Teaching character traits is at the core of creating respectful, responsible and caring citizens. With great character education, we can foster a mutual love and respect for others despite our differences. We can learn to agree to disagree peacefully. We can promote children and adults who are thoughtful of others and kind to all.
Students and teachers alike benefit from reminders about what we can each do to simply make our world a better place.
Here are 10 tips to think about when teaching character traits in your classroom, that allow your students to think about, discuss and put into action the character traits that are so very important to our society.
#1- Find out what the character trait means to your students
Like with many things we teach in our classrooms, we lean toward automatically teaching our students the meanings of the words and phrases we are learning. In ELA and Math, new vocabulary words are taught by giving a definition and using it in an example, which is a great strategy, especially with our second language learners. This, too, can be a powerful tool in character education. But simply giving students a definition that we have placed in our own words or tried to put it into a kid friendly definition doesn’t always allow students to make the connection to their life. It does not allow them to reflect on what their thoughts and ideas are of that trait. Connecting what it means to them, with the thoughts and ideas of what it means to the other students in your classroom can be a powerful tool.
Kids learn so much from each other and use that information to help guide their own thoughts and opinions. Whether you give your definition first and then let them state their own, or let them state their own before telling them your definition, simply having these discussions with them lets your students know that you value their ideas and opinions and that what they think and how they feel matters.
#2- Talk about why it is important
When I think back to my experience in school, I can remember thinking, “Why are we doing this? Why is it important and when will I even use this in real life?” (Well, maybe that was just in high school math…haha), but still, our students are just like us, they want to know why it’s important. They need to see why we are even taking the time to discuss each trait and how it will affect their lives. Our teaching (and their learning) needs to be purposeful and our students need to know that.
#3- Connect it to all aspects of their lives
Since we are discussing these traits in the classroom, it lends itself pretty easily to talking about how to exhibit each character trait in the classroom and at school. Although this is extremely important, we also need to take the time to tie them into the real world. Talking about how to exhibit them in their every day lives outside of school is a crucial indicator of their success past their educational experience.
#4- Give them concrete examples and scenarios
Once your students have made a connection to what the trait means to them and why it’s an important trait to exhibit, it’s time to go over examples of the types of situations they may be in when this trait may be tested. We can talk to our students repeatedly about anything, but to give them concrete examples of when and where they will come across examples of it in action, can provide one of the most powerful learning opportunities for them.
#5- Discuss it daily
No matter if you are teaching one character trait a week, one a month or one a trimester, discussing that trait daily is the key to making it a continual part of their thoughts, processes and actions. You can accomplish this in a variety of ways. Having a morning meeting or circle can start each day off on the right foot. It keeps that trait on the forefront of their mind throughout the day. If time doesn’t allow to meet in the morning, you can quickly remind them of the trait first thing in the morning (or have it posted somewhere in the room) and then devote time at the end of each day for your discussions.
#6- Offer alternative formats for different learners
As we know, students learn in different ways. What works for some students does not always work for others. This is true even when discussing character traits.
When thinking about how to teach character traits consider having something for your:
- visual/spatial learners
Having something posted in the room that students can look at while the discussion is taking place, or even just as a reminder to help stay on topic, can be beneficial for these types of learners.
- physical/kinesthetic learners
Allowing the students a chance to get up and move around works really well for these learners. Instead of simply having students discuss scenarios, you can have them act the scenarios out.
- aural/auditory learners
- verbal/linguistic learners
- social/interpersonal learners
Discussions alone, lend themselves to these types of learners, but if your classroom has a sound system, passing around a microphone can help enhance this, especially for those soft spoken students.
- solitary/intrapersonal learners
Allowing your students who do not feel comfortable talking or sharing in a group setting, the chance to write down their thoughts, ideas and feelings can give them a chance to participate and be ‘heard’ without having the fear and anxiety that talking in front of a group of people can bring about.
#7- Allow students to ‘pass’ and use the time to listen and reflect
Although we have students who consistently love to share, there are students who do not. Or they are not going to have something to share every day or on every topic and that is okay. Students learn so much simply by listening. And if you do have those quiet students, just wait. Sometimes all it takes is a little time. Or a topic that they have strong enough thoughts and ideas about that they will want to share them with the group.
#8- Model the character traits
Like all good teaching, we need to model, model, model. As the saying goes, we should always practice what we preach. Many students look up to us and value our thoughts and opinions. If we don’t do as we say, it can come across as unimportant. If each of the character traits we teach is truly an integral part of becoming a thoughtful and caring citizen, then our students will see us exhibiting that trait, as well.
#9- Invite other teachers and staff into your discussions
Inviting other teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors and administration to be a part of your circle time can be powerful for many reasons. It shows students that these traits really are valuable and important. It also shows your students that many people care about them, their thoughts and feelings. So much so that other people are taking time out of their day to come in to participate in the discussions.
#10- Throw in positivity to keep it light
Some of the character traits can lead to conversations that may be sad and can even bring some students down, especially if the topic hits home to what they may be dealing with in their home life. Having students take time to do something as little as giving each other compliments on the good they see in each other can really make a difference. In my classroom, we devote Fridays for sharing our compliments and my students LOVE it. When we have had a Friday off for a holiday, they ask on Monday if we can make up our compliment Friday!
Once each character trait has been discussed, start rewarding students who exhibit those character traits. Character cash is not only fun, but it also gives you opportunities to involve parents in the process. Check out this post for more ways to involve your students and their parents in celebrating good character through character cash.
Check out the list below for ideas on character traits that can be taught in the classroom. Click on the link if you are interested in resources to help teach those traits.
You can also click on this Restorative Circles Bundle that includes all of the character traits mentioned above, in one complete resource.