"Education is the gift that can never be taken away."
A male student writes on a poster titles "Our Values" in Spanish.

Social Emotional Learning Activity – Defining Values

We invite you to take part in this social-emotional learning activity for youth. 

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a skill-development process through which we learn how to manage emotions, problem solve, and create positive relationships with others. We invest in the social-emotional wellness of our students to assist them with their schooling, and to contribute to overall career and life success. 

The following activity is a social emotional learning activity we use with our own students. The objective is for students to define core values. We invite you to use it within your classroom, organization, club or sports team. 

How does defining a set of core values help youth?

Male student in blue polo holds up an acrostic poem with his name, Salvador

During a different SEL activity, ASF Student, Salvador, shows off his acrostic poem, featuring words he would use to describe himself.

Defining values benefits youth through: 

  1. Engaging in self reflection, which helps students “know themselves” better. 
  2. Setting the expectations for behavior when in the group setting. 
  3. Using these values to assist them when making decisions in their daily lives. 
  4. Connecting with their peers over shared values. 


The outline below provides the core steps to engage in this activity with youth.

Activity: Defining Values

Woman stands to the right of poster, titles "Our Values," in Spanish.

ASF Consultant, Karina Perez, leads discussion on values, with a group on ASF students, 2018.

Age group: 12-18+ Adolescence – early adulthood

Goals: This activity is designed to assist youth in self reflection, decision making and community building.

Description: In this activity students are invited to identify core values of the group or organization they belong to. This could be in a classroom setting, a club, sports team or another type of youth group. 

Time: 45 minutes or longer. You can adjust the timing according to your needs.

Materials: Paper, pens/pencil, or digital “pen and paper.”
Optional: Colored pencils or markers, poster paper

*Virtual/Remote friendly


STEP 1 : Present the Process

  • Ask students to select three to five core values for your classroom, club, org, etc… you can use a large poster, a whiteboard, or even a digital Google form to collect student responses in the form of a survey, – feel free to be creative!


STEP 2: Pick the Most Popular and Pertinent

  • From the survey, select a few of the most popular key values to review with students. Make sure they align with your organization’s values


STEP 3: Define and Discuss

  • Next, go deep with students to define the values as a group. It is important to be on the same page in defining each value.
  • Then, discuss implications. Now is when you explore how the value set can help guide their decision making. You can set up some scenarios or examples to help:
      • For example, if integrity is one of your core values, you might offer:
        • Broad questions: What does it mean to value integrity? How should my behavior look when I am valuing integrity?
        • Specific scenarios: If I did not attend a meeting because I forgot about it, how should I explain my absence to club leaders? If I need help with a project I promised to complete on my own, how should I proceed?


STEP 4: Bring it all Together

  • Finally, you tie them together.  Regardless of mission, every club, organization or classroom…etc., has an ultimate goal for participants – these values come together in pursuit of that goal.
Man in blue polo stands in front of rows of seated adults.

ASF Counseling Consultant, Hector Meza, discusses ASF values with parents of ASF students.

The Upshot

By the end of the activity students should be able to define each value, understand that values guide behavior and are a tool to help them make better decisions, and ultimately see how values come together to help them achieve their goals. These objectives are ambitious. Learning and applying values takes time. This is why the discussion of values should not start and end here, but should be a recurring topic to discuss with your group, as they face challenges and work together over the course of your time together.