What Can I Do?

What You Need

What Can I Do? Photo Credit: Clipart.com


To help students identify their feelings and learn some constructive ways of handling conflict.


The benchmarks of this lesson address positive mental health for young students. The main goals of this lesson are to help students identify their feelings; learn how to tell others about their feelings; and learn how this emotional knowledge can help them resolve conflict. Being able to recognize different feelings and to approach conflict constructively are important learning tools for young students who live in a world that is filled with social challenges. However, mental health concepts such as these are often overlooked in student's science education. Research indicates that, "Students of all ages focus on the physical dimensions of health and pay less attention to the mental and social dimensions. Students associate health primarily with food and fitness." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 346.) This fact makes it even more important to help students learn that mental health is part of one's overall health.

Students of this level are already familiar with naming different kinds of feelings. They also understand that other people have feelings, too. You can expect to find that students can easily match the feeling of happiness with the word, but might have a harder time labeling some other feelings, such as worry. This is largely due to the fact that a feeling like worry could also be described with different words like fear or dislike. Additionally, students' perception of various feelings will differ. What one student describes as frustration, another may call anger. For this reason, this lesson begins with a student discussion about feelings. As students share their stories about feelings, they will begin to see that many of them share the same feelings, even if they describe them differently.

Students at the K-2 level will be familiar with the concept of problems and trying to solve them. Most students, though, are still in the early stages of learning about conflict resolution, and will benefit from the opportunity to learn about constructive steps they can take to deal with conflict. Much of this lesson aims at helping students realize the large role feelings play in the perpetuation or resolution of conflict, and attempts to teach students some basic principles of conflict resolution. In addition to group discussions, students will work extensively with a student mental health Web resource, Out on a Limb, to help them reflect on the concepts covered in these benchmarks.

The premise of this lesson is that students who learn how to communicate about how they are feeling will be more likely to use communication as a method for resolving conflict. Being able to identify internal feelings and to hear about another's feelings is a fundamental principle of conflict resolution. "Children should be helped to identify internal feelings and distinguish them from external sensations. Through discussion, they can appreciate that everybody has both pleasant and unpleasant feelings." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 148.) At the root of positive mental health and the ability to relate well to others is the ability to cope with feelings.

It is important to note that a discussion about feelings may be more difficult for some students than others. A discussion about sadness, for example, may be intolerable for a student who is grieving the death of a family member. Talking about anger or fear may be too difficult for a child from an abusive situation. It is important to take special notice of the student who withdraws from class discussions, and, if you feel it is appropriate, let the guidance counselor (or the appropriate person at your school) know about your observations.


Begin with a discussion about feelings. While students will understand that you are referring to happy, sad, angry, etc., they may not have thought about feelings in any intellectual way before. A group discussion will also help students understand that other people have feelings as well. You might ask:

  • What kinds of things might make a person feel sad? (And then ask about other feelings such as angry, happy, frustrated, worried, or excited.)
  • How can you tell if a friend is feeling sad? (And the other above mentioned feelings.)
  • What can you do if you think your friend is feeling sad, but you are not sure, and you want to help?
  • Can you think of a time when you were feeling sad, but you didn't tell anyone? What was that like?
  • Can you think of a time when you were feeling sad, and you did tell someone? What was that like?

It is good to begin the discussion with general questions that lead up to asking students about their own experiences because students may feel too shy or vulnerable in the beginning to talk about themselves. If students seem reluctant to talk at this beginning point of the lesson, you could share a story about one of your experiences. Remember, this lesson is not designed to put you in the role of a counselor. As long as the discussion encourages students to think about feelings, you are working well with the benchmarks.

The next section of this lesson focuses on helping students recognize the connection between feelings and conflict and addresses constructive ways to handle conflict.


Students of this age will probably not be familiar with the word conflict or the term conflict resolution. They will, however, understand what it means to disagree with someone and be familiar with the concept of solving problems with other people. Using this kind of language is most meaningful for the younger students of this level, while the older students might be ready to be introduced to the term, "conflict resolution."

To help students begin to recognize the connection between feelings and conflict, facilitate a brief discussion around experiences they have had with disagreements. You could ask:

  • Have you ever had an argument with someone?
  • How did you feel during the argument?
  • How do you think the other person felt?
  • How did you feel when the argument was over?

When talking with students about conflict or disagreement, a beginning point to emphasize is that each person involved in a conflict has feelings. Once students can begin to see that how we feel affects how we act, they can begin to see the connection between feelings and conflict. From here, they are ready to learn that they have choices about how they handle their feelings during a conflict. As directed on the What Can I Do? student esheet, have students listen to the story about Maria and Josh, including clicking on each of Maria's three choices to see what happens.

Once students have completed the story, bring them together for a class discussion. This is a good time to illicit their thoughts and feelings about what happened between Maria and Josh and the idea of "three choices." You might ask:

  • What happened with Maria and Josh?
  • How did Maria feel?
  • How did Josh feel?
  • Has anything like this ever happened to you?

In order to help students apply the idea of the "Think and Share" choice, facilitate a discussion around the idea of these three choices as well. Ask students:

  • What can you tell me about the loud choice?
  • What happened when Maria made the loud choice?
  • What do you think about the loud choice?
    (Repeat these questions for quiet choice and the think and share choice.)

It is also important for students to reflect on how Josh and Maria were feeling when their argument started. Encourage students to talk about what made Josh call Maria stupid in the first place. This is a good time for students to consider, given their knowledge about the three choices, what else Josh could have done when he was feeling badly.

It might be helpful for students to think about how many different kinds of feelings people can have. Josh and Maria made choices based on how they were feeling, and students are learning that they have choices about how they act when they feel certain ways. Learning more about the variety of emotions will help prepare them for considering how they can handle situations that involve these emotions. Using the student esheet, students can go to Feelings to see a short movie about the many different feelings people experience.

Bring students back to the idea of the think and share choice as a good way to handle emotionally difficult situations. Reflecting on what the think and share choice really means could help students process this concept and make it easier for them to apply it to their lives. Talk with students about their ability to stop and think when they are having a strong feeling that is leading to an argument. This is a time when they can think about what they can do and to hear what the other person is trying to say. Then they can try talking about the problem. This is simply another way to talk about the concept of the think and share choice. Attached to this lesson is a Think and Share Choice sign you can print out to hang in the classroom to help students remember what you mean when you talk about the think and share choice.


Students are now more experienced with talking about different feelings and with thinking through constructive ways of handling conflict. Hopefully, students recognize the benefits of using the "think and share" choice. To provide students with an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned and to give you an idea of how students have processed these concepts, ask students to write a short story about a situation in which people use the think and share choice. Their story should include at least one emotion, to reiterate the connection between feelings and conflict choices, and can be made with words or pictures (depending on the level of your students).

Each student's story will become a page in a book that you can keep in the classroom for students to refer to at any time. Having a class book about feelings and finding solutions to conflict will serve as an excellent resource for students and a reminder to them about what they have learned. If you see students struggling with a conflict, you could refer them to their book. You might even find that students, proud of the book they wrote, refer to the book on their own if a classroom conflict arises.

Students can find instructions for making the book in the Understanding What You Learned section of the student esheet.


One way to build upon this lesson is to have the students work in small groups and create a skit to role play a conflict and its resolution. Again, encourage students to use words about how people are feeling about the conflict and its resolution to reinforce what they have learned about the connection between emotions and conflict. Students could perform these skits in front of the class or even at a parents' night!

If you feel that it is appropriate for your group of students, you could also encourage students to write/draw in their journals on a regular basis about how they are feeling. It would be important to find a way to keep these journals confidential. The focus of these journals would be on students' experiences with conflict.

The websites below provide additional ideas for working with young students on feelings and problem solving:

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards