Verbal Interactions

Interactions to use in conversations: See article and resource on conversations to change behavior and heuristic

Approval statements

A statement that approves of the qualities or behaviors a person values. Be very careful to communicate to the student a distinction between qualities and behaviors and the student them self.

Authority Statements

Are used to call on your authority to ask students to do something. Or when there is something you want to tell the students you disapprove of something they do. Tell the student the behavior for which you disapprove and give a rationale for it. Make sure the student is aware you disapprove of what the student did not the student themselves. An I statements might be more appropriate.


An authority statement should:


Park on Pavement Sign

You may also use a Hobson's choice. A Hobson's choice is really no choice at all.

The story goes that Hobson owned a livery stable and had a system of numbering his horses from good to bad with the number one horse, being the best, having the number one and the number two horse, being the second best, having the number two and so on.

Everyone that came in to rent a horse asked him for his best horse. So he would give them the number one horse. Well it didn't take long before his good horses were becoming not so good. So he decided on a different plan.

After a customer left with the number one horse he would go to the stalls and move all the horses up a stall. Putting the number two horse into the first stall and so forth. Then when the number one horse returned he would move it to the last numbered stall.

When the next customer would arrive and ask for his best horse he would answer, You can have my number one horse. Since the horses were being rotated the customers were not being given a choice. Hence the term Hobson choice.


Closed-ended questions


Sample dialogue using closed-ended questioning to probe for a hidden problem:

If a child is not cooperating and you feel you know why the child is misbehaving you might want to ask a series of questions.

Do you know why your are (texting or other description or name the misbehavior) instead of helping your group?

Student answers, "no", then ask.

Is it okay if I guess and you can tell me if I'm right or wrong?

Examples on how to use one of the four maladaptive behaviors to guide your questioning:

  1. Could it be the group isn't listening to your ideas? (Attention)
  2. Could it be you want the group to do what you suggested? (Power)
  3. Could it be you don't want to help because the group didn't treat you very well? (Revenge)
  4. Could it be you feel the group isn't satisfied with the way you would do it, so you do not want to do it? (Inadequacy)

Disapproval statement

Disapproval statements can usually be avoided, as students usually know what you approve of and do not. However, if you feel it necessary, then using an I statement might be more appropriate.

Contradictory Statements

Suggestions for use

Contradictory statements are used to emphasize the results of emotional words, or faulty reasoning the student is using. By saying the contradiction in a matter of fact way it helps the student to hear the argument for their actions in an unemotional manner. If the student agrees with the statement, that provides information to move the conversation forward.

Use contradictory statements when students use faculty reasoning or questionable logic.

Examples of faulty reasoning include:

Circular reasoning, proof by selected reasoning, proof by selected instances, proof by failure to find a counter example, avoiding the question, special pleading, faking a connection, substituting the converse or inverse for the proposition, proof by counter example, where to draw the line, or carry reasoning to extremes.

Before you state a contradictory statement take a deep breath and exhale while talking. Let your voice decrease in volume at the end of the statement so that it doesn't sound like a question or sarcastic statement. Do not use the words but or however.

Example of use



To foster student growth educators must be able to encourage students. Encouragement helps students take control of their own behavior with the long-term effect of self-efficacy.


Bob, yesterday you got to work and completed the entire assignment. Sometimes it is difficult to get to work and stay at it. Yesterday you did.

Describe the situation so that the student will conclude, from the description, what they did and how they should feel about it.

Comparison of praise and encouragement statements.

Praise: Melanie, I am so happy that you got 100 on your spelling test for the sixth week in a row.

Encouragement: Mel, so what do you think about getting 100 for the sixth straight time?

Praise: I like the way you are sitting in your seat and waiting your turn.

Encouragement: It looks like you are thinking while other members of the class are sharing their ideas.

Praise: I am glad that half of the class got a perfect score on the test.

Encouragement: You all worked together preparing for the test and the scores were better than those on the first test. What do you think about that?

Through encouragement, people reveal a disposition about people, and more importantly, about the nature of control, that invites students to view themselves, others, and the world as challenges they can enjoy and surmount.

Purkey (1978) referred to this as invitational discipline which is characterized by:

  1. Optimism: views individuals as able, valuable, and capable of self-development.
  2. Intentionality: maintains that an intentional pattern of individual behavior based on publicly affirmed ideals is the foundation for respect and trust, both for oneself and others.
  3. Respect: appreciates the rich complexity and unique value of each person.
  4. Trust: Recognizes the importance of human interdependence which generates patterns of actions represented by openness and involvement.

Empathy Statements

Empathy statements include two parts.

  1. Empathize with the person.
  2. Move the person beyond empathy and redirect them to set a goal and begin progress towards the goal. In other words, getting on with life.

Three ways you can help students refocus:

  1. considering past success,
  2. future success,
  3. or change directions entirely.

Timing, to moving from the empathy part to the refocus part is judged by the severity of the issue and the student's emotional needs.


I statements (I messages)


I statements can be used to express your feelings about a student's actions. It is very important students know you are criticizing their actions and not them personally. It allows you to communicate your feelings about behaviors that are a problem for you because of how it affects you.

I statements have three parts:

  1. A description of the condition that the educator dislikes.
  2. An expression of the feeling the educator has.
  3. A statement of the reason for the feeling.

Teacher Examples:

Student Examples:

It is appropriate to remind the student it is their actions you dislike not them.

I really like you. When we sit down and talk about ... I really enjoy being with you. Sometimes your behavior, (pause) well, I just don't like it because it stops us from learning and enjoying school.


Mediation and I statements video example :

Purpose to illustrate a use of mediation with a talking stick and an I statement in popular media.

I Statement and Mediation Video


Source: Madame Secretary - episonde 2, season 2015, on CBS

Extracted from the full video at this location at about 36 minutes viewing time.


Thoughts and suggestions for the use of I And You messages

You may have noticed the use of I and you in many of the examples.

There are two kinds of I and you messages that can be communicated with the use of I and You:

I and you messages can be used to blame, hurt, and humiliate. This use will often increase, rather than decrease, unacceptable behavior. It can cause resentment, escalate conflict, and is a roadblock to communication.

Ginott (1972) asserted, you statements can be worded and used effectively to respond to a child's situation, complaint, or request to help them deal with their feelings and gain strength to cope with life. This kind of you message opens dialogue. The format:

Use you (understand) messages to keep the focus on student's feelings and student selected solutions. Use I (understand) messages when students own a problem. Together they create the foundations for what Ginott (1972) referred to as congruent communication.


Open-ended questions

How Questions

What Questions

See also information on questioning strategies

Positive Statements

Suggestions for use:

  1. Be an optimist, look for the best, avoid the negative, and do not use no and not.
  2. Focus on the issue, communicate what the student wants, what the student could do, or has done that is positive.
  3. Don't lecture or moralize. The idea is to get the student to recognize and agree on one or two things they want or did, or even what is good or isn't good.

Example of use: Most of us like to win. A positive statement to say in this particular situation would be: "You like to win". Then wait for their response. Normally winning is not a problem, but when we want to win so bad that we go to extremes to win at any cost, then we can create problems for others and our selves. If we lecture a person on fair play, sportsmanship, and winning they may listen and learn. More likely they listen and hear what Charlie Brown hears when his teacher talks. "Waaa Waa Waaa Waa Waaa." Resulting in a lecture not conversation. The student is waiting for the last word so they can escape.

If we use a positive statement, "You like to win." They probably will say yes. Then the teacher listens, uses halt time and sees what the person may follow up with.

With a bit of luck they may continue with a statement like, "I know but I don't always."

That keeps the conversation going and what follows could lead to some insight and personal growth.

Sample positive statements:


Praise is meant to control a student externally by the person giving the praise.

Students who become dependent on others for praise become very good at finding what the person they want the praise from wants, and giving it to them, to receive the praise. Making them codependent.

The purpose of the game becomes discovering how to please others. This does not mean it is not good to please other people some time. However, it can become a problem when a person places too much of their energy into pleasing other people at the expense of their own well being. These people become pleasers and approval junkies who are totally dependent on the opinion of others.

Other children rebel against praise. They do not want to or they believe that they can't achieve at the level of others' expectations. Therefore, they will not attempt a task they are not confident at completing with superior results or enter into a competition with anyone they see as more competent.

The long-term effect of praise is - dependence on others.

Praise can be general or specific.

General praise

With the hope that Marty will continue the good work the teacher says: Congratulations! Fantastic work, Marty!

Specific praise

Again the hope is Bob will continue to come to class and work. The teacher says: "Bob, when you come into class and worked as you did yesterday, you were able to do very good work."

The difference is that Bob has been told more specifically what it was he did that is worthy of the praise.


Praise is a form of external control that makes students dependent on teachers or others. Reliance on creating dependency is a way to control students that desire approval from others. Students' positive responses provide the teacher a false sense of accomplishment and feeling of power.


Activity - Stargirl passage with questions

Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is also known as parallel talk, parroting, and paraphrasing.

It can be used to:

Ideas for reflection come from listening, observing, and interpreting verbal and nonverbal cues as the listener tries to walk in the shoes of the speaker.

Ideas can be:

When you listen reflectively you express your:

A reflective response lets you communicate to a person what you perceive they are doing, feeling, and saying and why they are choosing their behaviors. It is impossible to be the other person and your best understanding is only a reasonable approximation. Be open-minded and cautious. Consider all ideas as tentative since our best understanding will always be limited because of the uniqueness of all people.

Use reflective listening is to open communication.

To restate what the student states is different than repeating student's answers in class. Dialogs of this nature will be in private, is done to check what is being communicated and for the purpose of understanding the student. Example:

Student: Why do you always pick on me. Others do stuff and you don't yell at them.

Educator: I pick on you and not on the other students. (Said as a statement not a question) or

Educator: I single you out when there is an interruption more than the other students.

Suggestions to use reflective statements to express what you believe students are saying:

Sample phrases for when you think your perceptions are accurate.

Phrases to use when you have difficulty understanding.

Support and More Statements


Support and more statements are used to support something the person has done or believes in to motivate them to to set a goal(s), create a plan, and implement it to achieve their goal (the more).


You did good yesterday and today until now. Lets talk about what caused you to get upset and see what other strategy you could use next time.

Look at all you have done. All you need to do is a bit more. Avoid the use of: but and however.

You want to get your driver's license, buy a camper and travel. That will take money. People make money by working. Will having a high school diploma help you achieve your goals quicker?

You do good solving problems in mathematics. Look at this as just another problem to solve. You can solve it any way you want as long as it doesn't create a problem for anyone else in the world.

Response that are not reflective and are detrimental to communication

All of the following responses are detrimental to communication.

Responses that question, reassure, support, praise, criticize, blame, disagree, agree, warn, order, give advise, are humorous, name-call, shame, moralize, and sympathize.

All of these responses have one or more of the following effects that shut down communication:

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
[ Home & ]