Create a working definition of 'egalitarianism'

The State Library's Dome Centenary celebrates not just the construction of the domed La Trobe Reading Room, but also the significance of the egalitarian ideals which underpin the Library's founding.

In this activity, explore the meaning of 'egalitarianism' to introduce students to the history of social movements in Victoria. Compose a working definition and create a graffiti board for students to display their definitions.

This activity is linked to the Defining moments inquiry unit and is targeted at students in Year 9.

Tuning in

  • Play a game of Balderdash to encourage lateral thinking by presenting two students with cards on which you've written false definitions of a topical term (such as emancipation, prepotent or commensurate), and giving one student a card with the correct definition. The class must listen to the definitions and decide who is full of 'balderdash' and who is telling the truth. 
  • Introduce the term egalitarianism and record the definition in large print on a topic graffiti board.


  • Ask students to sit in a circle.
  • In the centre of the circle, place a piece of card on which you've written this sentence: 'In most practical ways, Australia is an egalitarian society.' (Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
  • Ask students if they agree with this statement. Why? Why not?
  • Download, print and cut out the 12 statements listed on the document at the bottom of this page.
  • In pairs, provide students with one statement. Have them read it aloud to the group. 
  • Ask students to consider how strongly their statement offers evidence of Australia as an egalitarian society. Invite them to place their statement closer to the centre of the circle if they believe it is highly supportive of the provocation or further away if they believe it is contrary to the provocation. 
  • Facilitate student discussion using impartial prompts like, 'Can you tell us more about that?', 'Who can build on what (name) has said?', 'Does anyone view this differently?', 'Is there more to this story than the statement tells us?', 'What do you understand of this issue?', 'What questions are coming up?' Invite students to record their knowledge, questions and thoughts on the graffiti board as the discussion continues.
  • Challenge the group further by watching contemporary advertisements that promote equality in Australia. These might include Oxfam's Close the gap call for Indigenous equality, Get Up’s campaigns for essential services funding and marriage equality, and The Smith Family's education campaign.


  • Allow students five minutes to construct a succinct headline that summarises their understanding of egalitarianism.
  • Ask students to read aloud their headlines before adding them to the graffiti board.
  • Reflect on the definition of egalitarianism. Do we need to add, subtract or revise this definition to suit our shared understanding? As a class, create a working definition of 'egalitarianism in contemporary Australia'. Record this on the graffiti board.