Character Education: Free Resources for Improving Your Classroom Environment
From the Department of Education,
Character education is a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility for self and others.
Now more than ever, our students are in desperate need of lessons about character. Students need a better understanding of themselves as people, how to respect others who are different, how to advocate for oneself and others, and simply what it means to be a positive member of a community.
Teaching character ed topics doesn't have to be overwhelming or "one more thing" to do. There are ways to integrate topics like these into everyday content - and free resources available to help you do so. To help you get started, here are five of my go-to sites for quality character education materials on social justice, social emotional learning, education equity, and more.
1. The NED Show
Several years ago I was looking for a character ed curriculum to use in my classroom. I had a group of kids who were just down right mean to each other - and to me. It was clear that they had very little instruction in how to treat others and I knew I needed to do something in order to salvage the year.
I couldn't afford to buy a classroom set of materials on my own and was hoping to find something of quality that was free.
I stumbled upon "Ned." Ned is this cute cartoon character who serves as a mascot for the program and whose name is an acronym for the program's principles:
On the site, there are all sorts of resources for K-6 teachers and families including lesson plans, activities, posters, games, awards, printables for classroom walls, and more. For younger kids, there are things like crowns, puppets, and patterns to make friendship bracelets.
Recently they posted seven book-based lesson plans, which teach about character using quality children's literature. Several of the titles were ones I already use in my classroom including Thank You, Mr. Falker, Martin's Big Words, Snowflake Bentley, and Junkyard Wonders.
When I first found this site, I had a sixth grade classroom. I admit that much of the materials were too young for that group. However, the lessons were easily adaptable and videos such as their series on yo-yo tricks and this one on test prep kept them interested (and worked as incentives to getting work done quickly, being respectful to others, etc.).
This has long been a go-to resource for social justice topics. There are all sorts of resources for your classroom:
- Learning Plans - Topics include understanding differences, being a good friend, immigration, and more.
- Perspective Texts - Help students understand difficult topics with leveled texts.
- Student Tasks - Students demonstrate understanding of what they've learned with these performance tasks.
- Teaching Strategies - Learn how to incorporate tough topics into content lessons - even for students as young as K-2.
- Film Kits - Add depth to your lessons with streamable films.
- Printable Posters
There are resources for you too. Professional Development supports include articles on school climate, instruction, classroom culture, teacher leadership, and more.
Looking for resources to support advocacy in your classroom? Teaching for Change provides teacher resources, books, articles on parent involvement and more to create and support advocates for change.
Edutopia is a treasure trove of professional articles on all topics related to education. Here are article collections related to character education topics:
Dozens of books divided into categories - making it easy for you to find books that fit the specific topic you're looking for. Categories include Change Makers, Disabilities, Anti-bias, Families, Race, and so many more. Also included on the site is an article section with posts that guide your selection of books appropriate for your lessons.
I have several simple character education resources in my shop. Some are paid but most are free. Resources include Thankful for Kindness writing, task cards, inspirational posters, and a Positive News behavior management strategy.
Several years ago, our building had a superhero theme that focused on teaching students to make "super" choices throughout their day. I created two poster sets to reinforce this idea - one was designed for inside the classroom and the other for hallways and bathroom where students often needed regular reminders to make better choices.
While they didn't fix every behavior issue found in either place, they were helpful in reinforcing ideas throughout the day.
The third poster set was created to encourage kindness. Each poster contains a different quality found in a good friend. The posters can be used as talking points for mini-lessons or during character education and life skills lessons. Hang in your classroom as reminders of how to be friends to others throughout the year.
There are eight Superhero Friendship Posters included. Each features a different superhero, quality, and a few short sentences describing the quality.
I'd love to hear about other resources you've found helpful in creating a positive classroom environment. Let me know what character education resources you currently use in the comments below.
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