This page contains lesson plans, activities, printables, and more for character building, social skills, and teaching values. Learn how to build self-esteem and develop positive behavior and good character in students. You’ll also discover activities for teaching respect, teaching responsibility, and bully lesson plans. Even with limited time, education and character can go hand in hand!
Why character ed?
With kids coming to school less prepared to learn and teachers having more and more curriculum to cover, I used to toss out the character ed curriculum pamphlets my district would send each month without much more than a quick once-over. I figured that nearly half of my class was coming to me reading below grade level–how could I justify a series of lessons on kindness? My kids could be the nicest people in the world, but if they couldn’t read, how would they ever get a job??
But I always felt guilty about not spending more time teaching students how to make good choices. I would take advantage of teachable moments, but if an issue didn’t naturally arise in the classroom, I generally didn’t address it. There were so many important things I never taught my kids about proper social etiquette, which was so crucial for kids living in poverty with a totally different set of cultural norms.
I’m convinced that it’s important for ALL kids to have explicit, ongoing character development lessons with both structured and informal opportunities to practice what they are learning. I just needed to take the time to develop a scope and sequence that I believe is developmentally appropriate and relevant for my kids.
Well, that’s just what I did a few years back! I based my system on Broward County (FL)’s ‘mandated’ character education program (I use the term ‘mandatory’ loosely because as in most school systems, if it’s not tested, it’s not emphasized).
Because these traits are abstract concepts that are difficult for children to apply in practical situations, I developed a list of specific guiding principles to show students exactly what behaviors are expected for each character trait. Click here to access these principles as mini posters in Word doc form. These principles are not presented as rules for students to memorize; rather, they are tied into the county’s character education program with an overview at the beginning of the school year and more in-depth activities occurring during the corresponding month of the character education program and as the need arises in classroom situations. These guiding principles serve as concrete reminders of the character traits and become second nature to children as they internalize the reasons why the character education program is in place. I based them primarily upon the research and classroom practice of the internationally acclaimed educator Ron Clark:
September: School and class rules
Involves diligence, excellence, good decision-making, initiative, and courtesy.
- Answer all written questions with a complete sentence.
- Complete your homework every day.
- Be as organized as possible.
- Don’t turn in any work that is less than your best.
- Be the best person you can be.
- Problem solve for yourself instead of depending on others.
- Take initiative instead of waiting to be told to do something.
- Learn from correction.
- If someone drops something and you are close to it, pick it up.
- Hold the door for the person behind you.
- Say, ‘excuse me’ after sneezing, coughing, or other bodily functions.
- Keep yourself and the bathroom clean and germ-free.
- Follow along when we read together in class.
- Look at the person talking during class discussions.
- Refrain from sidebars.
Involves obedience, charity, patriotism, and environmental concern.
- Do things the right way the first time you are asked.
- Do not ask for rewards: do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
- Be quick, quiet, and orderly during transition times.
- When walking in line, stay to the right, keep your arms at your sides, and move quietly.
- Never cut or save spots in line.
- If you see friends in the hallway, wave to them but do not call out.
- Follow other teachers’ rules when they are in charge.
- Help people who are less fortunate in every way you can.
- Stand up for what you believe.
- Show respect for American symbols & during the Pledge of Allegiance.
- Be responsible for your trash.
- Do not be wasteful.
- “They Broke the Law- You Be the Judge” role plays
- Activities for creating a classroom culture of good citizenship
- The Giraffe Project- recognizing tomorrow’s heroes who ‘stick their necks out’ to make a difference
Involves caring, random acts of kindness, generosity, forgiveness, & compassion
- Never say, “I don’t care” when someone tells you how they feel.
- Be kind towards others without expecting them to treat you the same way.
- Surprise others by performing random acts of kindness.
- Share with others whenever you have more than enough.
- If someone bumps you, say ‘excuse me’ even if it wasn’t your fault.
- Do not hold a grudge: you’re only hurting yourself.
- Try to understand WHY people act the way they do.
- Free downloadable guides to random acts of kindness in school
- Form a RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) club at school- flyers, certificates, more
- Lots of quality lesson plans and activities on kindness
- Kindness lessons from goodcharacter.com
- Online fairytales about kindness with printable worksheets
- Online fairytales that address selflessness and printables
- Activities for creating a classroom culture of caring
- Laura Candler’s creating a caring classroom tips and link-up
Involves patience, politeness, and showing concern for all creatures.
- Do not show impatience when someone takes a long time to answer or understand something.
- Never say, “That’s easy!” when it’s hard for someone else.
- Learn to entertain yourself without being disruptive when waiting.
- Respond to an adult when spoken to.
- In America, it’s important to make eye contact when spoken to.
- If you are asked a question in conversation, ask a question in return.
- Never interrupt an adult when you are being corrected: wait and then politely ask to explain yourself.
- If an adult does not let you explain yourself, let your teacher know.
- Do not show disrespect with gestures or noises.
- Keep your grades private & do not ask about other people’s grades.
- Do not tease or harm any living creature for “fun”.
- Webquest for respect: The Grouchy Ladybug (more cross-curricular character ed activities here)
- Free class sets of magazines, stickers, posters and more by PETA about respect for animals–I’ve used these for years to spark discussion!
- Respect for girls: click on ‘your rights’ and ‘7 respect basics’
- Activities for creating a classroom culture of respect
Involves trustworthiness, reliability, integrity, and self-awareness.
- Always be honest, no matter what the circumstances.
- Keep your promises.
- When you make a mistake, admit it, make things right, and let it go.
- Do the right thing, even when no one is looking.
- Don’t start, repeat, or even listen to gossip.
- If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, don’t say it to anyone.
- Before speaking, think, “Is it true? Kind? Necessary?”
- It’s okay to say you don’t know something.
Involves humility, perseverance/ courage, and contentment.
- If you win, do not brag; if you lose, do not show anger.
- Congratulate classmates when they are successful.
- Never laugh at or tease someone when they make a mistake.
- Do not stare or laugh at a student who is being corrected.
- Do not make a big deal out of bodily functions.
- Learn from your mistakes and move on.
- When work is assigned, do not moan or complain.
- Be patient with yourself and don’t give up easily.
- Be satisfied with what you have.
- Always find the positive in life; complaining makes everyone miserable.
Involves acceptance of diversity, equality, peace, and appropriate conflict resolution.
- Laugh with people, not at them.
- Respect other students’ comments, opinions, and ideas.
- If people near you are too noisy, politely ask them to lower their voices.
- If someone asks you to lower your voice, say “no problem” and do so.
- It’s okay not to like someone; it’s not okay to be rude to them.
- Tell, don’t tattle. (Telling= trying to help someone, tattling= trying to get them in trouble).
- Accept that life isn’t fair and people sometimes do mean things.
- If anyone is bullying you, let your teacher know.
- Don’t expect yourself or other people to be perfect.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff.
- When you feel like overreacting, take deep breaths and relax.
- Tolerance website with stories, interactive activities, games, and more
- Mix it up at lunch day (posters, fliers, and stickers)
- Activities for exploring discrimination
- Stop Bullying Now webisodes (cartoons you can watch from the computer) and games
- Bullying resources from Education World
Involves friendliness, fairness, loyalty, and gratitude.
- Greet visitors and make them feel welcome.
- When meeting new people, shake hands and repeat their names.
- Stay out of cliques.
- If someone you play with is continually rude and mean, choose other friends.
- Cheerfully work with any partner you are assigned so you do not hurt their feelings.
- When offered something, take only your fair share.
- Stand up for people you care about.
- Always say thank you when given something.
- When you receive something, do not insult the gift or the giver.
- “Join In”- teaching kids how to join in others’ play and invite others in their own play
- Activities for creating a classroom culture of fairness
- Peace activities from abcteach
A note about the guiding principles
The purpose of these guiding principles is for students to learn and practice appropriate behavior to help the classroom run smoothly, and also for them to understand proper etiquette and social skills needed to get along with peers and eventually excel in a work environment and society as a whole.
If they sound harsh or excessive, I encourage you to read Ron Clark’s book, The Essential 55, which is the rule list I have based these principles upon. It’s a controversial method but I think if used as a flexible guideline and ‘enforced’ with grace, it can be a great opportunity for kids to reflect on their motives and the consequences of their decisions. I displayed the guiding principles on the wall (click here to access the principles as mini posters in Word doc form) and revised them frequently as the class provided input.
The key to making time for character education
For me, the key is incorporating reading, writing, and other skills into the lessons. I addressed a lot of social studies objectives through the character education program, which worked well because our social studies time was always limited, too. Character education is also a great time to target state standards that are often marginalized after the primary grades, such as oral language and cultural appreciation.
One year, I targeted the character traits once a week during something I called our Life Skills time. Life Skills was a forty-five minute block with a different focus each day of the week: computer skills, current events/geography, authentic writing experiences, math fact practice, and character education.
Of course, the goal is for students to carry over what they have learned about all of the traits to every aspect of their lives all year long. Character development should be supported on a daily, ongoing basis through teachable moments and hopefully through a few short, meaningful classroom routines.
“Quality character education helps schools create a safe, caring and inclusive learning environment for every student and supports academic development. It fosters qualities that will help students be successful as citizens, in the workplace, and with the academic curriculum. It lays the foundation to help students be successful in all of the goals we have for our public schools. It is the common denominator that will help schools reach all of their goals! CHARACTER EDUCATION IS NOT ONE MORE THING ON YOUR PLATE! IT IS THE PLATE!!!”-Utah State Office of Education Character Education