“Mrs. O, he skipped me in line!” “Mrs. O, she won’t share the purple crayon!”
Sound familiar? I thought so!
Teaching students to be peaceful problem-solvers who can confidently address issues themselves (rather than turning to a teacher, ugh tattletaling!) is SO. VERY. CRUCIAL! To empower students to solve small problems, I use a two-step process: first, teach students about size of the problem (the difference between small problems and big problems). Then, teach them how to use an I-Message to solve small problems themselves.
Teaching Size of the Problem:
Let’s start with the basics:
- Small problems are everyday, little, no-big-deal issues that bug and annoy us. Examples of small problems include skipping in line, taking too long at the water fountain, or not taking turns on the playground at recess. Although these conflicts do frustrate and upset us, they are small enough that students are capable of solving them without help from a grown-up.
- Big problems, on the other hand, are scary, dangerous, and unsafe. Examples of big problems include pushing or shoving others, a stranger at the playground at recess, or bullying. These issues are serious and threaten our safety, so students need a grown-up’s help to solve them and stay safe.
To help students master the difference between small problems and big problems, I make sure to use as many real-world scenario examples as I can! This sorting game is the perfect exercise to do just that. In this activity, students take turns choosing a scenario card and reading it aloud to the class. Then, they place it in the “small problems” bag if it represents a small problem, or in the “big problems” bag if it represents a big problem. Simple activities like this can be so helpful for reinforcing knowledge and checking for student understanding! And, they are so interactive (and fun!) that they really engage students!
Once students understand the difference between small problems and big problems, they are ready to learn HOW to solve small problems themselves. There are many ways that students can learn to be peaceful problem-solvers, but using I-Messages (or I-Statements), I would argue, is the most helpful of all! Using I-Messages is a skill that students can use for the rest of their lives and can help them succeed in school, with their friendships, into the world of work, and beyond.
To introduce the concept of I-Messages, I LOVE using this story called “I Can Use an I-Statement” by Jenelle French (Amazon affiliate link). What I love most about this story is that it is simple, to-the-point, and straight-forward. It very simply teaches the three-step process for using an I-Message and offers several examples of real-life small problems that can be solved using I-Messages.
The simple three-step structure to using an I-Message described in this story is:
This process allows students to express their feelings, needs, and wishes in a non-accusatory, peaceful manner. To further reinforce this material, I created this presentation for students. It walks students through the 3-step process to using I-Messages, and offers several opportunities for them to practice their new skills and apply them to real-life scenarios!
Another favorite resource to help students practice using I-Messages is this lap book. It is easily created and stored in a file folder, and something that I can grab at a moment’s notice to support students. I also love keeping a copy of it in my Calm Corner that students can grab to guide conflict resolution discussions with peers. This lap book is a great visual representation of the 3-step process. It lets students identify their feelings, explain what happened, and choose a solution to help solve their problem.
I hope that these ideas and resources were helpful to you, and grew your confidence in teaching I-Messages to your students! What is your favorite way to teach these important skills? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
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