Conflict Escalator Lesson

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
While reading through the comments on this blog post, I discovered the book Teaching Conflict Resolution Through Children's Literature and the idea of the "conflict escalator". Especially when conflict was a bigger problem at our school, it seemed like our students were constant escalating their problems unknowingly! This seemed like a great lesson topic for 3rd grade's conflict resolution unit.

This was a lesson I wanted to start with a book but had a difficult time finding the perfect one. I needed something that showed not just the cycle and effect of conflict, but the escalation of conflict. While I would still love to find one that has more real world examples, The Butter Battle Book ended up working as a great start. After reading the book, I asked them:
  • At the beginning of the story, what was the problem or conflict about?
  • At the end of the story, what was the problem or conflict about?
  • Did the size of the conflict or problem stay the same or change during the story? Did it get bigger or smaller?
  • The conflict kept going and growing. Did it have to? Or could the Zooks or Yooks have done something to make the conflict smaller or stop?

Then the students move to their desks and I introduce the concept of the conflict escalator using a PowerPoint. Not all of my students have been to big malls and most have not been to airports, so it was important I be able to give them a visual! We walked through the vocabulary of escalating vs. de-escalating. I added in the weather visuals to tie in with our size of problems lesson and learning.

The next step was to go through two story examples. The stories are adaptations of stories I found over and over again when googling the teaching of this topic - just changed the specifics to be a fit to my school.

First I read aloud while students acted it out. Then I read it aloud again and students motioned whenever a character said or did something that escalated the conflict and made it worse. I flashed these up the steps on the PPT as we went. After finishing the story, I asked them to come point out one or two star locations and give an example of how the character could have made a different choice to de-escalate the conflict.

Our final activity was for students to work in pairs or trios to sort words and actions that would escalate vs. de-escalate conflict, and then to personally identify 1 or 2 escalation cards that they were "guilty" of doing during conflict. Cards are available here in my TpT store.

Closing questions (if time):
  • Which is easier to do, escalate or de-escalate conflict?
  • Why do people sometimes choose to escalate conflict?
  • Why should we choose to de-escalate conflict instead of escalate it?
Our next lesson starts a 3-part "unit within a theme" on conflict de-escalation strategies.

You can get the complete lesson plan (typed up plan, PPT, and sorting cards) here on my TPT page.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

I Caved - My TpT Store

I make most of my lesson plans and the associated materials myself. A couple of colleagues have encouraged me in the past to list them on TpT....and I was incredibly resistant. I felt so grateful to the bloggers that shared their materials freely with the world (and me!) that I felt a little indebted to the school counseling internet community. I started this blog in part to give back and do my part to help school counselors find resources and ideas that they connect with. Charging money (even tiny amounts) sort of felt...un-counselory? You know what I mean. We are givers! We are helpers! We feel awkward taking things from people!

Then yesterday I had the privilege of presenting at a small local conference. I had brought some of my task card materials with me as a visual aid, to get people's minds rolling, etc. There were several people who asked where they could find them online. My co-counselor and my husband encouraged (...or pressured) me once again to set up shop. So I caved and I did it - I made a TpT store and started adding some of my creations. Many of my things will be free and all will be pretty cheap - essentially however much I would be willing to pay for the product myself.

Because sometimes, spending $2 on something someone else made is worth the 2 hours you would spend creating/re-creating it yourself.

If you feel inclined to visit, I'm linking it below and there's a "widget" for it on the side of the page.

Blogs That Inspired Me

When I started out as a school counselor, I was pretty underwhelmed by the small group and classroom lesson ideas I found in dusty books and binder left in my office but I was desperate for resources. Pinterest was growing however, and that combined with some strategic googling lead me to some amazing blogs that helped get me off on the right foot. Even if I didn't use their lesson plans exactly, they gave me some much needed inspiration. I believe that lesson planning is incredibly personal and subjective - it all depends on how your brain as an educator/counselor work plus your personal theories and philosophies.

I presented recently at a local conference and had several people ask me later to share some of the blogs that I turn to as resources. There are an incredible number of wonderful school counseling blogs online now, and I'm sure I haven't even discovered half of them. If you like the lesson plans you've seen me post, you may also love some of these listed below. There are other ones I've pulled from or enjoyed reading, but these are the ones that get me really excited and that I can say I've found more than 1 or 2 posts that gave me ideas I implemented.

Ms. Sepps' RoadRunners
^no longer posts, but her older stuff is definitely worth going through

Life on the Fly Counselor
 ^has a great TpT store too

Corner on Character

The Handy School Counselor
^also no longer posts, but her older stuff is definitely worth going through

The Art of Social Work
^for individual and small group interventions

Jill Kuzma SLP Social Emotional Skill Sharing Site
^speech language pathologists often have great social skill activities on their blogs!

Best Effort Lesson

Monday, September 19, 2016
Every year, my third grade teachers request that I do an effort on "Best Effort". I think some of it is the teachers and their expectations and I think another part is the huge jump between 2nd and 3rd grade in regards to rigor.

I start the lesson with a super short PowerPoint walking them through different levels or degrees of effort. I currently give teachers the option between my using the "sundae" rubric or the "thermometer" rubric. For the sundae visuals, I used the images from this TPT product (but used all of my own wording to match the needs of my 3rd graders). For the thermometer visuals, I just used paint. I have the students take turns reading different parts of this to make it more engaging.


The next step is for me to get a couple volunteers to help act out a story I'm going to tell. I have a writing version and a math version (I pick depending on teacher content area when they departmentalize and class need when they are self-contained). The two student volunteers wear character signs and I try to get them to act out what I'm reading whenever possible.

After I read about how each character responded to the pretend assignment, I project their assignment (written in composition notebooks so it looks more legit) and give each table group a copy of the rubric and have them score the effort.

I ask some discussion questions once the stories are over:
  • Which student does your teacher want in her class? 
  • Which student will achieve their goals? 
  • Which student is going to get a better job when their an adult? 
  • Which student will get raises at their job?

The last piece to our lesson used to be for the students to self-evaluate their effort in class. This takes a lot of coaching! The best outcome is when the teacher joins me for this piece of the lesson to help students be more accurate. Even with examples of what best effort looks like, they still struggle to identify what they personally need to do differently in order to show more effort - they just don't have this self awareness yet. I have one self-evaluation form that I use when we think the students can truly evaluate their general effort. The other one is for specific assignments, and I ask the teachers to direct the students to pull out a very recent assignment to look at.

The truth is that nearly all of the students want good grades and to give their best effort (they don't lack the motivation), and don't struggle from fixed mindsets, they just haven't developed great schoolwork skills (reading the directions, checking work, ignoring distractions, writing multiple complete sentences, etc.) yet. This is the kind of lesson I do that is more about providing a knowledge base and common language - it takes consistent teacher reinforcement for behavior change in this arena.

***Want the PPT or electronic copy of any of these things? Leave a comment or email me!

THINK Before You Speak Lesson Plan

Saturday, September 17, 2016
The theme for most of the year in 4th grade's Life Skills lessons is positive communication. We'll tie many of our lessons back to the idea "think before you speak". A couple weeks before I started the lessons, I crafted what I thought what an awesome lesson. I was pretty proud of myself. Did I live up to my own hype? Nope.

First mistake was trying to use the "our words are like toothpaste" metaphor with an incredulous and opinionated cohort (see here for my account of this fail).

Second mistake was trying to do something involving centers/rotations (A center for each THINK rule! Students work together to learn about the rule and sort examples and come up with their own! Sounded great!) so early in the year before the classes had established class norms, learned positive groupwork habits, or remembered how to follow directions.

Third mistake was trying to replace the toothpaste metaphor with the wrinkled heart activity using Chrysanthemum - only to find out the teacher had read the story to them the previous week and that the students couldn't handle listening to a story while simultaneously interacting with a piece of paper immediately following recess (rookie mistake).

At this point I was feeling pretty rough, though there were two parts to the lesson that were going ok. My second "hook" if you will was to do Stand Up/Sit Down. We sat in a circle and I asked them to:

This proved to be all the intro I needed and was also a great way to have some movement in the lesson since they were no longer going to be rotating. Everyone moved back to their desks and I projected the THINK poster I made (happy to send you mine, or there's tons for free on TPT).

The examples I'd originally adapted or made up for each of the rules in centers were also successful. They weren't so much of a "push" or "challenge" as I like, but they very clearly illustrated each of the rules. Some of the examples were inspired/adapted from this game on TPT. This time, instead of having them on cards for centers, I made a PPT to walk us through them all. While the answer of "which example fits the rule" was usually pretty obvious, my students still loved writing their answer (with a number or an arrow) on a white board to put up in the air for me. They also loved when, before the examples when I was explaining each rule, I did another example by "picking on" one of them and using them. (Side note: I get more participation when I ask "Who can I pick on for this next example?" than I do for anything else).


By the time I finally got these two parts figured out, I was on my last lesson which I knew was going to get cut short due to a fire drill. I ended it by having the students do a self-reflection exit ticket where they told me which THINK rule is the hardest for them to follow and which THINK rule is the easiest for them to follow. I used a similar exit ticket in the other homerooms and found that most kiddos could self-identify that they struggled with the "true" and "necessary" rules. For my super pro-social students, "inspiring" was their challenge. In some ways, this also functioned as an informal needs assessment to help me identify which THINK rules I need to hit harder and more specifically throughout the rest of our curriculum.

"Necessary is hard for me. I like to talk a lot"

When I get the real do-over of doing this lesson next year and have it down better, I'd like to incorporate either a more comprehensive self-reflection processing sheet (probably will save that for a review of the THINK rules in the spring) or a fun foldable. See below for the foldable I made in anticipation of doing this lesson again next year or in a small group.

Future lessons we were already slated to hit in this area are: body language and tone of voice, social filter, gossip/rumors, "Talk it Out", perspective taking, and quality compliments. 

Upstander Lesson

Sunday, September 11, 2016
Continuing 3rd grade's conflict resolution unit, we did a lesson on being an upstander. I tried to underscore, as much as possible, that being an upstander is not limited to bullying conflicts, that we should be upstanders whenever we see mean moments as well. This is the perfect followup to our Types of Conflict lesson, where many of my kiddos asked me "but what do we do if" questions.

We started off by reviewing the types of conflict using a short PPT (see below). We gather on the rug and I ask them to:
  • Push your nose like a button if someone has ever said something mean to you.
  • Pull your ears if you've ever said something mean to someone else.
  • Touch your elbows together if you've ever watched someone be mean to someone else and it made you feel uncomfortable.
  • Pat your head if you've heard the words "bystander" and "upstander" before.
  • Rub your stomach if you know the definition of the words "bystander" and "upstander"

Then we read the book Dare! by Erin Frankel. My favorite book for teaching the concept of skill of being an upstander is The Juice Box Bully but that's being included in the classroom mini-SEL libraries I'm creating (more on that later) and this book is pretty great as well. I didn't personally love it when I first read it, but I've found my students really take to it. I usually offer to let the teachers borrow my companion Weird! and Tough! books if the kiddos are super into it.

While reading, I ask them:

  • Cover: Look at the picture on the cover. What do you think this story is going to be about?
  • Pg. 5: Have you ever felt this before? Glad that you weren’t the one being picked on, but sad it was happening to someone else?
  • Pg. 11: What does she mean by “this isn’t the kind of person I want to be”?
  • Pg. 13: Why does she feel even more scared and alone after she’s mean to Luisa?
 Back at their desks, I open the PPT back up and we go through a handful of the slides from Eve Coates' Preventing Bullying Interactive PPT. I just use the ones that show the different roles in mean conflict, but I make some edits so that it fits the vocabulary I use in my counseling program. I put in a bystander vs. upstander review slide in at the end to really hit the idea home.
*Eve Coates shows a complete animated preview of her PPT on TPT, I just want to show you my examples and edits.
I want my students to know about the roles in bullying, but what I want even more is for them to learn and use the skills needed to have a positive school culture. I try to make my lessons skill building and not just "planting seeds of knowledge" when possible so that we can see real behavioral change with the students.

In order to kick off the application portion of the lesson, I "pick on" a peer and say "What if I called Jasmine a mean name? What kind of things would an upstander say to me?" and get some ideas. Then I ask "What kinds of things would an upstander say to Jasmine?" and get some more ideas.

Then I introduce the activity of "Quiz, Quiz, Trade" to them - only a handful did this with their 2nd grade counselor or 2nd grade teachers. In this version, it's less of a "quiz" and more of a "task". I have cards with different things an upstander would say (to the person being mean and to the person whose feelings are being hurt). I teach and model how to do the activity (every person has a card, partner up, take turns reading cards, trade cards, find new partners, repeat) and then we discuss the tone of voice we should use. It's hard to be calm and respectful when you're angry someone has been mean to someone else!

Depending on time, this is a 5-10 minute activity. When time is up, I get their attention and we return to our desks and they do an exit ticket for me. It's a lot of paper (and trees), but I found this really worthwhile in 1) getting them to think through the skill and imagine a time to use it and 2) for me to get a sense of each class' understanding and ability with this.

Like with our last lesson, I sent home a parent letter for this as well (in all 3 languages of course - though I should probably ask our translators how they were able to translate the word "upstander" since it's a bit of a new concept/construct/word!)

In a world with endless time, I would have also included a round of beanbag freeze. This could be such a fun way to start a discussion about helping one another and how doing so makes things better for everyone.

*Since finishing up this lesson with my students, I made some edits/updates/additions and put all of the materials on TPT here. It includes the upstander statement cards and exit tickets shown above as well as upstander scenario cards and suggestions for a few different active ways to use them all with your class(es).

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