Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

What Is Self-Esteem?
Lesson 1
From Unit: Community Impact
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


In this three-day lesson, students analyze self-esteem in themselves and in fictional and nonfictional characters. They discuss the value of having a positive and realistic image of oneself and set goals for developing self-esteem in self and others by identifying strengths and personal talents/skills.


Three 45-Minute Class Periods


The learner will:

  • define self-esteem and discuss its value.
  • analyze the self-esteem of fictional and nonfictional characters.
  • complete a self-esteem inventory.
  • reflect on self-esteem and personal strengths and goals.
  • identify ways to share personal strengths in the form of social capital that builds community and connections to others.

Service Experience:

Although this lesson contains a service project example, decisions about service plans and implementation should be made by students, as age appropriate.
Learn more about the stages of service-learning.

Student voice determines the service project that arises from this unit. The service should be ongoing and related to students' strengths and interests, lasting a semester if possible.

Appropriate service for this unit may include opportunities to share time and talent focused on others. Students recognize they have valuable contributions to make as they work with children or adults who benefit from direct interaction in the form of helping or spending quality time together:

  • Community service with younger children
    • tutoring/mentoring
    • coaching
    • childcare
  • Community service with senior citizens
    • reading to a person with poor eyesight
    • playing games
    • helping with chores
    • companionship


esteem: to set high value on; regard highly

self-esteem: the evaluative judgments made about self-attributed qualities

social capital: social interactions that build trust and enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives


  • Internet access for individuals or on SmartBoard (or a printout of the online article on KidsHealth.org)
  • read-aloud copy of the book Darkness to Light: Teens Write About How They Triumphed Over Trouble or excerpt of Sara's Story from the following book review: http://www.educationworld.com/a_books/books016.shtml    
  • student copies of handouts
Handout 1
Promise to Esteem Myself
Handout 2
Reflection on Self-Esteem Story
Handout 3
High Self-Esteem List
Handout 4
Low Self-Esteem List

Instructional Procedure(s):

Day One

Anticipatory Set
 Post the following riddle in a prominent area in the classroom:
"You can't touch it, but it affects how you feel. You can't see it, but it's there when you look at yourself in the mirror. You can't hear it, but it's there every time you talk about yourself. What is this important but mysterious thing?" (taken from Kidshealth.org)
As students enter the room, draw their attention to the mysterious question and encourage them to try to solve the puzzle without discussion until class starts. When class begins, lead discussion and questioning and build curiosity about the answer to the riddle. (The answer is “self-esteem.”)   
  • Ask students to write a reflection on their own self-esteem and understanding of self-esteem. They do not share this reflection with anyone.
  • Have the students read the following article about self-esteem: "The Story on Self-Esteem"  www.kidshealth.org/kid/feelings/emotion/self_esteem.html. You may print this in advance, give students the URL, or read it together on the SmartBoard. (Note: Stop the reading before the section on “Low Self-Esteem” section.)    
  • Give students time to complete Handout 2, Reflection On Self-Esteem article. Discuss the answers together.
Day Two
  • Have the students work in groups of three to examine how the characteristics of a fictional character relate to self-esteem. Each group should choose a main character from film, television or literature (you may choose to use the literature that all students are reading or have all read during the year). They may choose two different characters or examine one character from both perspectives. 
  • Using the High Self-Esteem Handout (3), students write five positive qualities of the character and then describe how each positive quality relates to high self-esteem. 
  • Using the Low Self-Esteem Handout (4), students write five negative qualities of the character and then describe how each quality relates to low self-esteem.
  • Have groups share their observations with the class and respond to the comments of other groups. Have a class discussion of the observations of the self-esteem of these characters.
  • Discuss how the characters' self-esteem influences the decisions they make. How might the story change if the characters focused on sharing their strengths and talents rather than hiding them or separating from others?
Day Three
  • Tell the students that they are going to complete an inventory to rate their personal self-esteem.
  • Before the inventory, give a brief overview. Allow them to ask for vocabulary definitions before they start.  Also, be sure to explain the scoring procedures and answer questions before they begin.  Tell them to raise their hand if they have questions during the inventory.  
  • Assure them that this is a confidential assignment and that no one will read their responses without their permission (including the teacher). You will, however, look at it quickly to give credit for completing it. (Simply walk around, have students show they completed all questions and give them credit.) 
  • If students have Internet access, they can complete Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale electronically here (and it will score it for them): http://www.wwnorton.com/college/psych/psychsci/media/rosenberg.htm 
  • Read about the scale here and download a print version if you want students to complete the scale on paper (and score it themselves): http://www.bsos.umd.edu/socy/research/rosenberg.htm
  • After the Survey, emphasize to the students that they should not over-think, judge or emotionalize their results, but to "sit" with the results and reflect on the discussions about self-esteem.
  • Read the excerpt from "Sara's Story" aloud to the class (or another story from the book). Discuss the story, allowing the students to take the lead. Questions to start discussion, if needed: 
  1. Were you surprised at Sara's age?
  2. How do you think she survived alone?
  3. How long do you think she lived like that before she came to realize her potential future?
  4. How do you think you would react if you saw the kinds of things she saw?
  • Give each student a copy of Handout One, Pledge to Self. Ask students to read it and, if they are ready, sign it. Tell them they may sign it later. (Encourage them to revisit it later in the unit.)
  • Discuss what students can do to build self-esteem. See page four of www.kidshealth.org/kid/feelings/emotion/self_esteem.html for a discussion starter. Bring in the idea that helping others often helps oneself, which is an idea called "enlightened self interest."
  • Describe the homework assignment.  (See School-Home Connection.)

Youth Voice:

Open the door to discovering how they can help their own self-esteem by helping others. Tell the students that feeling like you are making a difference and that your help is valued can improve one's self-esteem.

Give students the opportunity to brainstorm ideas about who (or what groups) within the community would most likely realize an increase of self-esteem through their service project.  Have them take an inventory of the talents they have that can be shared with others. And then brainstorm and come to consensus on a project they can carry out.

School/Home Connection:

Find a quiet place without distractions and for ten minutes review and think about:

  • your self esteem inventory results. 
  • the "Pledge To Self."   
  • the excerpt from Sara's Story.

Then write a six-paragraph reflection that:

  • organizes and expresses your thoughts about your strengths and weaknesses and what you can do to maintain or enhance self-esteem in yourself or others.
  • develops a sincere, reality based, positive plan to focus on your strengths and overcome challenges.


Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

Arts: Students make a self-portrait collage of magazine clippings and art materials that reflects their strengths and feelings about self.

Technology/Language Arts: Students select a quote or write a statement that they could post on their social media that encourages others to celebrate and appreciate their strengths. (Encourage them to post it and then reflect on the response they get.)

Media: View "The Last Lecture," a YouTube video of a lecture featured on The Oprah Show in which Dr. Randy Pausch describes how you achieve your childhood dreams. 


Reflection: (click to view)

Bibliographical References:

Hopkins, Gary. "Books in Education" Education World, 2011.  Review of the book, "From Darkness to Light: Teens Write about How they Triumphed Over Trouble" This includes "Sara's Story." http://www.educationworld.com/a_books/books016.shtml

Kids' Health in the Classroom series: http://classroom.kidshealth.org/6to8/personal/growing/selfesteem.pdf

Landsman, Julie. From Darkness to Light: Teens Write About How They Triumphed Over Trouble. Fairview Press: 1996. ISBN-13: 978-0925190369


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Promise to Esteem Myself


Because I value myself, I make this promise to myself:
To say what I think
To express my feelings and wishes
To expect to be treated with respect
To live my life without being bullied or manipulated
To be myself
To stick up for my rights
To respect the rights of others
To discover and use my talents and abilities
To choose how I respond to other people
This_____day of__________,_____

Handout 2Print Handout 2

Reflection on Self-Esteem Story

Name _______________________________ Teacher _____________________________ Hour _______

Read the article about self-esteem on kidshealth.org and answer the following questions.
1.       What does it mean to esteem something?
2.       What is self-esteem?
3.       What is the difference between self-esteem and bragging?
4.       Why is self-esteem important (what does it do for you)?
5.       How can self-esteem get you through hard times?

Handout 3Print Handout 3

High Self-Esteem List

Handout 4Print Handout 4

Low Self-Esteem List

Philanthropy Framework:

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Unit Contents:

Overview:Community Impact Summary


What Is Self-Esteem?
What Do I Control?
What Can I Give?

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