focus on culture, identity, gender, and diversity. We ended this conversation watching a quick video about equality and equity. 

We returned to this conversation during the next class. We looked at this new picture and discussed justice. This is the hardest word of all to learn and understand because it is tied to the systems that are creating barriers. We learned that justice is the upholding of what is fair, just and right for all people. When barriers are no longer there, we will attain justice in our community, society and world. We were so impressed with the third graders ability to understand this term and put it in their own words. One third grader said, “Justice is when all the walls are broken down for all people from the start so that the world is more fair.” We couldn’t agree more! 

We ended this section of the activity by creating our own pictures of equality, equity and justice.


Live Oak School welcomes and admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin, citizenship status, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and faith to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities of Live Oak School. Live Oak School does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, citizenship status, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and faith in administration of its educational policies and programs, admissions policies, Adjusted Tuition program, and athletic and other school-administered programs.