Ethical & Moral Dilemmas for Classroom Discussion:


This is an archive of moral & ethical dilemma discussion starters from the case files of Charis Denison, Prajna Consulting. It presents a variety of age-appropriate, real-life examples of ethical dilemmas to ignite intense student discussions. These are just synopses. When you see something that looks interesting (and they all are), just click on the number and you’ll get the full story, notes for the facilitator (that’s you), and challenging discussion questions.

Loyalty — Jeff’s best friend is getting into some pretty risky behaviors, including dangerous drugs. What can Jeff do to help his friend?
Honesty — Jennifer knows her parents won’t let her go to “the big party” if they find out the host’s parents are out of town. Should she lie about it?
Cheating — What’s the difference between cheating on a math test and lying about your age in order to save money on a movie ticket?
Cliques & Bullying — Julia’s best friend has turned against her and is now organizing the other girls to bully and isolate her. What can Julia do?
Corey Was Drunk (Drinking & Driving) — Corey is drunk and stuck at a party thirty miles from home with nobody sober to drive him. He’s not happy about any of his options. What should he do?
Teacher’s Pet (Fairness) — Lea has been offered something she really wants. Unfortunately, it’s terribly unfair to a lot of other people and she knows it. Should she allow herself to benefit from an unfair situation?
The Hook Up (Relationships) — Stephanie was supposed to tell a certain guy that her good friend had a crush on him. Instead, Stephanie ended up hooking up with the guy, herself. And to make matters worse, she lied to her friend about it. Now things are spinning out of control. What’s she supposed to do?
Everyone’s Doing It (Plagiarism) — A stressed out honor student has plagiarized a term paper and been turned over to the school’s honor council. She is pleading with the council not to report her violation to the Ivy League university she is applying to. What should the council do?
No Good Choice (Parents & Alcoholism) — A high school sophomore faces a family crisis when his alcoholic mom relapses into drinking.
Mean Girls (Bullying) — An eighth-grade girl starts receiving threatening notes in her locker and her backpack.
Rumors & Forgiveness — A fifth-grade boy is overcome with hurt and anger when a classmate spreads a lie about him.
To Tell Or Not To Tell? (Eating Disorder) — Maria is sure that her good friend, Pam, has an eating disorder. Pam’s parents are in denial, and nobody but Maria and a few friends seem concerned. What should Maria do?
Wouldn’t You? (Cheating) — You are stumped on an important math test and you have the perfect opportunity to cheat without getting caught. What do you do, and how do you explain your decision?
Smart Kid, Bad Choice — The star student makes a bad choice involving alcohol. Now she has to decide what to do about it without ruining her reputation or compromising her ethical principles.
Technology Crosses The Line — Three of David’s classmates have created an offensive website that attacks students and teachers. The principal wants to know who did it and David is the only one who knows. Should he lie to the principal or betray his classmates?
Who Disappointed Whom? – When Jay asks his mother how she would react if he tried drugs, he gets a stern warning. Then he discovers that she’s been smoking pot. What is he supposed to do with that?
What If It’s Wrong, But I Win? — Kevin feels that his baseball coach has given him an unfair advantage over other members of the team. Should he do something about it, or just accept his good luck?
Who’s The Adult Here? — What do you do when your friend’s dad comes to drive you home from a party, and you can tell that he’s drunk?
Is The Prize Worth The Lie? — Archer is facing a thorny, but common, ethical dilemma: should he lie to his parents in order to receive a reward he’s not entitled to, or tell them the truth and give up the reward?
Good Touch/Bad Touch — Bethany has confided in Stacy that an adult neighbor has been touching her in ways that make her uncomfortable. Should Stacy keep Bethany’s secret or risk their friendship by telling an adult?
On-Line Flirting — Peter’s longtime close friend, Bridget, is wrapped up in an online relationship with some older guy on MySpace, a social networking website. Peter senses danger, but Bridget resents his warnings and wants him to butt out. What can he do without risking their friendship?
Is Dad’s ‘Right’ Really Right? — Andrew is caught in a conflict between trying to please his overbearing father and doing what is best for himself.
How Far Should a Student Leader Fall? — The incoming school president was caught breaking the school rules about alcohol. Should he be permitted to take office or should the student body hold a new election?
The Power of Words — Katy cringes every time she hears her friends use words like “retarded” or “gay” in a derogatory manner. Should she object when it happens, or should she let it pass so people won’t think she’s weird?
Can One Action Define You? — Someone left money sticking out of an ATM machine and there’s nobody in sight. Nobody but Ben, that is. If he takes it, does that make him a thief? What should he do?
A Really Costly Choice — Erin’s chemistry teacher made a huge mistake on Erin’s final grade. A mistake that was very much in Erin’s favor. Should Erin point out the mistake to her teacher, or accept her good fortune quietly and gratefully?
The Tattle Tale — Noah sees the same bully torment the same victim every day on the schoolyard, and nobody tells the teacher about it. Should Noah speak up and risk being labeled “tattletale,” or should he ignore it and mind his own business?
Leave The Adults Out Of It — Lisa is at a party where her friend Sarah is vomiting and losing consciousness from alcohol consumption. Lisa wants to call 911. Her other friends want to try to deal with it themselves so they don’t get in trouble. What to do?
Where’s The Line? — David has just joined a Facebook group and he discovers that somebody has posted an offensive and malicious photo of a girl from his class. David feels very uncomfortable about it. What, if anything, should he do?
The Dilemma of Us and Them — Brian has the perfect summer job, thanks to his dad. But when Brian finds out that some of his co-workers (including some with families to support) make significantly less money than he does even though they’ve been there much longer, he feels conflicted. What should he do?
Ethical Compromise — Georgia is a very good math student who does well on homework but falls apart under the stress of heavily weighted tests. Under these circumstances, would it be so terrible if she cheated just a little? (an exploration of situational ethics)