Try the self-esteem activities and lessons based on popular children’s books to help you build confident kids in the kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom.
Using Books & Self-Esteem Activities to Build Confident K-2 Students
We all want our students to feel valued and appreciated. But in the day-to-day routine of academic learning, taking tests, and teaching ALL THE THINGS, we may forget the fundamental messages we want our kids to absorb.
As teachers, we help influence kids to build confidence and self-worth. By being deliberate with the lessons we teach and our messages, we can make sure our students develop healthy self-esteem.
As you already know, books play an essential role in helping to teach important social-emotional topics. Books offer a gentle way to teach kids lessons and how to relate them to their own lives.
Self-esteem is a topic covered in a variety of great, engaging books for children. Today, I will share five children’s picture books and self-esteem activities to help kids develop confidence, self-love, and embrace their uniqueness.
1. Perfectly Norman
Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival is a book about a little boy and how he deals with not being “normal” anymore after he grows a pair of wings one day.
The book explores how Norman struggles to adapt but eventually learns to accept his wings and to be courageous as himself. It is an excellent book for starting conversations about positive self-image and managing feelings in difficult situations.
- Start a conversation about what “normal” means. Ask kids if there is a way they are supposed to be and act or if everyone can be different.
- Create a collaborative Y-chart with the headings: “I Am,” “I Have,” and “I Can.” Ask the kids to share unique, meaningful, and different things about themselves and record them under each chart section.
- After these discussions, have students write ways that they are different, unique, and important.
Self-Esteem Activities to Use with Perfectly Norman:
- “Perfectly Me” Photograph & Art Activity – Have students decorate a pair of wings. Cut out and glue onto the center of a large sheet of paper. Take a picture of each child, print it, cut it out, and glue it on the paper on top of the wings. Display the pictures on the wall with the header “Perfectly Me.”
- Role Play Scenarios – Use scenario cards to lead a classroom discussion and role-play activity where kids act out how they would be themselves if faced with those situations.
2. The Smart Cookie
The Smart Cookie by Jory John & Pete Oswald features a cookie who doesn’t think she is very smart.
She sees herself as less intelligent compared to the clever cupcakes and brilliant rolls she shares the bakery with. But throughout the story, she learns that there is more than one way to be “smart,” and it isn’t always about perfect scores and having all the answers.
Kids will love reading about this smart cookie and reflecting on how they are all “smart” in different ways!
- Before and after reading the story, ask kids what they think “smart” means. How does their definition change after reading the story?
- Create a collaborative anchor chart and brainstorm examples around the word SMART. Using those ideas, create an acronym for the word SMART.
- Create a poster together with the new definition. For example, S- Standing up for myself and sharing my ideas, M- Managing tasks and trying new things, A- Asking questions when we don’t know the answer. R- Realizing that learning takes time and effort. T- Taking risks and making mistakes help us learn.
- Complete the writing prompt, “I am a SMART cookie” with ways that they are “smart.”
Confidence Activities to Use with The Smart Cookie:
- Confident Cookies – Cut out cookie shapes and write positive tasks that build self-esteem on them. Place the “cookies” in a jar. Pull out and read the cookies to individual kids or have kids pull out a cookie when they need a confidence boost. (Examples: Read a book to the class. Create something. Do something that makes you feel happy.)
- Student Certificate – Praise children for their many efforts in school to try their best and be who they are. Award them with a “Smart Cookie” Certificate. Include an example of something they did you that you would like to recognize.
3. Thelma the Unicorn
In the book Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey, an ordinary pony dreams of being something much more special – a unicorn!
Thelma’s wish comes true one day when she pretends to be a sparkly unicorn of international stardom. But Thelma discovers that it is not as great as she had imagined, and she gives it up to return to her “ordinary” life. She learns to love who she truly is, even without the sparkles.
Kids will like this lovable pony and learn the same lesson as Thelma – to love themselves.
- Start by asking the kids to think of a time they wanted to be like someone else or change something about themselves. Ask them to share their experiences. As others share, ask students to give a “thumbs up” if they have a connection and have had a similar thought.
- Create a collaborative chart called “Just Me.” Record things kids wished were different or they could change. For example, “I have diabetes,” “I have big ears,” or “I need extra help to read.” Emphasize that the ideas on the chart are all special and that we need to learn to love and accept them.
- After the discussions, have students write ways that they are special and what they love about themselves on a writing prompt (“Just Me” or “I am Special.”)
Self-Love Activities to Use with Thelma the Unicorn:
- Unicorn Craftivity – Print or draw a unicorn head on cardstock and cut it out. Attach strips of colored paper to create the unicorn’s mane. On each strip of hair, write a different thing that makes them unique.
- Self-Love Cards – Print and laminate a set of cards with positive messages we should say to show ourselves love, patience, and respect. Hand out the cards when kids need some self-love.
4. Be You
A sweet book that kids will enjoy, Be You by Peter Reynolds, is a good one to remind kids to be themselves.
The book talks about ways we should strive to be in life (curious, adventurous, patient, brave, etc.). But most of all, “be you”! This is a great gentle reminder for students to embrace who they are.
- Talk about the ways that each student is unique and special. Tell kids that we each have unique qualities and traits that make us special.
- Create a collaborative chart called “Be You.” Set it up like a graph with the adjectives listed in a row or scatter them on the chart. Mention each trait and ask kids to put up their hands if they identify themselves as having that trait. Record with tally marks next to each attribute. Tell them that they all can embody that trait and that some may take time and growing up to get there.
- After talking about personality traits, they can write about how to identify themselves.
Self-Esteem Activities to Use with Be You:
- Social Storybook – Complete the “Be You” printable social story to deepen your understanding of the character traits from the book. Copy lines from the book or write one’s ideas for each character trait. Write about one way that they will be themselves on the last page.
- Self-Esteem Calendar – Challenge students to perform self-esteem activities each day. The challenge is to see how many activities they can complete in a month. They can perform and record the activity of their choice for different days of the month or color in one of the acts listed on the self-esteem calendar.
5. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
Students learn about standing up to bullies in this inspiring book, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell.
Molly Lou has always been told to stand tall, smile big, and sing loud. She is short and clumsy, has buck teeth, and can’t sing well. But when she is bullied at school, she takes the advice to heart.
Kids need to hear this message to be proud of who they are and not give in to bullies that may come into their lives.
- Before you read, ask students to describe Molly Lou based on her appearance. Ask them if a person should be judged and treated based on their appearance or if what’s on the inside matters.
- As you read, point out the inside and outside traits of Molly Lou.
- Create a chart called “Personal Traits.” Draw a line down the chart, and on either side, brainstorm a list of inside and outside traits that Molly Lou has.
- Encourage the kids to share a personal quality on the inside and the outside that they have and add those to the chart, and then write about it.
Activities to Use with The Bad Seed:
- Letter Writing – Think of someone special that has done something helpful or meaningful. Have students write a letter to that person thanking them for what they did. Describe what they did and how it made an impact. Send the letter to that special person.
- Confidence Quote Posters – Read the quotes about being confident from the various posters. Let students select a poster to color, then hang them around the room to remind kids to be confident.
Helping kids build confidence with five wonderful books and self-esteem activities is a beautiful gift you can give your students.
Which book will you read first?
Books that Teach Self-Esteem
FREE Positive Self-Talk Cards
Help your students learn to speak positively to themselves with this free set of positive affirmations for kids.
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Self-Esteem Activities & Book Companion Lessons
Find activities for each of the five children’s books featured in this post in our Self-Esteem Book Companion pack for K-2. You will have everything you need to lead informative lessons that support students as they practice and build self-esteem.
Check out this comprehensive resource’s writing prompts, journals, games, posters, and activities.
More Lessons to Teach with Children’s Books
Teach Growth Mindset with Picture Books
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