Ethics discussion guide
Ethics discussion guide
This discussion guide will enhance students’ study of the student’s Ethics section of this website so that they better understand the importance of ethics and how to incorporate ethical behavior into their lives. Included are relevant academic content standards by state, an objective for each page, ideas for classroom discussion, puzzle answers, literature connections and social studies connections. Review the objectives and conduct a classroom discussion for each component to help students make personal connections to the ideas presented on the site.
To introduce students to the idea of ethical decision-making, and to terms and concepts pertaining to ethics and character.
Good (a.k.a. ethical) decisions are not always popular. Because of this, the right thing to do is not always obvious. In order to learn how to “do the right thing,” we need to think about the consequences of our decisions on the health and safety of ourselves and others, our environment, and our peer group or community. Considering these things will help us know whether we are being ethical or unethical.
Invite students to share any personal examples of a choice they had to make where it was not black and white (obvious), but where there was a “gray area.” Tell them a good way to tell if they’re struggling with a gray area is when a big “BUT” comes into play in the decision-making process. (I could tell Ms. Thomas what the kids were doing to Sam during recess, BUT…)
Activity: Ethics in action crossword
Review the vocabulary words in the word puzzle and explore the definitions of character traits through discussion and examples. Ask students if they can use any of these words in a sentence. The website section Responsibility and Ethics provides definitions and sentences.
Integrity in action – putting ethics to work
Expand students’ understanding of integrity and how it relates to decision-making.
Refer to specific examples of structural integrity and lack thereof, such as a tall building that stays intact during an earthquake, a rope with a frayed strand, a chain with a broken link or a house with a crumbling foundation. Ask students to come up with their own examples. Relate structural integrity to ethical integrity – point out how it takes strength of character to consistently demonstrate ethical integrity. This is because our personal integrity is challenged regularly when we have to make decisions and/or respond to the words and actions of those around us. Explain that every time we make a “good” or ethical decision or choice, we are building or strengthening our personal integrity, making it more likely that we will make an ethical choice the next time.
Review the integrity quiz with students and ask what they chose for the best answer. (Joyce walked back to the store, explained what happened and returned the money.) Why would the second answer not be a good idea? (It would be likely that Joyce would not get around to returning to the store at a later date. She might feel badly about not doing it right away, and want to avoid the uncomfortable interaction.) Ask students if what Joyce did was illegal. (No.) Relay that being legal doesn’t necessarily make it ethical.
Ask students if they or anyone they know ever had a similar situation, where they were undercharged or received too much change for something and had to give some money back. How would they feel if something similar happened to them and they chose the ethical option? (They would feel good because the cashier would be pleased at their honesty. Doing the right thing feels good!)
Respect & tolerance in practice
Recognize diversity as a positive thing for how it enriches our lives, and illustrate the value of respecting people with different backgrounds, beliefs and traits. Make the connection between respect, tolerance, acceptance and cooperation.
Discuss the movie The Blind Side, based on a true story about the Tuohy family who took in homeless, young Michael Oher and supported him until he was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Even if students do not watch the film, the rough storyline illustrates the value of tolerance and respect. What were the benefits to Michael of the Touhys’ acceptance of him into their family? (Benefits could include: He got a chance at an education, and at developing his sports prowess. He got to experience kindness and acceptance from the Tuohy family, something everyone deserves.) What were the benefits for the family? (Benefits could include: They learned about life from another perspective through having Michael live with them. They felt gratification over their act of kindness.)
Point out examples of positive behaviors that the family demonstrated. (Answers could include respect, acceptance, tolerance, politeness, kindness, inclusion.)
Ask students to volunteer sharing the group situations they wrote about, either in the chart or the writing activity. Discuss how disrespectful or intolerant behavior can lead to a breakdown in communication and cooperation. Ask students for examples of behaviors that occur when people are disrespectful or intolerant. (Answers could include rudeness, bullying, name-calling, exclusion.) Then ask them for examples of behaviors that occur when people are respectful, accepting and tolerant. (Answers could include politeness, kindness, inclusion.)
Cooperation & commitment
To develop the understanding that cooperation and commitment are two key aspects needed from individuals participating in a group.
Discuss the importance of cooperation and commitment and how without these it is difficult to achieve shared goals. Discuss how kindness, politeness and inclusion build a sense of community (referenced in next section, Compassion & Community). Help students recognize the importance of taking responsibility for their own behavior for the benefit of the whole group.
Ask students if they have ever participated in a group in which one of the members was being uncooperative. (Examples could include a family meeting, sports team, band rehearsal or classroom.) What did that feel like? Then see if any students have ever put their own needs after the needs of a group they were participating in. What did that feel like?
Even when a group is cooperative and committed the outcome may not be what is expected. Explain that the sole purpose of a community effort is not just to “win” or be successful, although of course that’s important. Ask students what value they have derived personally from participating in a community endeavor besides the common goal of winning or succeeding. (Answers could include a sense of belonging, fun, sharing, offering and receiving respect and generosity.)
Point out that the way people react when they meet an outcome they do not expect or desire (such as losing in a competition) is a reflection of their character. (People with a mature character have learned how to respect strengths and weaknesses in themselves and others.) Ask students if they’ve ever participated on a sports team that lost a close game, or perhaps that lost really badly. How did the team act? Explain that it takes time and experience to learn how to lose “gracefully,” but that ultimately good sportsmanship means offering good will towards one’s winning opponents as well as one’s losing teammates.
Compassion & community
Understand the broader definition of community and the personal qualities that help build strong community such as cooperation, commitment, compassion and respect.
Discuss the many forms and functions of communities. Ask students if they participate in any communities where they have seen the positive impacts of giving and sharing. Have students been on the receiving or giving end of these traits, or both? What would it feel like if these were not accepted values of the community, if people didn’t give and share in groups?
It takes more than cooperation to build a strong community. Help students draw the connection between compassion and community. Explain that one must first understand and have compassion for others in order to help address their needs and injustices. Ask students if they know the definition of the word compassion (feeling sympathy for and a desire to help those in need). Ask students to give examples of compassionate acts, or to explain a time they felt compassion for someone. Discuss how belonging to a community sometimes requires taking action to right a wrong or to put the needs of others ahead of your own, and that this takes compassion.
As a group, choose a community service project to do with your class as a way to bring this lesson into reality.
To convey to students that being responsible involves a variety of character traits that demonstrate awareness of and concern for others and for one’s environment.
Discuss the broad scope of responsibility. As a class or in small groups, go through the bulleted list and discuss why each of the bulleted points is included as part of “being responsible.” Have students talk about any points that they did not previously associate with acting responsibly. Ask students if being responsible sounds similar to what they understand so far about being ethical. (Yes, many of the qualities listed on this page are similar to those listed in the crossword puzzle in the Understanding Ethics section.)
Discuss with students that money and popularity can easily come and go, but that one’s character leaves a lasting impression. Remind them that the long-term benefits of doing the right thing should always outweigh short-term goals.
Invite students to think of some actions with short-term benefits besides money and popularity that they might be tempted to pursue, and which might tempt them to forget the long-term benefits of acting responsibly and ethically. (Answers could include: eating all of their candy or ice cream themselves instead of sharing with a younger sibling; cheating on a test to get a good grade; not passing the ball to a well positioned teammate in order to make the goal oneself; spreading mean gossip about a classmate in order to feel accepted by the “in” crowd.)
Have students share which long-term benefits they circled on the worksheet as being of value to them, and have them explain why. Which type of individual listed (coach, parent, or beauty pageant contestant) do they think would need to act the most responsibly? Point out that, interestingly, one needn’t necessarily act responsibly in order to have a lot of money, or to be popular. (Although certainly there are responsible people who do have money and who are popular.) Ask students why they think that is.
Have students read the quotes aloud to the class. Assign as homework to find a quote they like that illustrates some aspect of responsibility or ethics. Have students share these with the class.
Leadership & innovation – the power of you!
To recognize and define the qualities of people whom we consider as role models or leaders.
Go through the list of character traits on the site and discuss each question together as a class. Ask students which they think are the most important qualities in a leader, and why.
Have students break into small groups and discuss with each other the leader they selected, why they respect this person, and his or her leadership qualities.
Assist students in understanding the definition of critical – both its positive and negative connotations. Have students write the word “constructive” beside the word “criticism” within the arrow in the diagram. Explain how constructive criticism can lead to people coming up with new ideas, and putting those ideas into action (innovation). Discuss some examples of this cycle. For example, if you look at a large stereo system, the criticism of it would be that it is not portable; the idea for how to improve it would be to make it smaller and portable; the innovation would be the portable boom box. Discuss how the continuation of this process has led to the creation of MP3 players. See if the class can come up with another example or two of something that needs or needed improving, and take it through the three steps.
Code of conduct
To understand the importance of rules and codes of conduct in helping us stay ethical, and to recognize that ethical behavior extends beyond merely following rules.
Discuss the importance of having a reference – or code of conduct – when you need to make an ethical choice. Help students identify people they can go to when they need guidance, when there is no specific reference for them to follow. Discuss how, while rules and regulations are based on acceptable behaviors, they cannot include all behaviors or situations. Ask students to give feedback on how they think a group or community code of conduct can help protect its members and ensure a cooperative environment. (If there are consequences for disrespectful or harmful behaviors spelled out, this can deter individuals from committing harmful or disrespectful acts.)
Think about it
If you don’t already have one, help students create their own classroom code of conduct, which should include the consequences for breaking the rules. If you do have one, review it together as a class, and discuss how each item on the list relates to the concepts discussed in this website.
To learn how to practice ethical decision-making by analyzing facts and circumstances. This might include distinguishing appropriate from inappropriate actions and assessing how a decision affects others.
Using the sample given, assist students in analyzing the situation, outlining options and coming to an ethical decision. Discuss how the consequences of their decision may benefit others more than themselves. (i.e. if Grace doesn’t cover for Sylvie, Sylvie stays safe by staying home from the concert, and her parents are happy, but Grace risks losing Sylvie’s friendship).
Invite students to share their answers to the examples, and ask other students to give their own feedback to these. This could engender some lively discussion. Afterwards, point out to students that they have just been hard at work practicing their ethical decision-making!
Have students break into small groups and share the results of their interviews. Then, as a whole class, discuss some of the main points that make ethical decision-making challenging. How does one feel when one has made the right choice?
The following books can be read in tandem with this website as they illustrate characteristics discussed in the various sections and activities:
|Be Good to Eddie Lee||Virginia Fleming||compassion|
|Big Al||Andrew Clements||respect|
|Miss Nelson is Missing||Harry Allard||cooperation|
|A Chair for My Mother||Vera B. Williams||cooperation|
|The Pinballs||Betsy Byars||respect, responsibility, caring|
|Lily’s Crossing||Patricia Reilly Giff||integrity, honesty|
|The Indian in the Cupboard||Lynne Reid Banks||respect, dignity, tolerance|
|The Winter Room||Gary Paulsen||personal identity, integrity|
|The Giver||Lois Lowry||leadership, fairness|
|On My Honor||Marion Dane Bauer||peer pressures, responsibility|
|The Arm of the Starfish||Madeleine L’Engle||integrity, innovation|
|Anne of Green Gables||L.M. Montgomery||perseverance, responsibility|
|The Sacrifice||Katherine Benner Duble||honesty|
|Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day||Judith Viorst||perseverance|
|Annie Bananie and the People’s Court||Leah Komaiko||honesty, fairness|
Social studies connections
To bring character education into the social studies classroom, begin by defining citizenship and discussing the differences between an ordinary citizen and a model citizen. Use the character traits provided in the Ethics in Action crossword puzzle to describe the latter. Provide examples of both citizens and model citizens. (A citizen would be simply an ordinary person looking out for themselves, who doesn’t go out of their way to practice honesty, generosity, cooperation or tolerance when it is inconvenient for them. A model citizen would do these things, however, and might in addition volunteer for a non-profit service organization such as one that helps homeless, elderly, disabled or sick people; one that helps animals, the schools or the environment; or one that promotes the rights of a specific group. A model citizen might lead or participate on the board of one of these organizations. He/she would be publicly admired and known for his/her good work on behalf of others.)
Exercise: Journal writing
Ask students to journal about prominent individuals in history whom they think would have been model citizens. Have them make two entries, focusing on the character traits provided on Page 1 of the lesson materials:
- Students compare/contrast one of the individuals in the chart with another famous individual.
- Students compare/contrast one of the individuals in the chart below with themselves.
The following names are provided as an example; the list can be expanded or changed to include individuals in history whom you have covered in your students’ social studies lessons.
Prominent individuals in history
Martin Luther King Jr.