Every “Owie” Deserves the Same BAND-AID, Right?

Every “Owie” Deserves the Same BAND-AID, Right?

I’ve always wanted to teach the BAND-AID lesson but never got around to it until the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.  I’m pretty sure I got the idea from other teachers during an online Learn Like a Pirate book study when we were discussing the Marble Theory and other community-building ideas.  This lesson is a great way to visually demonstrate to students that “fair isn’t always equal” and a Google search for ‘band-aid lesson’ will return at least two pages of ideas.  If you’d like a visual, Mrs. LeFave has a free download with instructions and injury cards on her Teacher Pay Teachers site.

You can teach this to your kiddos anytime during the school year, but it is particularly effective in the first weeks when you’re building culture and community.  I did the activity with my homeroom and my afternoon classes:  Both times, students sat in a circle on the carpet and took turns brainstorming injuries.  With each injury, I handed the student a BAND-AID.  I used the box of BAND-AIDS that we are issued at the beginning of the school year and instructed everyone to leave them in the wrapper.  If you’re like me and money’s tight, you may want to go this route and dip into your wallet for other classroom needs.  However, I’m thinking K-2 and maybe even 3rd-grade students will benefit from physically putting a Super-Hero or Princess BAND-AID on their “boo-boos”.  Since I teach 9- and 10-year-olds, the brainstorming idea caught on pretty quickly and got a little gory.  You can gasp in horror inwardly, but remaining dead-pan as you hand out the prescribed BAND-AID makes the lesson more effective.  If you’re not comfortable with impromptu, Mrs. LeFave’s injury cards may be the way to go.  I added comments like, “Eddie, I’m so sorry that you’ve broken your leg in multiple places; however, because Tan’ya received  a BAND-AID for her paper cut, and I want to be a fair teacher, I have to give you this BAND-AID too.”  As the class  shares their injuries around the circle, the ridiculousness of everyone receiving the exact same thing becomes apparent as students start outwardly commenting.  The discussion afterwards is key, because this is where students share their thinking: Ginny will remind everyone that her feelings were hurt: she didn’t need a BAND-AID, she needed a hug or someone to just listen.  She may even sound completely disgusted or even disappointed in you.  Ky’Ree will point out that he needed life-saving surgery for his multiple injuries, not a BAND-AID.  And the list goes on! Once they start reflecting on my bizarre equal treatment of everyone in the class, they realize that equal didn’t feel very good at all.  It is not easy to hear students doubt your ‘judgement’, especially at the beginning of the year when those first impressions are forming.  Be prepared for this and know it’s an essential part of the learning.

I wrap up the lesson by making sure my students understand that I will always strive to be fair, but that fair is not going to always feel equal.  Since I’ve already shared the Marble Theory with them, I remind them that they were born with the same number of marbles and that over time, they have put these marbles in different cups based on their experiences, opportunities, etc.  (It helps that the marbles in the labeled cups are still displayed prominently near the carpet.)  For example, in school, students that don’t have as many marbles in the decoding cup will be spending more time with me than students who already have lots of marbles in their decoding and reading comprehension cups.  That’s not going to feel equal!  When this feeling happens, it’s important to remember the BAND-AID lesson:  Each student gets what they need to be successful in our classroom.  This isn’t going to look the same!  This image was shared with staff at our beginning of the year Professional Development.  I used it with my students at the end of our BAND-AID lesson, since it’s another way to show that getting what you need is more helpful than getting the same.


The infographic to the left is another version of the image for initiating conversation among fellow educators or older students.  I didn’t come across the “Teaching is a lot like Doctoring” graphic (below right) until today, but think it could be an additional way to discuss the topic with elementary students.  If you like it, you can download the poster for free here.















The BAND-AID lesson and “Fair is not always equal” graphics are simplified versions of very complex topics. You can read more about the limitations of the images and attempts to improve them here.  In fact, you can create your own ending to the story in a call to action initiated at #The4thBox.  Let’s be real:  What constitutes “not fair” is going to look different for a 6-year-old, for a 10-year-old, for a teenager, for a young adult, and so forth, so know your audience.  

I just finished two days of orientation for parents of new students at the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG): There are so many wonderful messages that I received during this time, but one of the biggest take aways for me as a mom and as an educator was that every single student will get exactly what they need to be successful at UNCG.  This wasn’t dispensed as fluff or bumper sticker swag but rather demonstrated with one concrete example after another of the resources available to their diverse community.  What a powerful way to reassure parents and to empower students!

I don’t want my students to wait until they’re a certain age or at another school to hear this message.  Yes, the BAND-AID lesson starts the conversation:  Every student is different and has different needs.  Different students will be getting different things to help them succeed.  But after reflecting, this is just a first step.  Helping students recognize and articulate those things that they individually need to be successful are just as important.  What are ways that elementary students can be taught these life skills?  Please share your ideas and links to resources you’ve found helpful in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!

5 thoughts on “Every “Owie” Deserves the Same BAND-AID, Right?

  1. Judy, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I really appreciate your time and the link to your site…what a wealth of information! The article mirrors the “Teaching is a lot like Doctoring” graphic and adds multiple layers to the term “factory-style” education. You’ve given me a lot to reflect on!

    • Thanks, Elizabeth–for the record, “teacher as doctor” is a metaphor that has its downsides because it assumes that learners are “broken” in some way and need to be fixed. Here’s another article that specifically addresses that metaphor (actually, school as hospital). http://www.learninginmind.com/metaphor-hospital.php
      By the way, every metaphor has its ups and downs…clearly, the example you gave is a “good” use of the metaphor for the concept of equality vs. equity. There are several other articles on the pros and cons of other educational metaphors, including “school as factory.” http://www.learninginmind.com/metaphor-factory.php

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