What Is Self-Esteem?

6, 7, 8

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.

PrintThree 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.
  • reflecton 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.
  • 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: https://www.educationworld.com/a_books/books016.shtml
  • student copies of handouts

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

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.


Students select a quote or write a statement that that communicates their plan or hope for moving toward healthy self-esteem in self or others.


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." https://www.educationworld.com/a_books/books016.shtml

Kids' Health in the Classroom series: https://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


  1. 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.”)

  2. Ask students to write a reflection on their own self-esteem and understanding of self-esteem. They do not share this reflection with anyone.

  3. Have the students read the following article about self-esteem: "The Story on Self-Esteem" https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/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.)

  4. Give students time to complete Handout 2, Reflection On Self-Esteem article. Discuss the answers together.

  5. Day Two

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. Day Three

  12. Tell the students that they are going to complete an inventory to rate their personal self-esteem.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.)

  15. If students have Internet access, they can complete Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale electronically here (and it will score it for them): https://wwnorton.com/college/psych/psychsci/media/rosenberg.htm

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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?
  19. 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.)

  20. Discuss what students can do to build self-esteem. See page four of http://classroom.kidshealth.org/6to8/personal/growing/selfesteem.pdf for a discussion starter. Bring in the idea that helping others often helps oneself, which is an idea called "enlightened self interest."

  21. Describe the homework assignment. (See School-Home Connection.)

Cross Curriculum 

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

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Explain and give examples of enlightened self-interest, egoism, and altruism as they relate to philanthropy.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities and research.