Aristotle once said, “When we do good things, we become good people.”
As teachers we have the responsibility of not only bringing academic knowledge to our students, but also shaping them into the best versions of themselves.
Throughout the centuries, many educational movements have set on the mission of developing the best character education techniques, curricula and schools. After so many trials and errors, discussions and dialogues, and laws being passed and reformed, a good sum of data has emerged to produce reliable and strong character education programs.
In this light, we gathered the top 10 character building activities for teachers to apply in their classrooms.
THE 6 PILLARS OF CHARACTER:
Each of the following character traits shape a strong individual that can make positive change: Trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
The best way to nurture these traits is to involve your students in activities where they will be able to reflect, discuss and apply them in real-life.
More traits are usually added in character building education programs, including: courage, diligence and integrity.
Here are the top 10 character building activities:
- The Character Value Jar activity:
How it works: Divide your students into groups. Announce to the groups that you will be observing their behaviors which indicate one or more of the 6 pillars of character. For example, if you spot an act of caring, a jelly bean (or another item of your choice) will be placed in the group’s jar. Emphasis that it’s about quality and not quantity by color coding each item and announcing that it’s not a race. When the jar is full, each group will be rewarded with a special treat, such as pizza for everyone or a class field trip. Make sure to look out for genuine behaviors and praise the students for their acts. Write down the color codes and have the jars in clear sight for everyone to see. Periodically comment on the greatest number of colors in the jar and the particular ones that might be scarce.
Lessons learnt: The students apply the 6 pillars of character in real-life and learn how to collaborate with each other to do so. Essentially, they learn trustworthiness by being rewarded for genuine and authentic behavior, and not by reaching the means to an end. – See more here.
- Art Reflections:
How it works: Write down the important aspects of trustworthiness in clear sight for everyone to see. These aspects are identified in what you say and do: honesty, reliability, loyalty and integrity. Have your students illustrate these aspects through any form of art (drawing, painting, craftwork, etc.) Have each of them present their own reflections about the art work they create for the chosen aspect. Finally, hang their art works around the school with a brief description of the art work. See more here.
Lessons learnt: Students learn to perceive trust within their own frame and express it openly. They will learn that each perception is different but falls under the common grounds of the aspect. Creativity and imagination is also induced in this activity.
- Character Clippings:
How it works: Have your students clip out pieces of newspapers and magazines that identify situations in which respect or disrespect are seen. Have them describe how the clippings reflect the issues of respect or disrespect, and discuss the traits that have resulted to them. Hang the students’ clippings in clear sight for everyone to see in class and involve them in a discussion about the consequences of disrespectful and respectful behaviors.
Lessons learnt: Students are exposed to various media types and data from which they could enrich their analytical and decision making skills, as well as their creativity.
- Giraffe Hero Game:
How it works: Ask the students who their heroes are. Write them on the board without commenting about them or labeling them with the students’ names. Afterwards, tell them at least two stories from the Giraffes on this website. Engage them in a class discussion asking about the risks they took, their positive actions and the good characters involved. Don’t forget to assert that the Giraffe heroes stick their necks out for others. Following that, return to the heroes on the board and spark a discussion around the risks that each has taken and the people they have helped.
Make sure to involve the class into a discussion to engage the shy ones and avoid embarrassments. Help the students realize that being rich, talented or good looking doesn’t have to make you a hero, but respecting one another and sticking your neck out for others makes you one.
With that, divide the class into groups and ask them to brainstorm and choose a hero represented in films, books, series, history or the community. Have the students present their heroes’ stories using narratives, art, drama or through a song. Lead the class into a discussion about each hero presented. Discuss the risks that have been taken and the caring that is shown to help others. In a new list, write down the heroes that have genuinely stuck out their necks (including the ones from the first list). Present the heroes in a ‘Hall of Heroes’ around the school. See more here.
Lessons learnt: Students collaborate with each other, learn from example and enhance their creative, presentation and research skills.
- Role Play:
How it works: You’ve committed to completing a project during the weekend that’s due Monday. Unexpectedly, your friends invite you to a trip in the weekend and you decide to go with your friends instead. Explain your decision to the team members of the project. Afterwards, have a class discussion around this behavior. What would each person do to achieve his/her goal? What is are the general guidelines that can be learnt from this behavior? What are the actions that motivate responsibility?
Lessons learnt: The students will reflect and analyze the situation upon themselves, collaborate in discussion and learn the significant traits that come with responsibility.
- The Fair Square:
How it works: Have the students collect clippings from newspapers, journals and magazines that refer to facts and opinions. Instruct them to pay attention to details, accuracy and credibility. Separate two columns, one for fact and the other for opinion. Have them identify what is fact and what is opinion in those clippings and hang them on the relevant column. Afterwards, assign each student to write an op-ed about any subject of their choosing, instructing them to be as fair as they could by referring to their previous exercise. Combine their op-eds into a class magazine, writing their names next to each of their articles, and then distribute a copy on each student.
Lessons learnt: The students will learn to identify the traits of fairness and take responsibility of being fair. They will see the outcome of their fairness in a hard copy hand book that will encourage them to apply this trait in everyday life.
- Caring for All:
How it works: Have your students watch the film Pay It Forward which is a great example of caring. Afterwards, assign each student to research the missing needs within the community. Have each student develop a plan to fill the gaps in whichever way they choose and apply it. For example, crocheting blankets and distributing them among the poor or creating books or magazine for retirement homes or kids. By the end of the school semester, have the students present their achievements and the influence they made on the community and themselves. See more here.
Lessons learnt: Here the students are also learning the concept of community involvement and citizenship, as they are engaging with individuals outside their school environment and learning about their lifestyles and needs.
- Our City is Our Country is Our Home:
How it works: Divide your students into groups and take them on a couple of field trips (preferably in different cities). Have your students engage in beautification and/or environmental projects. Ask each group to create a blog to illustrate their journey and discoveries and share them with the class, friends and families (this is optional). At the end of the school semester, each group presents their discoveries through interactive media (i.e. videos, pictures, etc.) and achievements to the class. See more here.
Lessons learnt: community involvement, learning more about their country, and discovering new places, people and ideas.
Finally, you may involve your students in the following activities to wrap up the 6 pillars of character:
- The 6 Pillar Bash:
How it works: Divide the students into six groups. Each group will be responsible for one of the 6 pillars of character (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, citizenship). Assign a movie/TV Drama/sitcom for each group. Have each group pay significant attention to the behavior of the main character to identify their assigned character pillar. Ask questions like: How much of the character pillar behavior did they find? How much of the opposing character trait did they find? Have a class discussion about these issues.
- Community Involvement:
How it works: Divide your students into two groups, and sign each group to a non-profit organization of their choice. Throughout the school semester, have the students partake in the organizations’ activities to fulfill personal and social responsibilities. At the last week of the semester, have each group conduct a presentation and an oral report about their accomplishments and the lessons they have learnt with regards to the 6 pillars of character.
Lessons learnt: for both the above mentioned activities, students solidify their memory and experience with regards to the 6 pillars of character. The hands-on experience will amplify the positive effects good character does, and encourage them to apply those traits in everyday life.