“I Messages” and Active Listening Response

I started the 4th grade year by working on empathy and identifying the feeling of others. It is in this lesson that I also begin introducing more intense feelings and when or why they happen.

I began the lesson with my Elf Cards and did a similar activity with the past 4th grade last year. I held up a more difficult Elf Feeling Card and had the boys walk around the room and talk to a partner about this feeling. They recognized not only a time that they had felt this, but a time when they have witnessed a friend, brother, sister, or adult feel this way.

photoI think this is a good way to begin a discussion about “I Messages.” Without being able to recognize, understand, and empathize with other people’s feelings, one cannot understand the importance or structure of an “I Message.”

I Messages

By starting a sentence with an “I,” you are conveying how you feel or what you want. When another person starts a sentence with an “I,” you know that they are trying to tell you how they feel or what they want.

When we start sentences with “you,” we are placing blame and a person quickly become defensive. When someone becomes defensive, they feel as if they must fight back or run away. Either way, they are not listening.

Following this description, I laid out a typical “I Message.” Although the format feels funny when we talk with our friends, the important part is stating how YOU feel by beginning the sentence with “I.”

1Next, I gave the boys various scenarios and asked them to identify how the character felt and how they could relay their “I Message.” For some of them, it was easier to practice the first half, followed by the second.


  1. Sammy’s brother continuously comes into Sammy’s room and takes his toys without asking. It never bothered Sammy before, but now his brother is taking his toys and breaking them. Last week, Sammy’s brother took his iPad without asking and ended up dropping it on the kitchen floor. How does Sammy feel? How can Sammy tell his brother how he feels using an “I Message?”
  2. During a soccer game, Paul was trying to kick a goal and missed. After the game, his team blamed him for their loss. Paul tried to explain that he was pushed during the play, but everyone told him to stop making excuses for his bad kick. How does Paul feel? How can Paul tell his teammates how he feels using an “I Message?”

Active Listening Response

We can always use an “I Message,” but if the person on the receiving end is not listening, your feelings will not be validated. It is just as important to use Active Listening as it is to use “I Messages.”

I show the boys an example of how to answer back to someone when they use an “I Message.” This one is a bit more natural sounding, but takes more work than either A. ignoring your friend, B. yelling at your friend, or C. telling you friend, “Okay I’m sorry.”

2I used the same scenarios earlier and had the boys respond to their own “I Message” with an Active Listening Response.


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