Adult Ed
Values Clarification


Keep in Mind
For the most part, basic skills can be taught using any topic or theme. Spelling, reading comprehension, effective writing, even math skills, can be taught whether the class is studying Parenting, New York City History, Smart Shopping, or Job Readiness. For example, let’s say you are working with a group of parents and you want to teach a particular skill. They will probably be more engaged if they are reading about children’s health issues than they would be reading about something not relevant to their lives, like penguins.

Activity One: Brainstorming a Collection of Values
Activity Two: Prioritizing Your Individual Values
Activity Three: Exploring the Number One Value (and Writing a Short Essay)
Activity Four: A Value That Has Changed
Activity Five: The Values Auction
Activity Six: Putting It All Together, An Essay on Values

With adjustments, these activities can work with students at any level and we suggest adaptations throughout the activities. The following list includes examples of general tips that you could use when applying these activities to a lower level class:

1. Use language experience technique.
2. Read to the students.
3. Take time for word study.
4. Use invented spelling about accuracy.
5. Substitute transcribing for writing.
6. Do some writing as a group (with the teacher transcribing).

Activity One: Brainstorming a Collection of Values

Step 1 On a blackboard or flip chart write the word “Values” and underneath it write “What Is Important in Life”.

Step 2 Ask the class what the word value means. You may need to follow up by asking what is a value? What are values? You may need to explain that a value is like a principle or a standard. Values are the things that you value, that are important to you. Read from the dictionary if you want to.

Step 3 Tell the class that you want to them to explore their values. Let them know that the group is going use the topic of “Values” to practice different kinds of thinking, organizing, and writing.

Step 4 Back to the blackboard. Ask the group “What are your values? What is important to you?” Mention that this is not the same for everyone. This is a tough question so give them time to take a minute and silently brainstorm ideas in their mind or jot them down on paper. You may have to ask a few times: What is important to you? What is important in your life? Write the responses on the blackboard.

Step 5 After the group has created the list, try and fill it out a little more. Ask something like “So this is it. This is ALL that is in your life. Is that all you need?” Read the entire list again and see if people have more to add. You will need at least twenty values to make this work.

Step 6 You may want to review the list. Is there duplication? This can be good for discussion. Are “career” and “job” the same? If “family” is up there, do you need “children” up there? What about “love” and “romance”? Don’t worry about deciding whether or not to eliminate a value. That’s not really important. When in doubt, leave everything on the list.

Step 7 Read over the final list. If the words are challenging to your group, you might want to have them read the list. You can read as a group (with you leading) if the words are really hard for them. If they are stronger readers, you can have a few volunteers read the list. Only do this if their reading of the list is likely to be fairly successful.

This brainstormed list becomes the raw material that you work with in the rest of the activities. Save it on the blackboard or type it up and distribute to your group to help them through the next activities.

Activity Two: Prioritizing Your Individual Values

Part One: The Top Ten

Step 1 Review the list of values that came out of the brainstorming.

Step 2 Ask students to write in order, the ten items from the brainstormed list that are the most important to them. Skip a line in between each item. So it looks something like this:

My Top Ten Values

1. Health

2. Family

3. Education

4. Music

5. Friends

6. Church

7. Sports

8. Job

9. Money

10. Pets

If your group has problems with open-ended activities, you may need to remind them that there is no right answer and that everyone’s lists will be different.

Step 3 Split the class into pairs and ask them to read their lists to each other

Step 4 Bring the whole class together and ask for volunteers to read their lists

Step 5 Ask the class to fill in a sentence, some phrases or even just words next to each item on their list. So it ends up like this:

My Top Ten Values

1. Health: The most important. Without this nothing else Matters

2. Family: I love them

3. Education: the way to get ahead

4. Music: my spare time I enjoy this

5. Friends: Rudy, Eric, Sam, Daxin

6. Church: for my soul

7. Sports: baseball, soccer, basketball

8. Job: how I survive

9. Money: to buy things, to live

10. Pets: I have a dog. He is a good friend to me.

Part Two: The Bottom Three

Step 1 Using three index cards, ask students write the three items that are least important to them. One value goes on each card.

Step 2 On the front of the card, write down why this value is not important

Step 3 On the back of the card write down why you think this value might be important to some other people

Step 4 Ask for volunteers to read either side of their card to the whole group

Activity Three: Exploring the Number One Value (and Writing a Short Essay)
1. On a blank sheet of unlined paper, ask students to draw a picture/ map/diagram of the number one value in their lives. (If you have the space and the materials, big sheets of newsprint make the drawing and the sharing better).

2. As they draw, ask students to label as much as they can in their drawings. Circulate and ask questions (Who’s that? What are those?) and help with spelling so people label a lot.

3. Mention that they can include other values in the drawing as they relate to the number one value.

4. Split the group into pairs and explain their drawings to each other.

5. Ask for volunteers to explain their drawing to the whole group.

6. After this, students are better prepared to write about their number one value. Ask them to write something about this value, why it is number one, and how it is a part of their life. After all this exploration, it may take a minute for people to focus. But give them a minute and you and they might be surprised with how much they have to write. Again, you might need to remind the group that there is no “right answer” here.

7. Here is a variety of optional activities to conduct after they write:

  • Ask three students to read their pieces of writing to the class. Then show the class the three pictures the students drew without telling which is which. Ask students to guess which picture goes with which piece of writing and explain why they think so.

  • Split students into pairs, either the same or different partner is fine, and read the pieces to each other.
  • Split into small groups and read the pieces to each other.
  • Display the drawing and the writings around the room on the wall or on desks or tables and have the group circulate and read.
  • Work on revision and editing with advanced groups.

    Activity Four: A Value That Has Changed
    1. Give students copies of the brainstormed list, or have them look at it on the board. Ask them to circle three values that have changed for them. It can be something that was once important and is now less important or something that didn’t used to be important but now is.

    2. Break students into pairs or small groups and ask them to explain what they circled to one another.

    3. Ask them to pick one changed value for the next part of the activity.

    4. Give each student four big index cards or four half sheets of paper for writing.

    5. On the first index card write about the place this holds in their lives now. Try to stick with the place it holds now and not why it changed. That will come later.

    6. On the second index card, write about the place the value used to hold. Try to stick with the place it held in the past and not the change that followed.

    7. On the third index card, write about the change.

    8. On the fourth index card write a general definition/explanation of this value.

    9. Now the group is going to put these cards in an order of their choosing and add transitional phrases. Use extra cards for transitional phrases if there is no room on the cards they have. Show students an example of four cards taped together with the transitions stuck in where needed.

    10. Copy over the cards and transitions on a clean sheet of paper, making any needed adjustments. Some things might need to be changed a little as the pieces become a whole essay. You may want to do a mini-lesson on traditional phrases.

    Activity Five: The Values Auction.
    1. The brainstormed list from Activity One is the starting place for this activity. The list of values should be written on a blackboard or flip chart-someplace where the whole group can see it.

    2. Tell everyone in the group that they have one thousand imaginary dollars to spend in a Values Auction. Students will make bids on the values that are most important to them. Whoever bids the most, “gets” that value. They can spend the money however they like. They can spend all their money on one value to make sure they get it. They can try and spread it around.

    3. Go through the items on the list one by one. Ask for an opening bid. Whoever bids the most gets that value. Write their name and the amount they bid next to that value on the board.

    4. Go through the whole list until every value has been won. Have the class check the math as you go along and make sure no one spends more than one thousand dollars.

    5. Read through the whole list, who got what, and for how much at the end of the auction.

    6. Ask the class to write something about the auction. They can either write about their own values and why they chose what they chose or they can write about the whole-group activity.

    1. This is a great activity for practicing feedback and revision. Students may not write a lot about why they chose what they chose. For example, “I bid all my money on family because without family you have nothing” begs the question “What do you mean by that?”

    2. If you have more than twenty-five values on the list, you should probably pare it down. Otherwise the auction might go on for too long. If you have a big class, you need a bigger list, so everyone can get something. If the class is really big let people share a value if they match the highest bid.

    Activity Six: Putting It All Together, An Essay on Values
    This activity uses all the above activities plus one more given here as prewriting exercises. The writing process is very briefly summarized in this activity.

    1. Give each student an index card. Let them know that they are each going to be writing about their values. They will do it however they want. They can write about one value, several values, compare two values, or any configuration that they like. Ask them to write three different first sentences for an essay about their values.

    2. Break into pairs or small groups and ask everyone to read their sentences and talk about which one they like best.

    3. Draft the essay. Use one of the sentences on the card or a new sentence to start it off.

    4. Read drafts in small groups.

    5. Make revisions.

    6. Read again in groups.

    7. Ask for volunteers to read finished essays to the class.


    If students are not “all written out,” they can do much more writing about values. Suggested topics are:

  • Write About an Experience That Shaped Your Values.

  • Write About a Person Who Influenced Your Values.

  • What Does Society Values And Why?

  • The World Would Be Better Off If People Valued _________ More.

  • A Report of and Interview With Another Student About His or Her Values.