Teaching Responsibility to Elementary Students

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  • 0:00 What Is Responsibility?
  • 0:43 Modeling Responsible Behavior
  • 1:36 Keeping Track of…
  • 2:28 Explicitly Teaching…
  • 3:08 Responsibility in the…
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Students learn a lot of academics in school, but they also have to learn aspects of character development. This lesson offers some ideas for teaching responsibility in the elementary grades.

What Is Responsibility?

Ms. Smith is a new fourth grade teacher who is excited to work with a diverse and engaged group of students. However, as she begins her school year, she becomes increasingly aware that while she knows a lot about curriculum development and academic instruction, her students need character guidance from her as well.

More and more, Ms. Smith begins to see that her students do not know enough about responsibility. Responsibility is being accountable for your own behavior and taking on a sense of duty for aspects of life that you have control over. Ms. Smith decides to dedicate some time to thinking about how she might help nine-year-olds become more responsible.

Modeling Responsible Behavior

As with so many other aspects of teaching, Ms. Smith realizes that the first step to teaching responsibility is actually modeling responsibility. Modeling means repeatedly and carefully demonstrating to students the behaviors you hope to see them take on. Ms. Smith notices the ways that she must be responsible over the course of each school day and begins drawing her students' attention to these behaviors.

For instance, when she sends her attendance sheets to the office, she says, 'I have to take on responsibility for making sure the principal knows who came to school today.' When she spills coffee and then wipes it up, she remarks, 'It's hard to clean up, but since I made this mess, I have to take responsibility for it.'

Modeling responsible behavior helps make responsibility a lively and engaging topic of discussion in the classroom. Ms. Smith also demonstrates through this modeling that she is not expecting things of students that she cannot do herself.

Keeping Track of Responsible Acts

Once Ms. Smith has spent a few weeks modeling responsibility, she starts a system for keeping track of the ways students are responsible in the classroom. She creates small responsibility tickets that have space for a student's name and an act that demonstrates responsibility. She asks students to notice the behavior of their classmates and fill out tickets when they see someone doing something responsible. Students put tickets in a basket in the front of the classroom, and at the end of each day, Ms. Smith reads them out.

She gives students the opportunity to talk about the way these responsible acts contribute to learning and the smooth functioning of the classroom. Students feel proud when their behaviors are noticed, and other students feel increasingly motivated to act with responsibility. Ms. Smith encourages students to notice changes in behavior, too, so that less responsible students are commended for minor acts showing their development.

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