Teaching Responsibility in the Classroom

Responsibility comes in many shapes and forms. As adults, we are responsible for showing up to work, paying our bills, managing our time, maintaining our homes, etc.  Children have responsibilities of their own - making sure their room is cleaned, paying attention in class, maintaining organization of their personal items, etc.  It’s our job as educators to teach students how to become more responsible so that they, in turn, become adults who demonstrate responsibility. This is why teaching responsibility in the classroom is so important.

teaching responsibility

So what is “responsibility”?  Responsibility is essentially the opportunity to act independently or on one’s own accord and to be accountable for one’s own actions. Teaching the skill of responsibility also comes with teaching additional, corresponding skills like self-motivation, student empowerment, and accountability. 

teacher helping

HOW do I teach responsibility?

Let’s face it - teaching about responsibility can seem elusive! BUT, using real world examples and scenarios can help guide instruction and create real learning opportunities for your students.  Modeling ways you demonstrate responsibility and putting language to the situation is a GREAT way to get started!  Keeping track of how much time is left before the assignments is due = being responsible for our time and our assigned tasks.  Coming to school with your backpack and supplies = being responsible for the items needed to have a successful school day.  Treating others with kindness = being responsible for the things we say and the way we say it.  The more you notice responsible behaviors and assign the language to them, the more clear the concept will become.  

Here are a few of my favorite lessons from over the years:

  • Begin a guided discussion by posing a question to students - “what does it mean to be responsible?”, or “what are some things that you are responsible for in your life right now?”.  Create a chart or a diagram to include ideas for school and home and/or both. 
  • Try these digital and interactive social-emotional lessons from my Character Education Series about Responsibility.  It gives me plenty of options for activities as well as posters and writing prompts to help promote student understanding.  
character ed
  • I also use these Responsibility Boom Cards for a fun and engaging lesson! Use as a mini-lesson in instruction or as additional practice. 

Additional Activities may include:

  • Create a classroom job board.  Jobs can be simple and small like erasing the board at the end of the day, stacking chairs in the classroom, being the line leader or door holder, sharpening pencils each week - the list can be endless!  Base the jobs on the level and ability of your students and empower them to take on additional responsibilities as they want/are able! You could even have a bag of “job options” where students can choose additional jobs as they demonstrate responsibility in the classroom.  One year, I even created a small group “monitor” for a young friend who demonstrated a need for lots of attention during those times.  We put her skills to use and voila - she became a leader and a helper during small groups!  
  • Use role-playing cards/scenario cards for additional guided practice.  These can include a range of real-world examples of demonstrating responsibility both in the classroom and at home!
  • Utilize any kind of group activity to demonstrate divvying responsibilities - i.e. 1 student is responsible for writing while another is responsible for the presentation, etc. 
  • If you work with younger students, consider having them create coupons for family members to help around the house - i.e. taking out the trash, helping with laundry, etc.  Have them decorate and take them home for family members to redeem and have students share their experiences (what they did, how it made them feel, how their family member felt, etc.) as they’d like.  
  • Choose a read-aloud and/or video from the list below to help guide discussions and deeper thought!

Using Videos to teach Responsibility

Teaching responsibility in the classroom is made simple with these short and to-the-point videos. The first two videos are for the littles and the last one is for older kiddos.

  • Being Responsible | Mandy Manners - a kid-friendly song with a catchy tune about what responsibility is as well as age-appropriate examples of ways to be responsible
  • Sesame Street: Bruno Mars: Don’t Give Up - some of Sesame Street’s famous characters like Elmo & Cookie Monster join Bruno Mars in singing about responsibility and not giving up OR create your own classroom responsibility video with your students demonstrating examples of their responsibilities! 

    For the older kiddos: Will Smith discusses the difference between fault and responsibility. It's a powerful and motivational video, about how your happiness is your responsibility.


    Read-Alouds to Teach Responsibility

    Read alouds are a wonderful way to incorporate teaching responsibility in the classroom. Check out this blog post about Children’s books that teach Responsibility. Here are a few highlights of my favorites:

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    its not my fault

    But it’s Not My Fault

    By: Julia Cook

    One of the biggest lessons in life is learning to take responsibility for yourself.  Noodle blames others for everything that happens or goes wrong.  But he has to learn that he’s responsible for himself and his actions!  This book is perfect for teaching young students the skill of responsibility. 

    peace week in miss foxs class

    Peace Week in Miss Fox’s Class

    By: Eileen Spinelli

    Miss Fox introduces Peace week when she’s had enough of the quarreling in her classroom.  The children contribute to the rules - no hitting, help others, etc. and then get a chance to practice throughout the week.  What they find is how easy it comes to be kind to one another. This book is wonderful at teaching students to take responsibility for their actions, and specifically, if someone is being mean to them, that they don’t need to respond.  Their response is their responsibility - talk about a great lesson for us all to take in!

    ill do it

    “I’ll Do it!” Taking Responsibility

    By: Brian Moses and Mike Gordan

    Teach students not only ways to be helpful and responsible at school, but also ways they can take on more responsibilities at home, like doing chores and helping their grown-up(s) in this sweet children’s book!


    By: Eileen Spinelli

    A well-written depiction of various responsibilities one might have today versus in the future.  This book does a great job of explaining what additional responsibilities we might have as we get older!

    I Just Forgot

    By: Mercer Mayer

    Little Critter is having an extra forgetful day! From his lunchbox to his water, this tale teaches students to become more responsible for their things. 

    Bottom line - there are TONS of ways to go about teaching responsibility in the classroom that are fun, engaging, and individualized for your student(s)! If you are looking for easy-to-implement, print and go resource to teach kids responsibility, check out this SEL Curriculum: Responsible Decision Making. The biggest take-away for students will be owning their responsibilities - over their bodies, over their things, over their words, and over their actions.  And those are some BIG life lessons that we should all be reminded of from time to time!

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