How to teach character

One of my favorite back to school lessons is “A Caring Being”.   This is a great social emotional lesson that I implement the first week of school.  This lesson builds upon the Learning Guidelines Lesson. Now that students have developed and agreed upon the class learning guidelines (I make them sign an agreement – an anchor chart – that we also post in the classroom), it is time for us to further cement the kind of people we want in our classroom.

The students work in self selected teams and think about the character traits they would like others to have in our classroom.

NOTE: I introduced the “character traits” term during reading class and read aloud prior to this lesson.

character traits, project based learning, cooperative learning
Sharing Caring Being Character Traits

Again, students collaborate to come up with their expectations of “A Caring Being” character traits.  I have given each group an anchor chart that has an outline of a small body.  On the inside of the body I write “I am a caring being”.  After some conversation about positive and negative character traits, students write positive character traits on the inside of the body and negative character traits on the outside of the body.   Then each group stands and shares their team’s thoughts.  It is always important for the students to share their thinking and knowledge with their peers, as this builds self-confidence and “buy-in” to following the expectations.

cooperative learning, character traits, project based learning
Trimming the final negative traits off!
cooperative learning, project based learning, social emotional learning
Participating in cutting the negative traits from the Caring Being.

Once all student teams have shared and we agree on the traits, this next part is VERY important!! Students use scissors to CUT AWAY the negative character traits.  They physically place these traits in the garbage to show that those traits are NOT WELCOME in our learning community.  The students enjoy this part AND everyone must have an opportunity to cut and throw away.

character traits, social emotional learning, project based learning
Daily reminders about character traits posted in our classroom.

It is fun to watch the students collaborate, learn, and grow with this lesson.  By the end of the first week of school, our learning community is coming together. We hang up the Caring Beings in the classroom as a reminder of the lesson and character expectations agreement.

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Annette Durbin

Annette has been an educator for more than 30 years working in the PK-6 elementary classroom, K-12 multi-language learner instructional specialist, district leadership, university professor, as well as a mentor for teachers nationwide. A National Board Certificated Teacher, Annette focuses her research on accelerating learning and advancing achievement, personalizing instruction, technology, and leadership in the education field.

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Taryn

    What a creative way to reach this complex concept.

  2. Lori

    That is a really neat activity. Character education is so important!

  3. Marianne

    That’s a really cool way to learn and understand about positivity and caring.

  4. Amy

    Love the idea of this activity. Having them come together to do this is great for team building and communicating with their classmates.

  5. Anne Marie

    Love this! Going to share with my campers this week!

    1. Alice

      Important topic kids need to learn early.

  6. Danielle

    This is great! Getting kids to focus on the less obvious character traits can be difficult. Even my middle schoolers resort to describing the physical traits before being prompted to focus on personality.

  7. Sabrina DeWalt

    I LOVE this! I think littles follow the rules better when they have input as to what those rules are.

  8. Tricia

    This is something that is sorely needed. Thank you for addressing it!

  9. Holly

    This is really a great way to teach and learn! I live this! Thank you for sharing your great ideas!

  10. Kristin

    I love the idea of “cutting away” the negative traits. What a fantastic way for the kids to visually see and process this. Very creative idea.

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