Tips for Teaching Values in the Primary Classroom


Two children carrying colourful toys

Teachers play an important role in a child’s awareness of politeness, kindness, sharing etc. Susan Banman Sileci, co-author of the new Primary course, Everybody Up, shares some of her ideas on how to bring values into the classroom.

Every year, I hear more and more about teaching values in the classroom. Some governments suggest that teachers do it. Some schools enroll students by telling parents that its teachers do it. Some parents specifically ask teachers to help them out by teaching values.

It might seem like you’re being asked to do too much when, on top of teaching English, you have to teach students to be kind, helpful, fair, polite and careful while learning about recycling, caring for the environment and respecting the world around them. You might shake your head and say, “It just can’t be done.”

I suggest it can, and, chances are, you’re already doing it!

As a teacher, one of the most important things you can do is lead by example. There’s no point in asking our students to be helpful and polite when we don’t hold the door open for others or we don’t say “Please” and “Thank you.” Being nice, kind and fair is something most of us do naturally (because someone else, years ago, taught us to do it!) but it’s important to remember, especially for teachers of young children, that our students are watching our every move. They are learning important lessons about how the world works by what they see.

As a mother and teacher myself, I know that setting an example isn’t enough. My teenage daughters will sit on the sofa and watch me clean the house around them without offering to help. I’m always surprised that seeing me dust and sweep doesn’t make them think it might be time to help, but it’s clear that my example isn’t enough. They need specific instructions.

So I know I can’t walk into a classroom at the beginning of the year and say, “This year I expect you all to be fair, kind, honest, careful, friendly, helpful and on time.” It won’t happen. But I can set specific, small goals and ask my students – and myself – to try to stick to them.

For example, have ‘Please and Thank You Week’. During this week (or month, depending on your schedule), suggest that everyone remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. In the classroom, they can do this in English. And they can do it in their native language outside the classroom – in other classes, in their communities and at home. To wrap up, spend a few minutes practicing the different situations where students might say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

For children, learning explicit values can be lots of fun. They enjoy helping each other remember the week’s value and really enjoy seeing me, the teacher, occasionally forget to use it. (We’re all learning together!) At the beginning of the next class, I can ask students if they used their polite words the previous day. Did they use them with other teachers, or friends or their families? I’d ask students to volunteer success stories and ask the class to act out that story in English. We might even make a poster and at the end of the week, we can celebrate by drawing a big star to show that we’ve mastered ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

By breaking values into small, meaningful chunks, stating our expectations, following up during the week and rewarding students for good behavior, teaching values becomes not only manageable, but incredibly helpful to your image as a teacher. Imagine being a mother whose child suddenly starts saying ‘please’ or sharing with his little sister? If that mother finds out it’s because his English teacher suggested it (and she will), you’re a star!

So here’s a challenge: Besides ‘Please and Thank You Week’, what other “values weeks” could we plan? I’ve made a poster, stuck it to the wall beside my computer and will write your suggestions on it. Get yourself a star and share your ideas!