Teaching Talk it Out: I-Message Lesson Plans

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A few years ago, our 3rd and 4th graders were just plain old mean to each other. Half the time, it was coming from them feeling wronged by the other person and believing that meanness was the appropriate response back. The single Kelso’s Choices lesson (written about here and here) wasn’t cutting. Cue: TALK IT OUT


I went into each room and explained, taught, modeled, and practiced using specific sentence stems to talk it out with someone when you’re upset with them. MAGIC happened. Well, sort of. In every room where the teachers made any effort (big or small) to reinforce this, conflict went significantly down in every room. It’s now become a mainstay in our program. This is a rundown on how we teach it.

In all of my classrooms, I start by “picking on” a student that I pretend has been talking through my lessons. I say to them: “Why are you always talking during my lessons? You’re driving me crazy kid!” and then “I feel frustrated when you talk while I’m teaching because then your classmates can’t hear me. Could you please save your talking for a better time?” I ask the students which would make them more likely to start listening better – and tada! They are introduced to ‘talk it out’ and have begun to generate buy in that it’s an effective practice.

the peace rose book for teaching talk it out or i-messages

With K and 1st, we read The Peace Rose. It can be hard to get your hands on, and it’s ridiculously simple and short, but it’s the perfect model and mentor text. We read the story, then ask the students to recall the words the characters used to solve their problems and write them on an easel board. We whip out a fake rose (a “gift” from our friend Kelso – dollar store y’all) and then have students come up in twos and practice using Talk it Out with the rose given scenarios we provide them. I usually avoid lessons that involve everyone coming up and practicing something because this usually requires the class to have crazy strong attention spans, but it always seems to work here.

With 2nd grade, we review the sentence stems involved (usually by projecting them) and model a couple examples. If the class has done “quiz, quiz, trade” before, then we provide them with pre-written statements and practice this way. If not, or if they’re just not ready for this sort of activity, we have the students sit in a circle and read cards in whisper voices to themselves and then pass them to the next person. Every couple of rounds, we have 1-2 students read theirs aloud before we continue on. A kinder teacher was kind enough this year to let me use her DIY’ed whisper phones (and even Lysol’ed them for me!) which was great.

school counseling lesson plan for teaching talk-out or i-messages in elementary school

This year, our next step was for students to practice making their own I-messages with these puzzle pieces for each step/sentence stem. I needed to incorporate movement or at least something tactile, and this did the trick. The kiddos had fun with it. I made sure to use a ton of visuals because first quarter of 2nd grade, many of the students are still developing their reading fluency skills and I wanted the activity to be accessible to everyone. Students worked at tables and shared pieces but it was an independent activity. They made statements, read them aloud to themselves, then put the pieces back and made a new statement.

school counseling lesson plan for teaching talk-out or i-messages in elementary schoolschool counseling lesson plan for teaching talk-out or i-messages in elementary school
school counseling lesson plan for teaching talk-out or i-messages in elementary school

With 3rd grade, I hit Talk it Out pretty hot and heavy. Some years, we start off by talking about our “peace words”. Students share their ideas and we add them to the board in a bubble map of sorts. Then I re-introduce the sentence stems. I model it twice and ask them to tell me what they noticed about my body language and tone of voice. Then we briefly discuss why we tell the person how we feel and what caused it. Our first practice activity with this is usually using pre-written Talk it Out statements in a modified “quiz, quiz, trade” (more like “read, read, trade”!). Without prompting, they usually respond appropriately to one another’s statements which is a great bonus. Most recently, I decided to try working through the lesson with an animated PowerPoint, incorporating all of the interactive components as well. This was a big hit – the kids always love when technology is involved and I loved having even more visuals.


With 4th grade, I try to build off of their previous learning with this and begin practicing reflective listening. We usually start with a ‘quick practice’ of Read, Read, Trade using pre-written statements. Then I introduced the idea of reflective listening. Without using that phrase, I just explained it was one way of responding to someone when they talk it out with you. We discussed how using it helps us be better listeners and helps the other person know we were paying attention. To practice, I have half of the students the remaining talk it out statement cards and the other half used reflective listening sentence stems. Then it was time to Read, Read, Trade again.

reflective listening in conflict resolution for elementary studentsschool counseling lesson plan for teaching talk-out or i-messages in elementary school

Then it’s time for a challenge – I have the students write their own statements. Each kiddo gets the sentence stems in a sheet protector and a skinny dry erase marker. I project several of the conflicts from my key ring of conflict situation cards (as many as time allows). After each scenario, I have one or two students read their statement aloud. Most recently, I challenged them further by asking them to “Think about a problem you might have in the… (cafeteria, recess, dismissal, classroom). Write a talk it out statement for it.” This helped them connect/generalize the skill even more, and gave me some insight as to the major problems in those zones. Unsurprisingly, it was unsafe bodies during dismissal, feeling left out/excluded (and some more unsafe bodies) at recess, and people using unkind words and touching each other’s food at lunch.

school counseling lesson plan for teaching talk-out or i-messages in elementary schoolschool counseling lesson plan for teaching talk-out or i-messages in elementary school


3 Responses

  1. Love this article/lesson set ( as well as many others ) of yours! We are working on I-messages this week and this came up as a post on FB at the perfect time!
    Thank you for your carefully thought out resources and your attention to differentiation for various ages, grades, and ability levels!

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Hello, I’m Sara!

With 10 years of experience in
elementary school counseling,
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