"Responsibility" is a key word in the classroom and, as teachers, we play an important role in helping students become responsible — interpersonally, personally, at home, and in the local and global community. The following responsibility-building activities have worked well with my students.
"How We're Doing" Chart
After my students and I decide together on our classroom rules, I create a chart that reminds kids about responsible behavior. I make a pocket for each student and place in it a marker with a star sticker and a happy face. On one side of the chart are two additional pockets — one is labeled Whoops!, has a straight face, and contains yellow "warning" markers; the other is labeled Oh, No!, has a frowning face, and holds red "stop" markers. If a classroom rule is broken, a student's happy face is replaced with a yellow maker. If a second rule is broken, the red marker is placed in the student's pocket, and it's time for a talk.
To get students to "own" their behavior, I have them create and decorate journals in which they write about their week's behavior and how they handled problems that came up. Every few days, I review a handful of journals and write my suggestions and encouraging comments. At the end of the week, kids take their journals home to share with their parents.
Near the front of my classroom is a basket with strips of paper and a pencil. Each time students do a good deed or perform an act of kindness, they write it on a strip of paper and tape the ends together to form the link of a chain. I display our chain in the classroom first, and then in the hallway as it grows through the year. It provides such a great incentive that students vie for the opportunity to do something they can add to the chain.
Let's Work Together
With this fun activity, students learn how to work with others and take responsibility for their part of a finished product. I organize my students into a small-group assembly line. Then I challenge them to make a product using materials I provide. One favorite product is a spider — students use two sizes of Styrofoam ball halves, pipe cleaners, and small round-topped map pins. Each student has the responsibility of adding a parcticular part of the spider. Once groups have created their products, a designated, impartial student inspector determines if the groups' products pass muster.
I've designed a "I Did My Homework!" page to be sent home with kids at the beginning of each month. Parents post the page on the refrigerator and students note each completed assignment. At the end of the month, students bring the page back to class for a special certificate.
I have my students purchase spiral notebooks in which they record all of the assignments given in class and check off when each is completed. Anything unchecked becomes homework, and kids take their organizers home to let parents know exactly what's on tap. When homework is done, both child and parents initial the list in the organizer so that the next day I know at a glance that the work is complete.
To help students understand budgets, I give them a play money allowance and ask them to create a list of their needs and wants. I then provide a list of necessary expenses — rent, heat, food — on which they must spend part of their allowance. They can earn extra play money through classroom jobs, and must draw a weekly "wild card" — an unexpected expense, such as needing to buy a new bicycle tire, or windfall, such as a belated birthday check from a relative. At the end of the week, they determine how much money is left and whether to save it or spend it on one of their needs or wants. We talk about their decisions and the importance of setting aside a bit of savings no matter what.
At Home Responsibility
I like to have my students create coupons for special tasks they will to do at home to help their families. I emphasize that it's important for them to include tasks they don't do regularly (such as making their bed), make only promises they will be able to deliver, and do tasks willingly. Then students present their coupons to family members. Afterward, we talk about how their family reacted to these helpful gifts and how these positive reactions made students feel.
I ask students to create paper clocks that show their scheduled times for getting-ready tasks, such as getting up, eating breakfast, dressing, and leaving for school. I encourage students to post these paper clocks next to their real clock at home, to remind themselves when to do things. This is especially helpful for kids who tend to be tardy.
To reinforce what we know about being safe in the car, my class makes paper safety belts. Students work together to measure their waists with string or a tape measure, adding a hand's width to the waist measurement for fastening. They cut a safety belt from colored paper and decorate it with car safety rules we've discussed. Kids wear their belts home with notes they've written to their parents about family car safety.
My students help the needy throughout the year with food and necessity drives. I bring in a wicker basket to hold collections; then, each month, we choose the items to collect and places to make donations. One month we might collect combs and toothbrushes for a homeless shelter; another, canned foods for the local food pantry; and the next, toys for a pediatric unit. I ask parent volunteers to help deliver the donated items.
I've discovered wonderful learning opportunities when students "adopt" elderly friends at nursing homes or retirement centers. My students really like reading to their adopted friends. Beforehand, they rehearse their book selections with one another — great reading practice! Students also can record audio of their stories to loan to the homes or centers.
To start students thinking about our global trash problem, I ask them to count the bags of trash their families discard during one week. We calculate a class average and use it to estimate how many bags of trash our school discards, as well as our town, county, and state. Students graph these estimations. Then I divide the class into groups and have kids develop creative ways to reduce trash.
I divide my class into two groups: one native to the rain forest and the other needing rain forest land to make a living. Groups debate the use of the forest, then discuss the wants and needs that affect people's decisions. Next, my students survey their parents and neighbors concerning local environmental issues; as a class, we discuss the range of opinions and how this affects the ability to resolve problems.
Our Responsibility: The Earth
NASA has a wonderful free resource you can use for teaching students about their global responsibilities. The package is called "Our Mission to Planet Earth: A Guide to Teaching Earth System Science for K-4," and it was written by John Aldridge. The Guide packet contains color lithographs, including a picture of Earth from Apollo 17. Some of the topics covered include "Forces of Change," "Global Environmental Impacts," and "Global Change." To order, contact the NASA Teacher Resource Education Center that serves your area, and ask for order # EP-292(6-94).
Understanding the "rules of the road" is essential for students who are exploring online computer resources. I permanently post these rules near our computer corner, and pass them on to parents, too.
- Don't tell anyone your password or the password of anyone in your family, class, or school.
- Watch out for anyone asking too many personal questions during online discussions — don't answer the questions and get an adult immediately.
- Check with an adult in your home/school if someone you don't know sends an "instant message" while you are online.
- Never give out your personal information (such as your last name, phone number, or home address) or that of anyone in your family, class, or school.
- Avoid anyone or anything online that doesn't feel right — trust your instincts.
Ages and Stages: See How They Grow
"Once a child has fulfilled the obligation that comes with responsibility,
he or she gains a sense of satisfaction....
It's these positive feelings that help motivate the child
to continue taking on responsibilities in the future."
–Lawrence Balter, professor of Applied Psychology, New York University
"Teaching children to be responsible involves finding ways
to help children feel competent, to know what's right,
and to do what's right."
–Dorothy Rich, MegaSkills (Houghton Mifflin, 1992)
Further Reading Suggestions
Bartholomew and the Oobleck
by Dr. Seuss
What happens when selfish King Derwin makes up a sticky weather that confounds the kingdom.
The Biggest Bear
by Lynd Ward
Johnny is responsible for the growing baby bear he brought back to his family's farm.
Taking Care of Oneself
Who Is a Stranger and What Should I Do?
by Linda Walvoord Girard
Advice to kids for dealing with strangers in different circumstances.
Safety Zone: A Book of Teaching Children About Abduction Prevention Skills
by Linda D. Meyer
A resource for parents and kids to prevent kidnapping and sexual abuse.
Taking Care of the Earth
Caring for Our Air
by Carol Greene
Understanding air pollution and what children can do about it
Recycle! A Handbook for Kids
by Gail Gibbons
Interesting information and projects for children
Angel in Charge
by Judy Delton
Angel and her little brother, Rags, must cope with unexpected crises when they are left home without a sitter.
Books Kids Will Sit Still For and More Books Kids Will Sit Still For
by Judy Freeman
Book suggestions compiled by Kathy Kim.