SESSION 6: I-Statements and Understanding Non-Verbal Behavior

SESSION 6: I-Statements and Understanding Non-Verbal Behavior

PBSIS Social Skill Lesson 61

SESSION6: “I-Statements” and Understanding Non-Verbal Behavior

Sections / Materials / Time
I. Review Homework Activity and Practice / 5minutes
II. I-Statements / I Statements Cards, flipchart, markers / 20minutes
III. Non-Verbal Behavior / 15 minutes
IV. Homework Activity / Practicing I Statements Homework Handout / 5 minutes

SESSION6:“I-Statements” and Understanding Non-Verbal Behavior

  1. Review Homework Activity and Practice (5 minutes)
  2. Purpose: Review and reflect on skills covered in previous sessions.
  • Have students share their experience with using relaxation strategies and Stop and Think.
  1. I-Statements (20 minutes)
  2. Purpose: Teach students to verbally communicate how they are feeling to others.
  • Introduction to “I Statements”

When we are in difficult situations and feeling upset, it can be hard for us to tell others how we are feeling. The first thing we want to do when we are in a difficult situation and feeling upset is to calm ourselves down. During the last two sessions we learned different ways to calm ourselves down. Sometimes to deal with a difficult situation, it is also helpful to tell someone how we are feeling. When we are telling others how we are feeling, we have to be careful that we explain how we feel in a way that doesn’t make the other person upset. For example, let’s pretend I am upset with my friend, and I say to her, “You are always so mean to me!” How do you think this statement is going to make my friend feel?

When we say “YOU…” it can seem like we are blaming or accusing the other person. It may put the person on the defensive, which can make finding a solution difficult.

One way to express your feelings without making someone else feel upset is to use an “I Statement.” They help us to directly express our feelings or opinions, without blaming or accusing another person. It helps you to take responsibility for how you are feeling and also makes the other person feel less defensive and more likely that they will work with you to find a solution.

Skill instructor gives out “I Statements” Cardto each student

There are three parts to “I Statements.” First, you state how you feel (e.g. I feel mad). Second, state what your trigger was (e.g. I feel mad whenit seems like no one is listening to me). Third, describe why you feel that way (e.g. I feel mad when it seems like noone is listening to me because I feel ignored).

Instructor should write the parts of the “I Statements” on the board as a visual prompt for students.

I feel…



Using “I Statements” may seem uncomfortable or silly at first, but they are very useful in many types of relationships. The best thing about using “I Statements” is that you say how YOU feel and do not assume what the other person is feeling. Therefore, the other person is more likely to listen to you and help you find a solution.

  • Introduce and read example to the group. Tell students to pretend that they are the ones in this situation.
  • Choose the most appropriate example based on function of student behavior. If applicable, read both scenarios separately.
  • Escape-motivated example:

Imagine that you are having some trouble with a math assignment. You are starting to feel very frustrated because you don’t know how to solve the problem. The teacher comes over and asks why you haven’t finished yet.

  • Attention-motivated example:

Imagine that it’s time for indoor recess. You want to join a group of kids who are playing a game. You ask one of the kids, Jennifer, if you can join in but she says, “No, we don’t want you to play with us.” Your feelings have been hurt and you start to feel yourself get upset.

  • After reading the example, tell the students they should come up with an “I Statement” to express how they are feeling. Instructor should guide students to come up with an I statement as a group by asking three questions:

How are you feeling (i.e. frustrated/mad/sad)?

What is the trigger? (i.e., can’t figure out how to solve the problem)

How are you affected? (i.e. can’t finish your work/have no one to play with)

TIP: Write student answers on the flip chart. Then have students combine the three parts to create an I Statement.

Examples include:

Escape-motivated - I feel mad when I don’t know the answer because I can’t finish my work; I feel mad when I have a hard problem because I feel embarrassed I cannot do it on my own.

Attention- motivated – I feel sad when I can’t play with others because it makes me feel like no one likes me; I feel angry when others won’t let me play because then I don’t get to have fun.

  • IStatements Role-Play

Have students identify problems they have encountered with peers, friends, teachers, parents, etc (Refer to students’ trigger maps). List problems on flip chart.

Possible example scenarios to role-play (choose based on function of group members’ behavior or can use scenarios group members have identified):

Someone cuts in front of you in the lunch line.

Someone takes something that belongs to you without asking your permission.

The teacher yells at you even though you don’t think you did anything wrong.

You are given an assignment you do not want to do.

You hare having difficulty completing a task.

You ask another student to work on an assignment with you and he/she says no.

You will now take turns practicing using I statements. Don’t worry if you get stuck, we’ll help you out! You can also look at your I-Statements Card or at the flip chart to remind you of the three parts of I-Statements.

  1. Understanding non-verbal behavior (10 minutes)
  • Purpose:To have students identify nonverbal behaviors (e.g., tone of voice, body posture, gestures, facial expressions).
  • Introduce

Skill instructor should stand up, cross his/her arms, frown, and in a harsh tone say to the group, “I really like how everyone is participating.”

Ask students, did you believe what I said? Why or why not? Have students discuss how your verbal communication was not the same as your nonverbal communication, or what you said did not have the same message as how you said it, or the way you looked and sounded.

When we communicate with others we have to think about the words we use and our nonverbal behavior. Nonverbal behavior is how we look and sound when we are saying words. Nonverbal behavior includes things like tone of voice, posture and facial expressions, eye contact. Sometimes if we are upset, we might remember to say something in a nice way but our tone of voice might sound angry and the way we hold our bodies might seem like we are mad. When this happens, others might not believe the words we are saying and/or get upset because we seem angry. We can minimize offending or disrespecting others by being aware of our nonverbal behaviors or signals.

  • Skill instructor should role-play another example of mismatch between verbal and nonverbal behavior (e.g., tone of voice, body posture, gestures, facial expressions). Instructor should stand with their shoulders slumped, frown on their face, arms hanging to side and in a sad voice say, “I am so happy to be here today.”

Ask students, did you believe what I said this time? Have students identify what your nonverbal behaviors were (i.e., tone of voice was sad, not excited or happy, frown on your face, slumped posture).

  • Our nonverbal behaviors express feelings and thoughts just like verbal behaviors. For example, if a teacher tells me to put away my comic book and I say nothing but roll my eyes and scowl at her, what message am I sending? Have students answer. So just like we need to be careful with the words we use, we also need to be aware of how our nonverbal behaviors(e.g., tone of voice, body posture, gestures, facial expressions) can send messages to others.
  • If we are asking for something or trying to tell someone how we feelwhen we are frustrated, angry or overwhelmed, we may have some nonverbal behaviors (e.g., tone of voice, body posture, gestures, facial expressions)that indicate we are upset. The other person may think that we are being disrespectful or offensive. What are some nonverbal behaviors that we may have when we are agitated that could be misinterpreted by others? Have students generate some examples. Encourage students to demonstrate examples (e.g., say something and demonstrate nonverbal behavior).
  • So when expressing how we feel to someone or asking for something, we need to be aware of our nonverbal behaviors (e.g., tone of voice, body posture, gestures, facial expressions) and change them so that the other person doesn’t misinterpret and think we are being disrespectful or offensive.
  1. Assign Homework Activity and Departure (5 minutes)
  2. Purpose: Have students practice I Statements
  • Before next session, ask students to complete the Practicing I Statements worksheet.

Step / Key Question / Sentence Starter
Feelings / How do you feel?
Are you sad, angry, anxious, scared? / “I feel…”
Trigger / What was the ‘trigger’ that bothered you? / “When…”
Reason / How does the trigger affect you?
Why does this trigger upset you? / “Because…”


Feelings / How do you feel?
Are you sad, angry, anxious, scared? / Itmakes me mad
Trigger / What was the ‘trigger’ that bothered you? / When you touch my stuff.
Reason / How does the trigger affect you?
Why does this trigger upset you? / Because I told you not to my things. I don’t like people touching my stuff. When you touch my stuff I think you are disrespecting me.

Practicing “I Statements”

Directions: Make “I statements” for the following situations. Remember to use all pieces of the statement.

1. One of your friends has been ignoring you lately. You don’t know if something’s wrong.

State your
feeling / I feel…
State what happened / When…
Describe its
effect on you / Because…

2. A student in your class is making fun of you.

State your
feeling / I feel…
State what happened / When…
Describe its
effect on you / Because…


NJ PBSIS (2014). NJPBSIS is sponsored by New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs in collaboration with The Boggs Center, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. PBSIS is funded by I.D.E.A., Part B.