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Career Readiness | Middle School

How to Teach the 6 Pillars of Character in Middle School

June 20th, 2019 | 7 min. read

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Career readiness teachers are often focused on teaching skills like professionalism, interviewing, and customer service.

There’s a ton of career readiness resources out there to help you teach these skills to your students.

But when it comes to being successful in the workplace and life in general, middle school students need a little extra help.

That’s why the six pillars of character exist.

The six pillars of character are:

  1. Trustworthiness
  2. Respect
  3. Responsibility
  4. Fairness
  5. Caring
  6. Citizenship

Because these pillars aren’t typically found on career readiness course standards, it can be hard to figure out where to start.

To effectively teach these concepts in middle school, it’s best to tackle one at a time, starting with trustworthiness!

1. Trustworthiness


Trustworthiness involves three key aspects: honesty, reliability, and loyalty.

Though these concepts are typically introduced to children in lower grade levels, it’s important to reinforce them with your middle schoolers.

To do this, you’ll need to find lessons and activities that have a relatable context for middle school students.

So where can you find lessons that tackle the concepts and relate to your students?

Teachers Pay Teachers has an excellent resource called Trustworthiness Concept Formation Lesson: Character Building for Adolescents that really hits the mark.

In this lesson, your students will read scenarios that include acts of students being trustworthy. Based on each scenario, they’ll come up with their own definition of trustworthiness.

After that, your students will apply that definition to come up with resolutions to other scenarios.

The lesson wraps up with a reflection activity and group discussion to reinforce the concept of being trustworthy.

Overall this resource offers a variety of ways for students to learn about trustworthiness, all while providing scenarios that they could encounter in their own lives!

2. Respect


It’s always frustrating when students are disrespectful to peers and teachers.

Because of this, students may not get a lesson on respect until after they’ve been disrespectful.

Unfortunately that can make your lessons a bit too focused on specific aspects of disrespect, such as cyberbullying, insulting others, or being rude to teachers.

While it can be tempting to discuss respect in the context of such specific scenarios, you should start with the basics!

A good place to start is the Let’s Talk About Respect Lesson Plan from Teachers Pay Teachers.

The resource includes:

  • A full lesson plan
  • Student worksheets
  • Discussion cards
  • A poster on respect
  • And more!

Overall, this lesson will help you discuss respectful and disrespectful behavior and even have students evaluate their own behavior in relation to respect.

After you’ve covered the overarching concepts of respect, you can dive into more detailed topics as needed, such as:

With these resources, you’ll have a well-rounded collection of lessons on respect that can help any student in your middle school class.

3. Responsibility


Responsibility involves students being accountable for their actions, working independently in an effective way, and meeting obligations.

By the time students enter your class, they probably have a rough understanding of what it means to be responsible. Usually it’s in the context of taking care of a pet, doing homework, or even babysitting.

When talking about responsibility as a pillar of character, you’ll need lessons that bridge the basic concepts to your students’ personal experiences.

To help teachers do exactly that, Learning to Give has developed middle school lessons on responsibility!

What’s great about this resource is it’s broken down by grade level so you can find content that’s perfect for your students.

The sixth grade responsibility unit is made up of five lessons that introduce the basics of responsibility through individual student activities, scenario-based learning, and reflection opportunities.

Overall, the goal of the sixth grade unit is to give students insight into people’s choices related to responsibility.

The seventh grade responsibility unit includes five lessons that focus on relating responsibility to trust (a great tie in with the first pillar of character).

This unit includes individual activities, scenario-based learning, reflection opportunities, and a chance for students to role play!

The eighth grade responsibility unit goes more in-depth on the concepts related to responsibility, including potential consequences of responsible decisions.

This unit has the widest variety of approaches including class discussions, individual work, scenarios, and even a debate!

Every lesson provided by Learning to Give is easy to follow and has the length of time listed. This makes it easy for you to choose which lessons to use.

If you have time in your syllabus, you could use all of them.

But if you’re in a crunch, pick the ones that will best fit into your course!

4. Fairness


To middle school students, fairness often comes up in scenarios where one person got something that someone else didn’t.

You probably just had one of these situations pop into your head, that sounded something like “Jesse got a bigger piece of cake than me! That’s not fair!”

When kids have grown up throwing the words fair and unfair around any chance they get, it can be tough to teach a lesson on fairness.

That’s why you need a resource that explains the difference between fairness and identical treatment in a way your students will understand!

One of the best lessons on fairness out there for middle school students can be found in the Character Education Lesson Plans section of the School Datebooks website.

In the lesson on fairness, you will introduce the concept of fairness, have class discussions, and have students vote on a potentially unfair scenario.

This lesson is a great starting point to discuss a variety of seemingly unfair scenarios your students encounter in their lives.

By taking this approach, you’ll be sure your students know what it means to be fair and help reinforce the concepts by tying it to a context they understand!

5. Caring


Caring involves being compassionate, empathetic, and considerate of others without the expectation of receiving anything in return.

And while there are a number of resources out there for elementary students, there are only a few lessons on compassion and empathy for middle school!

These include lessons from:

  • Teaching Tolerance
  • The Teachers Guild
  • Hasbro & Ashoka
  • Preventing Bullying
  • Brookes Publishing Co.
  • Minneapolis Public Schools
  • Edutopia

Each of these resources can be used to help you teach students to be more caring, both in and out of the classroom.

You could even use multiple resources to really hit the concepts home!

6. Citizenship


Citizenship, or being a good citizen, involves many aspects of how a person can act as a responsible member of society.

This can include any number of activities, such as:

  • Conserving resources
  • Following rules and laws
  • Volunteering in your community
  • Voting in local and national elections

It can be easy to give your students examples like the ones we listed, but before you get into those details, you need to help them understand the concept of citizenship!

Luckily, Better Lesson Plans has a ton of resources that cover citizenship and related topics.

The best one we’ve found from the list is a lesson called Citizen Responsibilities.

This lesson will introduce students to civic responsibilities, explain why they’re important, and ask students to think critically about what would happen if people stopped being good citizens.

The resource includes a full lesson plan, student handouts, and a teacher presentation.

Overall, you’ll find everything you need to teach a great lesson on citizenship!

Teach More than the Pillars of Character

With all of these resources, you’re ready to tackle the six pillars of character in your classroom.

But what about the other career readiness skills your students need to master? Many middle school teachers don't even know where to begin!

That's where focusing on 21st Century skills comes into play!

Discover what 21st Century skills are and how to teach them in middle school by reading this article:

21st Century Skills: What Are They and How Do You Teach Them?