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Teaching Strategies that Instruct Responsibility

Janelle Cox

One of the six pillars of character education is to be responsible. This desired character trait means that children need to be self-disciplined, use self-control, be accountable for their actions, and be trustworthy.

Responsibility is an important skill that all children need to learn. Oftentimes, students lack in this skill because it’s quite easy for their parents (or teachers) to do everything for them. Fourth grade is the perfect year to use teaching strategies to get students ready to be dependable, punctual, organized, and accountable for their words and actions, but you can start even younger than that. Here are 10 teaching strategies to teach this essential skill to your students.

1. Teaching Strategies that Model Responsibility

As a teacher, you are a role model. The best way to teach responsibility is to be responsible yourself. Keep your classroom neat and organized, pick up after yourself, and be punctual and dependable. By building your own practice of responsibility within your classroom you are showing your students how it should be done.

2. Define the Word Responsibility

Help students define the term "responsibility." Have them identify and name responsibilities that they have both at home and in school (keeping room clean, handing in their homework on time). Then have students think of a new responsibility that they can take on at home and in school.

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3. Give Out Classroom Jobs

Every classroom has a list a mile long of things that need to get done every day. Take some of the workload off of yourself and give your students the reasonability of a classroom job. Assign students the job of washing the desks, collecting the papers, filing your paperwork, sharpening pencils, or organizing your classroom library.

4. Provide Clear Classroom Expectations

Without a set of clear expectations, your classroom will be filled with a bunch of irresponsible students that do not know what to do. Make sure that you provide a structured classroom where all students are clear about how you want things to go.

5. Provide Clear Classroom Consequences

Even with a set of direct classroom expectations, you will still have a few students who will lack responsibility. For these students you will need to provide a clear set of consequences. For example, if a student forget her homework, the consequence would be no “Fun Friday” for younger students, or detention for older students. If a student’s desk wasn’t cleaned out when you said it must be done by Friday, then there must be a consequence for their lack of responsibility.  

6. Praise Students When they are Responsible

When you see that your students are rising to the occasion, then praise them for being responsible. Make it known in your classroom that when you see a student doing the right thing, they will get praise for it, and everyone will know it. This will help the students that lack responsibility to try and earn some responsibility.

7. Use Cooperative Learning Groups to Teach Responsibility

By establishing cooperative learning groups in your classroom, you are able to teach students to take responsibility for their own work. For example, in the Jigsaw cooperative learning method, students work together to achieve a common goal, but they cannot achieve that goal unless each group member has done his part in the task. This is a strategy where the groups will be responsible for learning the material on their own. It is a simple-yet-effective way to reinforce the importance of responsibility. 

8. Make it a Challenge

Children love a good challenge. Make responsibility a game by focusing on one thing that you want students to be responsible for. For instance, let’s say that the majority of your students were having a hard time remembering to hand in their homework. You would challenge all students to be responsible for handing in their homework on time. When they do, they would get acknowledged for it. You can challenge them to see who has the cleanest desk, or who remembered their library books each week without being reminded.

9. Keep Responsibility on Their Minds

Post signs about responsibility in your classroom, play games about it, talk about daily. By keeping it in the limelight students will realize how important it is. If you can’t seem to talk about it daily, then try and revisit this concept at least once a week.

10. Assign Daily Responsibilities

A great way to teach responsibility to your students, while showing them how important it is to be responsible, is to assign daily tasks. Group students together into small groups and assign each group a specific task to get done for that day. At the end of the week, have them chart their own progress and compare it to the week before.

Educators have a responsibility to teach their students how to be responsible. This is a character trait that is of value, and is essential in the learning environment. Any of these ten ways listed above will elementary students see the importance of doing their part, while maintaining good character.

What ways to you teach reasonability in your classroom? Please share how you work on this important skill with your students. We would love to hear your ideas in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.