Teaching Teens How to Communicate to Resolve Conflict

National Health Education Standard 4: Students will demonstrate effective conflict management or resolution strategies.


Oh, the drama!

Adolescence is a time of change, and the changes are not all physical. Shifting moods, interests, and priorities can lead to a shift in relationships—and with limited life experience to guide them, teens often lack the communication skills needed to handle the shifts smoothly.

It’s not always easy to express our feelings to others, especially when technology has made it so simple for us to take the easy way out. That’s why it’s important that we teach our students how to communicate effectively, and make sure they have plenty of time to practice.

Here are some classroom activities that will help to teach conflict resolution through communication:

1. Ensure that students understand the vocabulary.

Students first need to understand the nuts and bolts of communication before they can apply their skills. Some kids might not experience healthy communication at home and will need to be taught the different forms and strategies on paper before being able to recognize and employ them in real-life scenarios.

But reading and writing about effective communication isn’t the same as seeing it demonstrated, especially when it comes to things like body language and passive aggressive behavior. So, as the class completes this Communication Vocab worksheet, I ask students to demonstrate the different styles of communication aloud. For example, I’ll have them practice rephrasing a sentence several different ways or have them act out effective and ineffective body language.

2. Have them watch an example of conflict resolution.

If your school doesn’t have a subscription to education website BrainPOP, it’s worth petitioning for one. It's loaded with teaching resources—quizzes, activities, videos, etc.—for seven different subjects, including personal health.

This video on conflict resolution explains key terms like “mediate “and “compromise” in a way that’s accessible and entertaining for middle school students.

3. Give them a chance to practice resolving a theoretical conflict. 

From WelcomingSchools.org, comes this great activity designed to help students learn to be an ally. As you read the provided bullying scenarios, students move to one of the room’s four corners, depending on how they would respond to the situation. Label each corner ahead of time with one of the following signs: 

1. Ignore the situation or walk away.
2. Attempt to negotiate and stop the situation.
3. Talk to the bully privately later.
4. Go to an adult for help.

After they’ve taken a stand in their corner, ask students to demonstrate what they would say in the situation. If they decided that they would ignore the situation or walk away, they should defend their position to the rest of the class.

4. Have them write and perform their own conflict resolution skits.

As a class, brainstorm conflicts relevant to middle schoolers—which can involve friends, parents, teachers, or siblings—and then split the class into groups. (Side note: Randomly assigning these groups helps students strengthen their communication skills by speaking with peers they might not know very well.)

Together, students will write and rehearse “before-and-after” style skits that demonstrate an ineffective way of dealing with a problem, followed by a more ideal, effective solution. The skits are always a blast to watch, and end up being a hit among students.

To find a rubric, go here, then click “Conflict Resolution Skits- Student Rubric. 

While we can’t enable students to side-step all of the drama that adolescence has in store, we can equip them with the skills needed to express themselves mindfully—no matter what new communication technology is thrown at them next.