“Ask, Don’t Tell”

Student Contributor: E. Adkisson
The “Ask, Don’t Tell” approach is helpful to students because they are constantly being told what to do. Students are also often told how they are feeling or how to fix it. This method causes the teacher to ask the students questions about how they are feeling rather than relying on their body language.

This tool should be used in settings where students are feeling overwhelmed, sad, angry or any high emotions. Teachers are looking at their student’s body language and can often tell how students might be feeling but using this method allows the students to take time to express their emotions and try to problem solve on their own. A community member may ask questions like, “Could you tell me how you feel?” “I imagine that you might feel like ___. Is that right?” “How can I helo you solve this problem?”. By asking these types of questions students will have more understanding of what they need to do when they are experiencing these emotions.

I placed this tool in the supportive phase because it will help students organize their thought after something happens in the classroom or school.” Ask, Don’t Tell” connects to the supportive phase because staff members are supporting students in their emotions and helps the teacher gain a better understanding of the student. By using this tool on a daily basis you are showing the students that you truly care about them and are there to help. This tool could connect to preventative because after the students learn how to organize their emotions and start to problem solve, the students will be able to ask themselves these questions without a staff member.

More Information –
Tool Source: Karyn Gordon

4 thoughts on ““Ask, Don’t Tell””

  1. I am currently in PE at an urban elementary school so I see students from Kindergarten through 5th grade. Class sizes are usually around 24 students. There is nothing as far as supplies to set up in order to use this tool. You may choose to have a list of questions to draw from in order to get a conversation started, however, many of the questions asked are just “how are you feeling” type questions which could be commonplace for you to ask anyway. It is also an easy tool to use. It simply requires going to talk to students individually during an appropriate time. At first the students did not open up very much when I asked them questions, but as time went on they began to open up more. I noticed that after a conversation students seemed to have regrouped and went back to participating in class. Before it was typical for students who got upset to sit by the wall for the rest of the class period. After talking to the students they were able to regain control of their emotions and no longer sat out for the remainder of class time. Overall this was a great relationship building tool.

  2. I used this tool in my kindergarten P.E. class at an urban school with a class size of 22. This tool was very easy to prepare for, it did not require any prep work. I didn’t teach it to this class, I used it when the child was having a difficult time. This tool was also very easy to use because I asked the child what was wrong, and they explained from there. The tool was successful, the student was able to recognize what was bothering them and we were able to come up with a solution to the problem together. Students were not given a role to follow, I served as the facilitator for this tool. I don’t have a suggestion to improve this tool, but my advice would be to remember to be patient with the student when they are telling you what is wrong. They also may need a few minutes to cool down before you engage with them.

  3. 4th Grade, 24 students, urban
    When preparing to use this tool, I actually went to an unusual source; tiktok. While social media can be rife with over generalization, misinformation, or just straight falsehoods, I have had great experiences with exploring mental health through it. Of course, to do this one must already have a strong base of critical thinking skills and a good amount of emotional intelligence to weed out bad advice. I watched quite a few videos on how to ask children questions to help them work through big emotions, the reasoning behind “bad” behavior during big emotions, and how beneficial it is to have these conversations with students. Actually using this tool was just a matter of taking the time to sit with a student and helping them process their thoughts and feelings. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that it isn’t about you. It isn’t about misbehaving. It isn’t about the consequences. It isn’t about explaining what the student did “wrong”. It’s about the student and what they are going through. There will be time after this talk to address these issues, but they should wait until after the student has had time to express their feelings and you have helped them process everything. When doing this, the focus should be on the student. The questions should be open-ended if the student is in a place mentally that they can go into deeper detail. If the student is overwhelmed it is better to stick to questions that validate the student’s emotions and are easy to answer.
    The success with this has been amazing. Even just letting a student vent about an issue they have has had an amazing impact on attitude and behavior. There is also a significant relationship improvement after these kinds of talks. The students will start being more honest and open. There were even cases of other students seeing me have these conversations where they changed a little and became more empathetic. There was a student who was really upset one day. He was crying on the floor in the hallway. I only had maybe two minutes that I could be out there with him before I had to be back in the classroom. Even just those two minutes of me taking the time to ask him what he was feeling let him know that I cared. It let him know that I saw him and that he mattered. Our relationship improved afterward. When he would misbehave during class he was more likely to stop the behavior if I talked to him about it.
    I think that students understood their role with the new tool. Rather, they knew that an adult was listening and engaged with their problems. They could trust that I would listen to them, and try to understand.
    This tool is perfect as is. I don’t think there are any adjustments needed.

  4. I am in a kindergarten classroom, and we have a class of 16 students. The elementary school is located in an urban area. With this supportive tool I focused this tool on students who were having a range of high emotions whether that was from work that was given to them in the classroom or just how they were feeling that day. Working with kindergarten I have experienced and witnessed that they have strong emotions, and it doesn’t get solved with a “you will be okay.” These emotions are big for the students, what has been working with the students and I has been when I see they need an extra second or two to process what is happening they take that second to breathe. After they have had their second to gather themselves, I go in with the questions about how they are feeling. Not about what happened we will get to that down the line, but they need to feel safe and supported in that moment.


Leave a Comment