Giving Compliments (Grades K-5)

Giving Compliments - Character Counts Lesson Plan

Compliments are most meaningful when they are heartfelt and specific. In this activity, students practice giving compliments that are specific and kind. Students will also explore the right way to respond to compliments.

Character Education Objectives:

Students will:

  • brainstorm specific and meaningful compliments for their classmates,
  • reflect on the impact of hearing positive things about yourself, and
  • discuss how to respond to compliments.
  • A sheet of paper with a star (approximately 8 inches) on it for each person
  • Markers or pencils
  • Break students into small groups. Each group should stand in a circle.
  • Provide each student with a paper star and ask them to write their name at the top of the star.
    Students should pass their star to the person on their right.
  • Ask students, “Think about the classmate whose name is on top of the star. What is their ‘star quality? What’s one of the best things about them?”
  • Each student should write a compliment on their classmate’s star.
  • Encourage them to be honest and specific. Explain that the best compliments are the true ones! If needed, give suggestions as to the types of positive things they could say.
  • Students can continue giving compliments as they pass their stars around the circle. Ask them not to repeat anything someone else has written. Remind them that they’re looking for everyone’s star qualities, not to decide who is the “star of the team.” Once they have complimented everyone in their group, everyone has their own star back.
  • Note: If your participants are young, you may need to talk first about how we each dream of being a “star of the show” and that our everyday qualities bring star qualities to our group.
Discussion Prompts:
  • Why do we all need to hear positive things about ourselves?
  • Why it is sometimes hard to accept a compliment?
  • What should we say when someone compliments us? (“Thank you”)

Following Directions and Playing by the Rules (Grades K-5)

Character Counts Playing by the rules

Playing by the rules is an important part of fairness. Students will learn that in order to play by the rules, we need to listen carefully and follow directions. We can only play fair when we understand the rules. 

Character Education Objectives: 

Students will:

  • explore how rules or directions could be interpreted in diverse ways.
  • reflect on how unclear rules or directions can lead to unfair situations.
  • discuss ways you can ask questions when you are unsure.
  • discuss why playing by the rules is an important part of fairness.
  • A piece of paper (the same size) for each person
  • Blindfolds if desired
  1. Tell students that you are going to play the Snowflake Game. The students who follow the game’s directions win.
  2. Ask the students to either close their eyes or put on blindfolds.
  3. Tell them you will be giving instructions and they are not allowed to ask any questions.
  4. Give each student a piece of paper.
  5. Give the following directions, but do not answer any of their questions.
    • Fold the paper in half.
    • Tear off the bottom right-hand corner.
    • Fold the paper in half again.
    • Tear off the upper right-hand corner.
    • Fold the paper in half again.
    • Tear off the lower right-hand corner.
  6. Have participants open their eyes and unfold their papers.
  • As they hold up their papers, ask the students what they see (the differences in each other’s papers even though they all had the same directions).
  • We all had the same directions, but our snowflakes look different. Why do they look different?
  • No one did it wrong, but there weren’t clear directions on how to do it. To be fair, we need to follow the rules and directions. So, it’s important we give clear directions and make sure everyone understands the rules for a fair game.
  • Ask students:
    • How could the directions be changed to make the snowflake game fairer?
    • What questions could they have asked to better understand the rules of the game?
    • Can they think of a time when they needed to ask questions to make sure they understood the rules?

Social-Emotional Learning Funded by ESSER

ESSR Funds SEL and Character Education

Social-Emotional Learning and Character Education can be funded by ESSER! An intentional focus on social-emotional learning and character skills has never been more important. Fortunately, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund (I and II) provides funding for COVID-19 relief projects. This can include professional development, curricular resources, assessment, and support services for students’ social-emotional needs.

Professional Development

Our professional development workshops:

  • teach strategies on creating a positive school culture,
  • provide best practices on how to teach, enforce, advocate, and model social-emotional skills,
  • and help educators create a plan to provide sustainable SEL services.
Curicular Resources

We have a variety of curricular resources to help you intentionally and consistently focus on character and SEL skills. Additionally, you can buy many of our digital materials as a perpetual license. Your school can use ESSER money on a one-time purchase that you can utilize long after ESSER funding runs out.


Schools use culture and climate assessments to identify parts of their culture that may need attention. When taken annually, these surveys can illustrate how your social-emotional interventions are positively impacting school culture. Importantly, since you can use ESSER funds through September 2023, schools can gather two years of valuable data.

Get Started

We’re dedicated to helping educators intentionally and consistently teach these important skills. For more information on using ESSER funds for CHARACTER COUNTS!, please contact Jason Lamping at Jason.lamping@drake.edu.

More information about ESSER:

Support for afterschool and summer programs: 

Funding by state: 

Our Differences Make Us Stronger (Grades K-5)

Character lesson - differences make us stronger

Overview: Our differences are our greatest strengths. Learning about what we have in common gives us a sense of belonging, but embracing and respecting our differences makes us a stronger community. 


Students will: 

  • explore the similarities and differences of their classmates.
  • discuss what it means to recognize and respect each other’s differences.
  • reflect on how it feels to be excluded for your differences. 

Materials needed:

  • Large sheets of paper—write 1, 2, 3, or 4 on each
  • Marker
  • One die with the 6 and 5 covered up
  • List of questions (see below)


  1. Place one numbered sheet of paper in each corner of the room.
  2. Gather the group in the middle of the room and point out the four corners.
  3. Read a set of choices (use suggestions listed below or create your own) and ask students to go to the corner that best represents them. For example: “Which drink do you like the best? Go to corner 1 if you like soda the best, corner 2 for juice, corner 3 for milk, or corner 4 for water.”
  4. Once the students move to the corner that represents them, ask each corner to briefly discuss why they selected their answer.
  5. Ask a few students from different corners to share with the large group.
  6. After a brief discussion, roll the dice. The number it lands on is the “unlucky number.” Eliminate the students in that corner. If you need to move the game more quickly, use the dice to choose the “lucky number” and that corner stays.
  7. Keep playing until only a few participants are left. Play through at least two times.
  8. Following the activity, ask:
    • How did it feel to be with others who are just like you?
    • How does it feel when you are different than everyone else?
    • What can we do to show respect to those who are different than us?
    • How could our differences make us a stronger group?
    • What did it feel like when you were eliminated from the game because of your differences?

Question Suggestions:

  • Which music do you like best…rock, rap, country, or classical?
  • Which do you wear most often…tennis shoes, sandals, bare feet, or boots?
  • Which drink do you like the best…soda, juice, milk, or water?
  • Are you most like a…square, triangle, circle, or oval?
  • What type of movie do you like best…action, romance, comedy, or science fiction?
  • Where would you most like to go on vacation…the beach, mountains, an amusement park, or camping?
  • What color do you like best…green, purple, pink, or blue?

Adapted from Team-Building Activities for Every Group

Trustworthy Friends (Grades K-5)

Trustworthy and Reliable Friends - Character Counts

Overview:  This activity will demonstrate ways that reliable and trustworthy friends can help you achieve things that feel impossible. Knowing how to identify traits of a trustworthy friend and the benefits of being one will help students as they develop their character skills. 

Character Education Objectives: 

Students will:

  • engage in an activity that will require that they trust and rely on their partner. 
  • share the elements of a trustworthy friendship. 
  • reflect on their own friendships and consider how trust is vital to relationships. 


  • Divide students into pairs.
  • Partners sit facing each other with the soles of their shoes pressed against the other player’s shoes.
  • Ask students to reach out and grab their partner’s hands.
  • Next, ask students to pull their partner’s hands. As they pull at the same time, they should try to pull each other into a standing position
  • Have participants try this activity with a new partner (start with similar size partners and then try varied size partners).


  • When do we have to rely on each other? How does that make you feel?
  • Share about times when others have gone beyond the usual to show that they care for you. Ask students to share their experiences.
  • What happens in a friendship when you cannot rely on the other person?
  • Why is it important to have trustworthy friends?

Trustworthiness is one of the Six Pillars of Character. Click here to learn more about the Six Pillars!

Finding Common Ground (Grades K-5)

Character Education and SEL Lesson on Citizenship and Common Ground

Overview: Students will explore the benefits of finding common ground with others in their community. This lesson promotes good citizenship.

Character Education Objectives: 

Students will:

  • experience finding common ground with others.
  • discuss how collaboration and community are impacted by citizens finding things in common.
  • journal about how they can connect with others in their communities. 


  • Identify an area to play this game. Specify where “out” will be (to keep group together even though they are out).
  • On a signal, have everyone walk around and mingle saying, “mingle, mingle, mingle”—until the leader shouts a number.
  • When the number is announced, everyone must get into a group of people of that number. For example, if the leader says “3” then students should be getting in groups of 3.
  • Anyone not in a group is “out”. All members of any group having more or less than the specified number are “out”.
  • After playing one round, the leader will call out a new number and add the following characteristics as the number is called:
    • People:
      • of the same age
      • in the same grade
      • who live in the same city
      • with the same shoe size
      • with the same eye color
      • who love to eat the same food
      • who like the same kind of ice cream
  • Keep playing until you get down to one or two people and then discuss.

Discussion Prompts:

  • Ask students:
    • Was harder to find a group after you started grouping by things in addition to than numbers.
    • Did you learn things you have in common?
    • Did you feel more like you belonged when you learned about what you have in common with other students?
    • How did it feel when you couldn’t find something in common and were out of the game?
    • Do you think it is possible to have nothing in common with someone?
    • When working in a group, is it easier when you have something in common?


  • Encourage students to journal about how they can find common ground with others. Ask students to think how they can find things in common with others in their school, home, teams, clubs, neighborhoods, etc.  Ask students to think about questions they could ask if they are having a hard time finding something in common.

Citizenship is one of the Six Pillars of Character. Click here to learn about the Six Pillars of Character.

Fairness (Grades K-5)

Overview: This lesson explores how an unfair situation can lead to frustration or anger and how to resolve it. It also allows students to demonstrate their understanding of fairness by recreating the rules to make a game fair for all participants.


Students will:

  • experience an intentionally unfair game and discuss the impact of unfair situations
  • brainstorm how to make a game fair for all participants

Materials needed: Beach balls


  1. Ask to the group to line up shortest to tallest. Divide the line in half so all the shorter people are on one team and the taller people are on the other.
  2. Have the taller people get in a circle on the outside with the shorter people in the center.
  3. Have them play a game of keep away where the outside circle tries to keep the ball away from the others. If someone in the middle gets the ball, the inside participants switch to the outside circle and the others go inside.
  4. After playing for a while, the taller team will most likely be keeping control of the ball and the shorter team may be getting frustrated.
  5. At this point, change the rules. Tell the taller team that they must all put one hand behind their back or in their pocket while they play.
  6. Play again now that the game is in favor of the other team.
  7. Put students in small groups and have them come up with a way to play the game that would be fair for all participants. Bring the students back together and come up with a set of rules for the game that all students agree is fair. 
  8. Play the game with your new class rules.

Discussion Prompts:

  • How did you feel when the game was in your favor?
  • How did you feel when the game wasn’t in your favor?
  • Do you ever get angry when things seem unfair?
  • What is a better way to handle an unfair situation?

Fairness is one of the Six Pillars of Character. Click here to learn more about the Six Pillars.

Working with a Team (Grades K-5)

Overview: This lesson highlights the importance of bringing our best selves when working with a team.

Character Education Objectives:

Students will:

  • determine roles for each team member
  • practice bringing their best self to a group task through their defined role
  • reflect on the effects of roles and responsibilities in a group

Materials needed:

  • A deck of cards for each group


  1. Put students in groups of 2-4. Each group needs to have at least one builder and one supervisor. If you have more than two students in the group, allow the students to decide how many builders and supervisors they want within their group, as long as there is one of each.
  2. Give each group a deck of cards.
  3. Instruct the group that their task is to build the highest tower of cards they can.
  4. Only builders may touch the cards, but cannot talk. Only supervisors may talk, but cannot touch the cards.
  5. The team must start over each time the tower falls.
  6. Set a time limit. At the end of the time limit, allow students to negotiate more time. For example, let students continue if they can negotiate a trade (if don’t use their dominant hand, don’t talk etc., then they get one more minute to work).
  7. At the end of the time limit, see who has the tallest tower—then let them blow it down!

Discussion Prompts:

  • It is possible that they won’t be very successful at this activity. If they aren’t, ask them what they could have done better or differently.
  • Was it hard to only be a builder or only be a supervisor? Why?
  • Why does brining your best self and all of your talents important when you are on a team?

Respect and Teamwork (Grades K-5)

respect and teamwork


Students will practice the skills necessary to show respect and teamwork through a group project to build a structure. Students will practice teamwork, giving helpful feedback, and patience.

Character Education Objectives:

Students will:

  • practice patience while being limited in their abilities during the challenge.
  • demonstrate effective teamwork by completing the structure together.
  • reflect on how feedback can change the outcome of the project.


  • Materials to build a structure: pieces of wood, cardboard blocks, etc.
  • Sample structure should be built ahead of time and piles of exact same building materials laid out for each group.


  1. Divide students in groups of 2-4.
  2. Facilitator shows group the structure. Allow them to look at it for at least one minute.
  3. Give the instruction that each person will take a piece or pieces and must not touch any other pieces other than their own or the group will have to start over.
  4. Each person in the group takes a piece or pieces of building material.
  5. The group now duplicates the structure like the original.
  6. Give the group a set amount of time. If they need more time, negotiate for what they are willing to give up (talking, one arm behind back, etc).
  7. If groups are having trouble, take a time out and have them discuss how they are going to do it, then have them try again.


  • Discuss the process they used either by plan or by default.
  • Discuss what they heard while they were working, were people being encouraging or critical? How did that make them feel? Did they do anything to change the atmosphere?
  • Discuss patience. Is it hard or easy for them?
  • How does this activity reflect other things they have to do as a group or team?


Trustworthiness (Grades K-5)

Trustworthiness lesson

Overview: Students will participate in an activity where they will have to rely on the trustworthiness of their peers.

Character Education Objectives:

Students will:

  • Consider how it feels to rely on the trustworthiness of others.
  • Discuss how trustworthiness is related to caring and respect.

Materials needed: Blindfolds


  1. Put students in pairs. (This lesson may also work in groups of three or four.)
  2. One partner puts on a blindfold with their partner or group members standing at least 10-15 feet away.
  3. When the blindfolded person gets the blindfold in place, the others begin to walk toward the blindfolded person slowly until the blindfolded person holds up their hands and says, “Stop.”
  4. (Optional variation) Allow the sighted player to approach their partners from any direction, trying to sneak up on them without them knowing where they are.
  5. Trade places until all have had a couple of chances to be the sightless participant.

Discussion Prompts:

  • Ask participants how it felt when they were blindfolded—could they “feel” when the other person was getting close? Relate this to our issues of personal space.
  • Ask participants how it felt when they were sighted? Did they feel superior? If so, discuss how that sense of “control” or “power” can be used well, or how it is sometimes used poorly (like with teasing and bullying).
  • Pick up on any comments you heard and process them out. Ask them how it felt to be the one at risk. Relate to caring and standing up for someone if they are being bullied.