Our school has a set of 12 Core Values (one for each month) that become the focus of classroom and whole-school meetings. These character traits help us reach our full potential as learners and prepare us to become productive, responsible, ethical, creative and compassionate members of society.
To start off the school year, my teaching partner and I have identified 5 of these core values as essential for building a strong, supportive classroom community. They are: cooperation, honesty, responsibility, respect and perseverance. The activity that follows is our way of presenting them to our new students on the first or second day of school year. Make this list your own by choosing the character traits you find most important or go by your students' choices.
To get started, ask students to brainstorm ideas about what it takes for a classroom to work well so that everyone has the opportunity to be successful. Because the students have had experience with the idea of core values in previous grades, they have no problem with this task and usually come up with a very long list! Jot down their ideas on the whiteboard. Observe the list of ideas and group similar one together. Then, refine each category to a manageable number, such as the 5 mentioned above. Next, have students list these traits in a journal leaving space between to write their thoughts about each. Allow at least 10 minutes of quiet writing time. As a prompt for students that may get stuck, suggest that they answer these questions for each: What is it? (persevering - working hard at something until you achieve your goal) What does it look like? (persevering - staying late to practice pitching, even after the rest of the team goes home) And give some examples if needed.
The next part of the activity involves making posters. The students will work in small groups to create a poster for the classroom on one of the core values. Remind them of the rules for teamwork (everyone takes part) and for creating a classroom display: neatness matters, write BIG enough for the writing to be easily read 6 feet away, write in pencil first, read over your work, and go over the writing in marker. These poster are hung in the classroom and often stay up until the last day of school.
To assign the groups, have students count off by 5s. Assign the 1s to work together, the 2s to work together, etc. Give each group a piece of chart paper and one specific core value to focus on. The core value should be listed at the top; "What is it"? on the next line; and "What does it look like?" about halfway down the paper.
Using reference tools, like dictionaries, is great but ask students to write the definition in their own words - something that a sixth grader would really say and understand.When done, have students pull their seats into a large circle and have each group present its final product. To conclude the lesson, students go back to their seats and add new and/or interesting things they learned to their journal entries.
There are many benefits to group work - dividing up the workload, learning from others, sharing what you know - but it takes work! Setting up guidelines ahead of time helps everyone understand their part and posting these rules prominently in the classroom provides a reminder that can be referred to throughout the year.
To get started, ask students to reflect on their experience working on the core values posters in the previous section of this lesson. What worked well in the groups? What can be the challenges to group work? Have them write their responses on the board and group them into categories - just as with the previous activity. Some suggestions include: no one is left out; take turns; communicate; listen to others; stay on topic; respect; cooperate. Write the final list on chart paper and then have each student and the teachers add their signature. If at all possible, laminate the poster before putting it on the wall. You can put this poster and the core values poster to good work throughout the school year. When someone is having trouble during group work, send that person over to read the poster and ask him/her to come back and tell you why you that was necessary. Some additional thoughts about following directions during this activity appear here: