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  • Writer's pictureErin Mckenzie

How to Teach Assertive Communication with these 3 Simple Strategies!

Fun & Engaging Ideas to Teach Assertive Communication for Elementary School Students (so they remember it!)


If EVERYONE could communicate assertively in every situation, there would be very little to, dare I say, zero drama! Okay…maybe not zero, we’d be out of a job, but it might free up some of our time, right?


I don’t know about you, but I know that most of the fires I have to put out during the day as an Elementary School Counselor, could easily be avoided by simply communicating assertively. Over the years, assertive communication has actually become my favorite lesson to teach. I've discovered these 3 simple strategies to teach Assertive Communication in a way that students will remember and talk about at home!


#1 Make it Relatable!

For kids to buy in, they need to feel excited about it. What better way to engage kids than with dogs, right? Okay, so you don't need to bring a dog to school. Hear me out...I have a little doggy experiment that I have them try at home or with a dog they know or in their imagination (for those who have no dog access).


Before teaching assertive communication, you must first teach the different parts of a message. These include body language, tone of voice and words spoken.


There are some fun & engaging activities to teach the POWER of our tone and body language that kids will relate to and have a lot of fun with.


In my Google Slides/PDF lesson: Assertive Communication Grades 3-6, after communication is defined, then it’s time to allow students to discover the most powerful part of their message.


I love taking a classroom vote, only to discover that most students believe that their words are the most meaningful part of the message. Then the fun begins…this is where puppies come into play.


I find that most students in the classroom either have a dog or know a dog. I suggest (as long as it’s a safe dog & with adult supervision) that they go home and say to their dog in a very stern, angry voice, tense body and grumpy face (Tone/Body Language): “You’re such a good dog!” Then try it again, but this time in a very sweet, excited and happy voice say: “You are such a bad dog!” I ask them to predict the outcome and then have them report back results.


In case you are not familiar with dog behavior, what typically happens is that with the loud, stern, yelling voice, the dog gets nervous or cowers down as if he is in trouble. In the other situation, with the excited, playful, happy voice the dog will mirror your excitement regardless of what words are spoken. As you may predict, this little puppy experiment helps students to see that their words really have very little meaning when overshadowed by non-verbal behavior.


#2 Use Movement & Role Plays

I've found that in a 3rd grade classroom, most kids love to move and they love to be the star of the show. These activities are sure to get the WHOLE class engaged!

This activity really gets the class engaged and giggling!


Here’s how it works:

You have two small paper bags. One is labeled “Tone of Voice & Body Language” and the other is labeled “Words”. My pdf contains different tones & body language cut-outs, as well as different phrases spoken.


Place the bags at the front of the classroom and have one student come up to the front and choose one slip of paper from each bag. The student is not to share what is written on each one, but to act it out. This is where the learning and giggling happen…


Sometimes the tone/body language match the words spoken:

  • From the Words Bag: “I’m not mad at you”.

  • From the Tone/Body Language Bag: Smile, open your arms wide and use a light, happy tone.


Sometimes they don’t match…

  • From the Words Bag: “I love your new haircut”.

  • From the Tone/Body Language Bag: Roll your eyes and use a sarcastic tone.

Then you ask the class “Was what she said believable or not? If not, why?"

Students very quickly learn the power of their tone and body language vs. words spoken.


Once they have a clear grasp on the 3 parts of the message, now they can move into learning about the different communication styles we use. I start by teaching them Passive, Aggressive & Assertive. THEN I introduce the most commonly used and toxic communication style used by children and adults...passive-aggressive.


Does this one sound familiar? I don't know about you, but if it wasn't for this one...I would be out of a job.


Do you remember the last time you gossiped about a co-worker or "accidentally" used their last k-cup in the teacher's room?


Yeah, me neither.


Anyways...we do lots and lots of role plays learning to identify the different communication styles and practice assertive communication. Kids LOVE role playing! In these activities the audience has a job too! They get to guess which communication styles are being used.


#3 Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Ever had a really cool assembly that engaged the kids? That got them all pumped up and excited because someone did some cool tricks on a bike while telling them not to do drugs because it gets in the way of their personal goals?

Yep, me too. Next time you ask them about it you know what they remember? The cool bike tricks. It's great for those kids who go home and work on their bike tricks for a minute, but that's about it.

If there's one thing I learned in my 19+ years of teaching it's that when the kids move on to high school, they only remember the characteristics of a favorite teacher, a fight they witnessed, a best friend they played with or a favorite lunch from elementary school. Sorry to be a buzz killer, but they won't remember your lesson. Especially if it's a "one & done."


What do YOU remember from elementary school?

  • I remember that my 6th grade teacher had us picking dandelions in the blazing hot sun so that she could make dandelion wine.

  • I remember playing a role in "Free to Be You & Me".

  • I remember when my teacher read a note I passed to a friend that mentioned she was in a bad mood that day.

  • I remember writing her an aggressive letter on the last day of school because I felt unseen and unheard. I just needed to be seen and heard (not to mention I didn't know what it meant to be assertive)


I don't remember any classroom lessons she taught. Not one.


When I first started as a school counselor, I remember having my list of planned lessons then finishing one, brushing my hands off and checking it off my list...next!


Repeat this shit. Every freaking day.


Brainwash your students (not in a creepy way) to practice being assertive. Notice when they do it and tell them. "Oh you reminded me that I left your name off the wheel, thank you for being assertive and speaking up for yourself, I appreciate that".


When you do a meaningful lesson, send out a quick email to their other teachers...

"Hey friends! I just taught first graders what it means to be assertive, would you all mind reinforcing it when you see them speaking up in class or speaking up on the playground, or in the lunchroom?"

They will not remember the lesson...but you can engrain the concepts into their growing brains so that it becomes second nature.


Some day when someone says to them: "How did you become so assertive?" they will say "I don't know" and that's okay because how they get it is not the point...it's just that they get it.

Respond in the comments to let me know YOUR ideas to teach assertive communication! Thank you for reading and please feel free to check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store or not, whatever. Hey what communication style was I just using?




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