Teaching students how to use I-Messages was one of my most important lessons as a school counselor. I wanted my students to be peaceful problem-solvers who could confidently address issues themselves rather than turning to a teacher (ugh tattletaling!) or making a sad choice. I loved how I could teach my students how to use I-Messages in class or group, and they could leave my room with a new practical skill that they could use that very same day with their friends and family members.
Before teaching students how to use I-Messages, I made sure to first teach them the difference between small problems and big problems. 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 teach students to differentiate between small problems and big problems, I liked to give LOTS of real-world examples and use sorting activities such as this bag sorting game. 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.
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 brand new book 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. So many children’s stories that teach social skills are full of metaphor and are very wordy which was a big struggle for the English Learner, high-poverty population I worked with. This story 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:
“I feel _____ when you _____. Can you please _____?”
This process allows students to express their feelings, needs, and wishes in a non-accusatory, peaceful manner. Since learning this process is the most important part of the lesson, I make sure to use eye-catching and memorable visual aids with my students. I created the three posters below for using an I-Message and added them to my Free Resource Library for you – simply join my mailing list, check your email for the Free Resource Library Password (it may go to spam so check there, too!), and download away! You can post them to a bulletin board or display them in your space all year long to help students remember how to be peaceful problem-solvers.
Once students understand the structure of an I-Message, it is time to start practicing using them! If you school is distance learning or you prefer to teach in-person using interactive technology, this Digital I-Messages Lesson is super helpful for teaching students how to use I-Messages. It teaches about small problems and the 3-step structure for using an I-Message, and offers several opportunities for students to practice using I-Messages in real-life situations.
If you are teaching in-person and prefer printable materials, this Problem-Solving Skills and I-Messages Lesson includes a PowerPoint that teaches all about I-Messages, the small problems vs. big problems bag sorting game, and an interactive lap book to help students practice using I-Messages. I use a Manila folder to create my lap books and then attach hook and loop fastener dots to each of the squares inside of the folder. Students can practice choosing a feeling, a situation, and a wish/need and attaching them to the little squares with the binder clips at the top. I loved using this resource to teach I-Messages to my classes, individuals, and groups, but also kept it on hand for students to use as conflicts arose to help them work through the process of using an I-Message to solve small problems as they happened.
I hope that these ideas and resources were helpful to you and that you now feel more confident in teaching I-Messages and problem-solving skills to your students! What is your favorite way to teach these important skills? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you!