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Students Learn Respect
Thanks to Good Manners

R-E-S-P-E-C-T-- Aretha Franklin sings for it. Rodney Dangerfield never gets any. Educators who teach good manners find it every day in student behavior. Could mastering manners make a difference in your classroom? Included: Web resources for teaching respect and good manners through stories, poems, songs, games, biographies, lesson plans, and activities.

Recently, my seventh graders found it entertaining to mimic manners from the Beaver Cleaver era. "Gee whiz, ma'am," gushed Tanner. "This was a swell class." I expressed appreciation for his etiquette revival and informed the class that students in some states are required to address teachers as "ma'am" and "sir."

"We did that in Alabama," said Casey. "When we moved to Connecticut, my fifth-grade teacher asked me to stop. She said it made her feel old."

Though the fine points of acceptable manners may vary slightly from decade to decade and from one state to another, experts agree, behavior based on respect is still the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, American adults are exhibiting less civility toward one another, and children are following suit with teachers and peers in the classroom.

In 1999, 73 percent of Americans in an ABC NEWS/World News Tonight poll thought manners were worse than 20 or 30 years ago. Respondents primarily placed the blame on inadequate parenting. They also cited movies and television shows that encouraged children to be less respectful of others. Under those circumstances, it's no surprise that manner illiteracy is rampant in classrooms from coast to coast.



Although character education is a hot topic in schools across the nation, education in manners generally receives scant attention. With growing demands on teaching time, etiquette is rarely a priority. But it might be a mistake to ignore the adage that actions speak louder than words.

In "Teaching Children Manners" (from the Better Homes and Gardens Guide to Parenting), psychologist John Rosemond declares that manners and respect are inseparable. He believes children can never learn to respect themselves unless they learn respect for others-- beginning with adults. His suggestions that can help teach manners are as follows:

  • Work on one skill at a time.
  • Give immediate positive feedback for manners success.
  • Be tolerant of children's mistakes, but do not overlook them.
  • Give a noncritical prompt when children forget social rituals.
  • Set a good example-- manners are not a one-way street.

Etiquette author Letitia Baldrige shares a strong opinion on the value of manners training. In "Manners for the Modern Child," she reports her admonition to teach good manners to children to help them develop self-esteem and self-confidence. Baldrige links manners with kindness and good human relations. Much of her advice promotes taking advantage of teachable moments, including the following instructions:

  • Advise children of behavioral expectations ahead of time.
  • Point out to children observed acts of kindness and manners.
  • Admit your mistake if a child catches you using bad manners; discuss other ways you could have handled the situation.

According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, lack of good manners is a growing problem in classrooms and playgrounds. It addressed the widespread problem of disrespect in a "Good Manners" report to parents. Tips for adults interested in improving children's social behavior included the following:

  • Stress to children the importance of treating others the same way they like to be treated.
  • Help children understand the harm caused by thoughtless, unkind words and actions.
  • Role-play difficult situations for children in order to demonstrate appropriate responses.
  • Establish a politeness policy for basic manners.
  • Teach children the importance of thinking of others; write thank-you notes.


At Paxtonia Elementary School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a Good Manners Committee launched a program to decrease teaching time lost to unmannerly behavior. The PTA helped design a three-part program, providing parent volunteers and financial support.

For the Good Manners Reading Time program, teachers chose manners books and volunteers read them to every class. Subsequent book discussions helped children reflect on their own behaviors.

The Good Manners Money component of the program rewarded random acts of good manners observed throughout the school year by "mystery manners persons." Recognized students received 25-cent coupons for the school store, as well as acknowledgements in morning announcements and in the PTA newsletter.

The Mr. or Mrs. Manners Weekly Q + A part of the program enticed fifth-grade sleuths to investigate the intricacies of etiquette by answering weekly questions submitted by other classes. Questions and answers were shared with the entire school.

Individual teachers also expanded the program into their own subject areas. The music teacher taught good manners songs to students. Children in art classes drew posters of good manners for the school hallways. Every student in one class even remembered to send thank-you notes to the PTA.



Any doubts that manners are facing extinction can be dispelled with a peek into school cafeterias. The fast-paced drive-through eating habits of many families can leave children hungry for mealtime etiquette. To fill the order, some teachers are serving up dining skills with a special menu of respect.

"Students Pass the Manners, Please," a Seattle Times article, put a spotlight on manners put to the test in an elegant hotel restaurant. Guided by a parent volunteer, the middle school class at Seattle's Alternative School No. 1 mastered etiquette training to prepare for the formal dinner. They learned to remove hats, hold doors, and make eye contact when speaking. Many held forks and knives the proper way for the first time. "Please" and "thank you" liberally seasoned the polite conversation at the table.

Third- and fourth-grade students at Village School in Campbell, California, were the talk of the town in a program called Mother May I?, as they practiced their manners at a candlelit luncheon. Mothers prepared and served the meal after students spent weeks reading books on manners, setting tables, and even rehearsing toasts. Wearing their best clothes on the big day, the students sat politely and made sure to eat with their mouths closed.



Not every teacher has the help of the PTA, classroom volunteers, or a food budget to motivate manners in students. Most Web ideas for promoting respectful behavior require none of those resources.

Good Manners Are Fun! persuades students in grades 2 through 4 to practice manners through computer activities spanning a unit or a yearlong theme. Nineteen suggestions for integrating manners and technology into the curriculum are provided. Some of the examples call for students to

  • write and publish original books on good manners,
  • create manner problem stories for the rest of the class to read and role-play,
  • design HyperCard stacks on the proper use of eating utensils,
  • combine sound and graphics to demonstrate making introductions,
  • take digital pictures of children using good manners, add text, and publish them as posters.

Advice for parents and ideas for community involvement in manners education is also included.

Second-grade teacher Shirley Denison developed a Respect Lesson Plan as part of the character education project at Kamali'i School in Maui, Hawaii. She introduced the topic of respect by reading How My Parents Learned to Eat, by Ina R. Friedman, and Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. Students discussed ways to be respectful and typed their thoughts on the computer. They added pictures to match the words and posted their projects on the Web.

There is no shortage of literature focusing on the value of respect. Stimulate higher-order thinking on respect with anecdotal stories and biographical Sketches of famous people who demonstrated values. The Whootie Owl's Stories Web page offers a wealth of positive behavior stories for elementary school students. The multicultural folktales cover a range of themes, including cooperation, kindness, and selflessness. Fairy tale games and the opportunity to hear Whootie Owl's voice are additional features. Teaching materials for the stories are available.



Teach your class to start each day with a rousing musical rendition of manners. As an example, the following song is sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell":

Manners are the way
To brighten up my day.
Please and thank you's what I say
To brighten up my day.

Manners Activity Theme will provide you with poems, role plays, crafts, games, and teaching guidelines. Many simple rhymes will help children link manners and respect. For instance:


We say, "Thank you."
We say, "Please."
We don't interrupt or tease.
We don't argue. We don't fuss.
We listen when folks talk to us.
We share our toys and take our turn.
Good manners aren't too hard to learn.
It's really easy, when you find.
Good manners means

You'll never run out of good things to say about respect and other values after you visit the Resources-Quote Library. This quotation bank of insightful statements can be a thought-provoking educational resource for older students.

Quoting the ancient Greeks is a good way to explain what manners are all about.

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."       --Aesop



Minors in Possession of Bad Manners
Students designed this site providing a teenage perspective on past and present etiquette standards.

Don't miss the Education World BOOKS IN EDUCATION story, Mind Your Manners: New Books Help Out! Three books use popular formats to remind students of good manners they already know! Use the books with kids of all ages, and then let them create their own imitation manner manuals. Your students are sure to say thank you for a fun-- and educational-- classroom lesson!

Joan Luddy
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World


Updated 06/08/2010