"Treat others the same as you would want to be treated," is today's translation of the Golden Rule, a moral facet traditionally attributed to the Christian Bible. The term "Golden Rule" is not, in fact, found in Biblical text; this sage advice has stood throughout centuries and across cultures as a standard of conduct and behavior that is the foundation for law, order and diplomacy. It is such a basic concept that young children can easily absorb and build upon it. Employ some creative ideas to help teach this lesson in a captivating way.
Discussion questions are always a good way to begin a class activity. Questions can be adapted for various age levels and adjusted for different discussion topics.
Examples: How do you feel when others let you pick first? How do you feel when other people won't share with you? What is the Golden Rule? What does it have to do with respect? How do I want to be treated, and how will I treat others? Will I treat others the way I want to be treated even if they’re not doing the same?
Role play gives students the opportunity to examine a scenario from the same perspective they might experience it, in a safe, planned environment. Invent a few situations for the students to act out. Consider talking about what the Golden Rule is NOT, and what these character qualities look like. Role play the same scenarios using responses that do not illustrate the golden rule.
Examples: Another student makes fun of your clothes in the hall at school. How do you respond? When you’re trying to tell a story at the lunch table, your friend interrupts and takes over. What do you say? A girl in your class lies all the time, but one day she needs help with her homework and asks if you can study with her. You don’t want to hang out with her, but she doesn’t seem to have any friends, and she might need help. What should you do? There is a bully at school who you just can’t stand. One day he throws a ball at you. Later, you see him get hurt. What would you do? There are fresh cookies cooling on the oven, and no one is around. There are so many, your mom will never miss one. Do you eat one?
Distribute scissors, construction paper, glue and old magazines ("Time for Kids," "Big Backyard," "Ladybug," and other kid-friendly or family-oriented publications work well). Have students cut out pictures that illustrate the Golden Rule in some way. Spend some time creating collages with the cutouts, then have students take turns explaining why they chose their particular pictures.
Community Service Field Trip
Reaching out to others is an excellent way to learn the practical side of the Golden Rule firsthand. Contact a local Meals On Wheels organization, homeless shelter, orphanage, food pantry or other charity and organize a Golden Rule field trip.
Challenge students to think about someone they don’t like, then tell them they must find a way to go out of their way to be nice to those people this week. In a future class, have them share an update with the class, if possible.
Related Character Qualities
The Golden Rule rests on the foundational character qualities of tolerance, love and respect. Use activities and discussions related to these qualities as excellent complements to any lesson on the Golden Rule. Historical figures who have illustrated these qualities abount, from Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale and a myriad of other dedicated volunteers and leaders from around the world.
Altruism and Utilitarianism
For older students, the Golden Rule can spark a discussion regarding ethics, altruism and utilitarianism or capitalism. Brant Abrahamson and Fred Smith have written an in-depth guide for teaching principles of the Golden Rule to older students to "demonstrate that the Golden Rule is more than a behavioral guide for small children.” The link to this guide is through Scarboro Missions and can be found in the reference section of this page.
Altruism: Does the Golden Rule mean we should give and give and give selflessly and never expect anything back?
Utilitarianism: Does it mean that we never do anything unless we are counting on receiving something of like value in return?
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