How to Teach Values in the Classroom

Photo of a young student in a classroom writing on the white board in front of the teacher, to illustrate how to teach values in the classroom

François Rabelais once wrote: “Science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul.” What did the French humanist author of the 16th century mean with this expression? No matter how much knowledge you accumulate, it will all be useless and even harmful if you don’t apply it together with positive moral values. “That is why, my son, I urge you to use your youth to progress well in knowledge and in virtue.”, says the father Gargantua to his son Pantagruel in the homonymous novel by Rabelais.

The first and most important people that teach values to children are obviously their parents. This does not imply that schools should not teach values. On the contrary, sharing, comparing and reflecting on values can guide kids to form their own judgments and moral system. After all, it is thanks to values that kids and adults alike can live with others and themselves in peace and harmony. Ethical behavior is essential in the classroom as well as outside. But how can teachers and educators help their pupils build their own system of values?

Teaching values in the classroom is essential in helping children develop their moral system and form their own judgments. This article discusses and provides some activities that teachers can implement in the classroom to teach values such as self-knowledge, altruism, teamwork, and environmental awareness.

What Are Values?

Photo of a teacher giving a young student a high five to illustrate the concept of values in education
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First of all, we should not mistake social skills for social values. During every group activity in the classroom, social skills are reinforced. Kids learn how to work together, share and exchange opinions, talk in front of a group, make choices collectively, etc. However, all these skills must rely on a set of shared positive values. For instance, some children can show great ability at sharing their opinion but their discourse might include unhealthy or negative social values.

The Cambridge dictionary defines the word values as the principles that help you decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations. Indeed, these principles guide our behavior. In the context of school, we tend to reduce social values to a list of instructions and rules, such as being punctual, listening to others, waiting for your turn, not being a bully, showing respect to everyone, washing your hands or caring for the environment. However, we should always explain the reason behind each one of these regulations. Establishing a line of conduct is not enough to be considered as an education in values. Special activities must be implemented in order to trigger reflection and transform these rules into core values.

What Values Should Teachers Focus on?

Photo of a woman in a red dress with a book to illustrate what value should teachers focus on in the classroom
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Teachers should be careful when teaching values. First of all, some values are not shared by everybody. For instance, some people think it is morally wrong to eat meat while others don’t. As human beings with their own moral standards, educators have to be unbiased, meaning they should not allow their personal beliefs to dictate the ethical standards in their classroom. It is something that is not always easy to carry out, since human beings tend to take for granted that their values are the only ones that are morally right, or at least, the “best” ones.

Fortunately, universal values exist, and educators ought to teach them in class. It does not imply that they should avoid discussing personal discrepant values though. Debates about values that are not shared by everyone can teach us tolerance and respect. And what are tolerance and respect? Universal values. These are the ones that teachers should focus on!

Of course, values change according to place and time. It can be controversial to use the term universal values since all seem to be relative and governed by cultural norms. However, almost all cultures recognize values such as peace, honesty, justice, equality, or freedom as universal nowadays. From these values we tend to dictate ways to behave, such as do not harm, cheat nor enslave others. Universal values also include respect for yourself, others and the environment, including plants and animals.

5 Activities to Teach Values in the Classroom

Illustration of students cheering together to illustrate engaging value-based classroom activities
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Now let’s have a look at some activities that can help educators in the difficult task of teaching values at school.

1. Know Your Values

Self-knowledge is extremely important, even at a young age. You can write a list of values on the board or build this list together with your pupils. Then you can ask them to pick from the list the most important values for them, rank them and compare them with their classmates, then have them talk about why they think such or such value is more important.

2. Secret Friend

Teach altruism, kindness and generosity with this simple and fun activity. Write everyone’s name on a piece of paper and put these in a hat. Everyone picks a paper and they have to behave in the kindest possible way to this person during the day. It means that every kid has to think about nice things to do: play, share belongings, leave little secret gifts, etc…

3. Share and Win

Give a puzzle with the same number of pieces to each student. Tell them the first student to finish it will win a prize, but the time is limited. If they decide to work with one or more classmates, the first team to finish wins and shares the prize. You can also ask them to do it in pairs, in groups of 4 or the whole class together, to see which way is better and how they can get organized.

4. Take Care of a Garden

Protecting our planet is one of the major concerns of our time. It is hard for kids to grasp the danger of pollution if they don’t have contact with nature. Planting fruits and vegetables, watering plants and trees will help them establish a strong connection to Mother Earth. Besides, a lot of other values are indirectly taught when taking care of a garden: patience, perseverance, delicacy, self-control, kindness and collaboration, among others.

5. Debate With Big Questions

“Is it always wrong to lie?” You can write this question on the board and have kids start thinking about their answer individually, in small groups and then you can share them with the whole class. Think about establishing some rules in the debate (everyone must speak, you have one minute to give your opinion, etc.) to ensure respect and other values during the activity. Some children will agree with Immanuel Kant, who thought that it is always wrong to lie (because it forbids others to act freely and rationally). You will perhaps discover, on the other hand, that some of your pupils are consequentialists: if the lie brings good consequences to a greater number of people, then it is OK to lie.

In conclusion, values play a crucial role in the behavior and attitudes of individuals, and teaching values in the classroom is essential to shaping young minds. Teachers can use a variety of activities to help students develop a moral system and emphasize the importance of universal values such as respect, kindness, and responsibility. Finally remember, it is important for educators to approach teaching values without bias, and help students form their own values and opinions through discussion and reflection.


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