Part of 3rd grade’s problem solving unit, after we tackle conflict resolution, is to identify problems inside vs. outside of our control. As many, many other counselors have done, I start with a hands on visual to introduce the idea (though I don’t use play-doh). This is the specific way I’ve worked it:
- Give each student a pipe cleaner and 2 minutes to “create” something with it.
- Have a few students share out what they created.
- Explain that they changed the pipe cleaner and that they had control of it.
- Ask students to remember in their minds what they made and then collect the pipe cleaners.
- Give each student a rock/marble (I use the ones I use for my worry monster!).
- Ask them to create the same thing with the rock that they created with the pipe cleaner.
- As they begin with the “what?”, “huh?”, “I can’t!”, I ask for someone to explain what’s different about this challenge.
- Collect the rocks and explain: You can’t change the rock. You don’t have control over
what shape it is. Some problems are like the pipe cleaners – we have
control over them and can change them. Some problems are like rocks – we
don’t have control over them.
The students move onto the rug and I read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Unlike other times I do read alouds, I don’t stop and ask them questions throughout but instead tell them that I want them to think about each of his problems as I read it and begin to think if they’re outside or inside of Alexander’s control. I don’t *love* this book – the illustrations are boring, the language is outdated, and it just doesn’t click with me. Last year my school’s librarian and I went on an exhaustive search to find something better – no luck! So I keep using this and now I appreciate it more!
I ask them to all move into a circle now and I give each of them one of Alexander’s problems. A large hula hoop is set in the middle and explain that we’ll take turns reading his problems and deciding if it’s a pipe cleaner problem inside his control or a rock problem outside, and putting it in the appropriate place in or around the hula hoop. I have the card reader give their answer and then students use their “agree” and “disagree” hand motions to indicate their opinion. When there isn’t a consensus, we talk through it. We usually decide to put a few ON the hoop because they could go either way.
As a management strategy, I have the students keep the cards face down on the floor in front of them instead of in their hands when it’s not their turn. Because I will later do 1-3 lessons with them about helpful thoughts/cognitions, I emphasize with some of them the difference between facts/events (mom made lima beans for dinner) and opinions (hating lima beans).
Then the students do the same activity in pairs or trios with a different set of problems/ideas – other ones a 3rd grader may face. This is often the first time that someone tells them they are in control of their own emotions and it shocks some of them! By the end of the lesson, they haven’t fully mastered the ability to determine, independently and in the moment, whether or not every problem is in our out of their control…but…they are more likely to do so and are definitely able to when prompted by their teachers with a quick “Is this problem inside or outside of your control?”. Win!