An integrated theme unit with activities, reproducibles, and other resources to help your students connect classroom learning and life lessons

Teacher Made Activities for Teaching Responsibility

by Mary Daly
How important is fostering student responsibility in your classroom? For Mary Daly, kindergarten teacher at the New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, it takes top priority. "Responsibility is a social issue that must be addressed even before academics," she says. "If we provide activities that help children learn how to care and share, how to work independently and together, in pairs and in groups small and large, then the academics will flow."

Instructor asked Mary to share her yearlong, step-by-step plan for developing responsible learners. She begins by establishing learning-center strategies that encourage responsibility. Then come fun-filled warm-up games designed to help generate teamwork and cooperation. Finally, she shows how to link such responsibility-building activities to academics and assessment.

In The Learning Centers

Assignment Chart
I code all the learning centers in my classroom to a chart in the front of the room. At the beginning of the year, children may choose freely where they will work and play. But soon I begin using the chart to assign children to pArcticular centers. Children decide when (during center time) to complete the assignments, which always includes clean-up. If an assigned task is left unfinished, it remains on the assignment chart, and another is added. When a child has accumulated three or more tasks, I meet with that child to discover why the work is not being completed, and together we devise a workable solution for getting the jobs done.

Waiting Lists
When my students have completed a learning-center assignment, they are free to visit any of the other centers in the classroom. At each center I post a number limiting how many children are allowed in at any one time. I also post a waiting list so children can sign up to get the first available spot. As a child leaves a center, he or she must tell the next child on the list that the center spot is free.

Letter Labels
To help students begin taking responsibility for their belongings (and to reinforce their alphabet skills), I tape strips of masking tape to supplies such as folders, books, and crayon boxes. I then assign an alphabet letter to each student and label the student's belongings accordingly. When objects are left out, I can just call out the owner's alphabet letter so the student responsible can quietly put things back in order.

Warm-Up Games for Working Together

Cooperative groups play a very important role in my classroom, so a big part of being responsible is striving to work well with others. I use these teamwork-building games to get students in the cooperative spirit. I begin each game by modeling for students each role involved, and giving them a chance to practice before we play. Besides being fun, these games help students see clearly how responsible each person is to the team's success.

Stand Up
Have students sit back to back on the floor with legs stretched out straight. Students then link arms and try to stand up together without using their hands against the floor.

Three-Legged Shuffle
Use ribbon to tie one leg of each of three students together, and have them carry out normal classroom routines. To deal with the frustration that results, students soon learn they must cooperate.

Place an exercise mat on the floor and have one student lie down. Invite other students to gather around this reclining student and slide their hands beneath the student's head, back, and legs in an effort to lift him or her up off the floor. Be sure to act as a "spotter" at the center student's head.

Hands Down
Pair right-handed and left-handed students together, and have them stand shoulder to shoulder. Use ribbon to tie the inside pair of hands together so that only one student's writing hand is free. Then offer students a writing or drawing assignment they must complete using only the one hand. Later, have students switch places.

Responsible Teamwork

I use a lot of cooperative learning activities to develop kids' academic skills across the curriculum. I pair up students to compose poems about each other. Kids work in small groups to complete science experiments and math problems or to write and illustrate books. All of these activities also give me many opportunities to help kids develop responsibility.

Reflective Discussions
Following each cooperative activity, I talk with children about what their responsibilities were in getting the task done. Did they assume roles of leaders or followers? Did they try their hardest or did they allow others to do most of the work?

Responsibility Reflections
After children have had a chance to pArcticipate in and discuss a number of such cooperative activities, I introduce the Responsibility Reflection Sheet. This sheet helps children take responsibility by rating their own performance in cooperative group activities. To use in your class, copy one sheet per student per activity; store completed sheets in a folder. From time to time, provide each student with a pile of his or her sheets and talk together about patterns that may emerge (for example, how often the leadership role was chosen and how many times a best effort was put forth).

Responsibility Report Card

My colleagues and I at the New City School decided that building social and personal responsibility is so important we wanted the following items to appear on the first page of the printed progress report each student takes home:
  • accepts responsibility for own actions;
  • accepts responsibility for materials and belongings;
  • handles transitions and changes well;
  • accept limits in work and play situations; and
  • uses an appropriate sense of humor.
If your report card does not highlight such items, make up a similar list of your own and include it among this year's assessment items.

Resolving Conflicts: The Blue Chairs

My New City School colleague, Christine Wallach, shares this easy-to-implement responsibility-building idea she uses with great success in her first-grade classroom: Paint two student chairs bright blue. Place these chairs side-by-side in your classroom. After developing with the children a list of acceptable ways to resolve conflicts, tell them that the blue chairs are a special spot where they may go to try and talk things out together. Going to the chairs should never be regarded as a punishment, but rather as a place to think, care, and compromise. In a pinch, any seat--such as the playground bench or cafeteria chairs--can be temporarily sanctioned as "the blue chairs."

Ages & Stages: See How They Grow

"As a teacher, I work with my students to create a democratic classroom
community in which we all have responsibilities for the learning and
caring environment. Although the children are involved in this process,
I am the catalyst for generating this community. It won't happen if I don't
set up routines, develop expectations and respond to specific situations
in accordance with my beliefs about children and how they learn."
--Bobbi Fisher, first-grade teacher at Josiah Haynes School in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and
author of Thinking and Learning Together: Community and Curriculum in a Primary Classroom (Heinemann, 1995)

"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)


Funny Responsibilities

Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1940)
This classic howler shows what happens when young Horton is left to tend an egg for a lazy bird.

The Biggest Bear, by Lynd Ward (Houghton Mifflin, 1952)
Johnny is responsible for the growing baby bear he brought back to his family's farm.

Taking Care of Oneself

Lucky Chuck, by Beverly Cleary (Morrow, 1984)
Chuck learns about bicycle safety the hard way.

Feeding Yourself, by Vicki Cobb (Harper, 1989)
Kids learn the history of eating utensils--including chopsticks--and how to use them.

Safety Zone, by Linda D. Meyer (Warner, 1985)
A resource for parents and children to help prevent abduction and sexual abuse.

Taking Care of the Earth

Caring for Our Air, by Carol Greene (Enslow, 1991)
Understanding air pollution and what they can do about it.

Recycle! A Handbook for Kids, by Gail Gibbons (Little Brown, 1992)
Interesting information and projects for children.

Special Responsibilities

He's My Brother, by Joe Lasker (Whitman, 1974)
A story about one family's wonderful attitude about a retarded son and brother.

Howie Helps Himself, by Joan Fassler (Whitman, 1975)
Howie adjusts to cerebral palsy and the use of his wheelchair.

The Hunter, by Paul Geraghty (Crown, 1994)
Pretending she's a hunter, Jamina walks into the African bush and finds a baby elephant whose mother has been killed.

Booklist compiled by Kathy Kim. See also Books Kids Will Sit Still For and More Books Kids Will Sit Still For, both by Judy Freeman (R.R. Bowker).

Technology Tip

Taking Responsibility
Tom Snyder Productions (URL TK)[800] 342-0236; Mac, Apple II, and MS-DOS; $99.95)
Part of the Choices, Choices series for one-computer classrooms, this program gets kids talking about honesty, making decisions, and learning how to take responsibility.