This blog post includes six engaging conflict resolution activities and practical strategies for teaching high school students conflict resolution techniques.
What is conflict resolution?
Conflict resolution is a process that people can use to deal with conflict, disagreements, and disputes. It is a way to find common ground, be heard, and positively resolve conflict. It involves working together toward a mutually agreed upon solution to a problem.
Through using conflict resolution skills, the parties involved in the conflict understand each other’s perspectives better, learn from their mistakes and gain new insights into their communication skills.
Conflict occurs when two people want something, have unmet needs, and can’t agree on how to solve the problem. Sometimes involving intense emotions and unhealthy ways of expressing strong feelings, we may have a negative experience in conflict. In conflict resolution, each side must understand the other person’s experience and feelings. Conflict resolution strategies can be done before, during, or after the conflict situation. Managing conflict situations effectively in everyday life helps students with emotional development and social-emotional skills.
Conflict management is a process of using skills that helps individuals and parties with unresolved conflict in their relationship move from negative feelings to positive ones. The ability to manage conflict is an important skill for young people to understand how to experience conflict and resolve interpersonal conflicts.
Choosing Conflict Resolution Activities
Engaging in conflict resolution activities and utilizing practical strategies for teaching high school students can go a long way in preparing them for college and beyond. By introducing these concepts early on, we help our students develop the social skills necessary to navigate difficult conversations, difficult situations, and relationships. Additionally, by providing practice opportunities, we can ensure that they are comfortable using these techniques before heading off to college.
As teachers, we shape our students’ beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. We should foster a culture of respect and support, encouraging all students to engage in compassionate communication and strive for conflict resolution. Modelling appropriate behavior using the skills we teach is one way to foster a culture of striving for conflict resolution.
The adolescent years can be a hard time with strong emotions. With effective conflict resolution strategies, we can help teenagers see different ways to make more effective decisions, solve problems on their own, and understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Teaching students a respectful way of problem solving everyday conflicts is the best way to prepare them for the future. All these skills will ultimately help them lead healthier and more independent lives. Finally, students should feel comfortable expressing their voices to develop into thriving college students, engaged citizens, and successful global leaders.
Conflict Management Skills and Self-Esteem
Teenagers who are confident in their abilities to manage the conflict in their lives thrive with heightened self-esteem. When we help teenagers build their self-esteem and confidence through conflict resolution lessons, we give them the strength to resist negative peer influence. When we teach them the value of their own opinions through reflective listening, we provide them with the ability to communicate in ways that are appropriate to their setting and context. And when we set expectations for them with ground rules, we empower them to meet those expectations.
Engaging in conflict resolution activities helps prepare students for college and beyond by teaching them how to navigate difficult conversations and relationships. Teenage years are a good time to teach students about effective ways to manage different types of conflict.
When it comes to preparing students for college and beyond, one of the most important things they can learn is how to resolve conflicts effectively. From roommates and classmates to professors and future employers, being able to navigate difficult conversations is a critical skill that will serve them well in life. There are a variety of conflict resolution activities that high school students can participate in to help them learn these essential skills. Role-playing exercises, group discussions, and simulations are great ways for students to explore different strategies for resolving conflict.
Practical strategies for teaching high school students can include:
- Introducing concepts early on.
- Providing practice opportunities.
- Encouraging the use of techniques outside of class.
One of the best ways to ensure that your high school students are equipped with the skills they need to resolve conflict is to introduce concepts early on. Doing so can help them develop a deeper understanding of what it takes to communicate and problem-solve effectively. Additionally, providing practice opportunities can be incredibly beneficial. For example, practicing could involve role playing conflict scenarios or simulations that allow students to put their skills into action. Finally, don’t forget to encourage the use of techniques outside of class.
Examples of Conflict Resolution Activities
These examples of conflict resolution activities can easily be added to your unit planning and lesson planning.
Students and adults alike may understand the many dictionary definitions of conflict. Still, for the true meaning of conflict to take place, their associations and experiences need to be explored for an expanded awareness of the complexities of conflict and our judgments that shape conflict. A conflict may also be described as any means of disagreement or discomfort with oneself or others while trying to communicate.
Using small groups, the teacher will encourage students to define what conflict means for each of them. Sometimes students may benefit from the teacher providing them sticky notes to write down their responses in individual reflection first, then be provided with opportunities for group discussion.
This technique may support the learners in gathering their thoughts about the meaning of conflict before being expected to contribute to group discussion. The following questions provide a framework for the discussion and are best captured in point form on a flip chart, whiteboard, or smart board.
- When you hear the word ‘conflict,’ what are some things that come to mind?
- Where, in your life experience, have these ideas originated?
- What makes conflict a conflict?
- What is important to know about conflict?
The teacher will copy the responses from the group participants to the questions about conflict. Students may also put their sticky notes on a classroom board. Whichever method is used, the teacher needs to write the responses from the students precisely as they were presented.
By taking this approach, the teacher exhibits respect and courtesy for what the group participants contribute. In addition, the teacher offers group participants an opportunity to clarify what they are saying so that proper understanding may occur between participants.
Once the participants have exhausted their thoughts on what conflict is and the discussion questions, the teacher will post the responses to the side and summarize what they have identified as their meaning of conflict.
Typical responses from students include:
- Difference of Opinion
- Point of View
- Different Values
- Breaking Up
As the group participants offer their perspectives on conflict, it is also essential for the teacher to reframe the responses that might have a negative connotation to them. Not all our experiences with conflict have been positive, nor have we consistently attributed positive experiences with conflict. By reframing the conflict, there are opportunities for bridging a discussion about positive forms of conflict or conflict with positive outcomes.
Following through with asking the group what they see as being optimistic about conflict is valuable. Making references to some of the responses they had shared on the first flip chart/board and asking them what positive experiences could arise out of them is a great way to generate discussion within the group.
Working Definition of Conflict
The teacher may summarize the class definition of conflict and clarify the meaning to ensure that a proper understanding of the class’s definition of conflict is reached. It is also essential to provide the class with an opportunity to accept or change the definition by checking in with them.
Approaches to Conflict
Using small groups, the teacher will encourage students to explain approaches to conflict. The following questions provide a framework for the discussion and are best captured in point form on a flip chart, whiteboard, or smart board.
- What are some ways in which you have seen others approach conflict?
- What are some ways in which you have heard others have approached conflict?
Each response can be perceived as either positive or negative, and the teacher must listen objectively to the group participant’s responses.
- Shut Down
- Text Messages
Theory suggests that there are typically three main approaches to conflict that we may choose to employ: Avoid, Delay and Confront. For example, on the document that the teacher recorded the participant responses, the teacher may summarize the recorded responses and connect their answers to:
- Avoid- e.g., block/delete contact, cutting, stealing, walking away, silent treatment, etc.
- Delay- e.g., arguing, hitting, swearing, not talking, time out, etc.
- Confront- e.g., talking about it, journaling, counselling, etc.
It is vital to reinforce the idea presented that there are three approaches to conflict by writing the three approaches to conflict with the group’s recorded responses. Emphasizing that no matter what approach to conflict, they all fit within the three identified categories. Categorizing conflict is helpful to keep in mind when faced with conflict as it provides insight on how you approach conflict and can also offer opportunities for understanding how others approach conflict situations.
- to altogether avoid or stay away from the conflict
- to pretend that nothing is happening or wrong
- to put the conflict situation off for some time
- to take a ‘time out’ until all parties are prepared to discuss the situation
- circumstances may cause a delay in being able to deal with the conflict
- delay can often be perceived as avoidance and can often turn into avoidance if left for too long
- to power confront and ‘bully’ creating a win/lose outcome
- to assert and negotiate to create a win/win outcome
Causes of Conflict
Using small groups, the teacher will encourage students to explain the causes of conflict. The following questions provide a framework for the discussion and are best captured in point form on a flip chart, whiteboard, or smart board.
- What are some causes of conflict?
- Comments on social media
The causes of conflict are immeasurable but can be organized and defined as falling into three categories: resources, psychological needs, and values.
Conflict over Resources
- first point of contention in a conflict situation
- often an underlying psychological need or value conflict
- $ MONEY
- material possessions
- natural resources (oil, gas, farmland, animals, etc.)
Conflicts over resources are usually the easiest to identify in a conflict situation. Resources are generally the first point of contention in a conflict situation. However, it is essential to recognize that the conflict may have more profound meaning and additional causes other than the presenting resource. For example, a group of students are finding seats in a classroom. Two girls sit together, and another girl approaches and says that one of the girls has taken her seat. A conflict occurs, and the girls argue over the chair. Although the chair may be a valid starting point of the contention, in this case, and in most others, the relationship with the person sitting next to the chair is more important as the girl needs to sit next to someone whose acceptance is crucial to her.
In family disputes, workplace disputes, school disputes, and many other disputes, conflict over resources have more meaning and depth than what is presented and often leads to conflict over psychological needs.
Conflict over Psychological Needs
- every conflict relates in some way to an unmet psychological need
- the base of every conflict is unmet interests/needs
- power, recognition, belonging
- Concerns, Hopes, Expectations, Assumptions, Perceptions, Beliefs, Fears, and Values (CHEAP BFVs)
Conflicts over psychological needs are motivators for a deeper meaning to the conflict situation the parties are experiencing. For example, two friends from a peer group may be having a conflict over what movie they will see or where they will go for a soda. One of the parties in conflict may have specific time requirements from their parents for curfew or other expectations, and it may be an issue for the party to meet the group where the majority wants to go. It is crucial for the individual to feel belonging and accepted by the peer group with which they spend time. It may be difficult for the individual to express the need for belonging and acceptance, making it difficult to resolve the conflict.
Conflicts over psychological needs are less obvious, making it more challenging to identify and ultimately find a resolution to the presenting issues.
Conflict over Values
- values reflect our very selves, and defenses may come up w/ this type of conflict
- are the most difficult to resolve
- better to agree to disagree
e.g., gender/sexuality, abortion, war, euthanasia, drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, religion, etc.
Conflicts over values are the most difficult to resolve. Challenges to our value system are challenges to our very selves. For example, two people are discussing abortion. One person says that abortion is wrong and under no circumstances should an abortion take place. The other person disagrees and says that abortion is a right of women. The two parties then start to argue and begin to share their thoughts and views on abortion and support their comments with information as to why they are right in their position.
Other conflicts over values may include sexuality, euthanasia, religion, parenting techniques, drug use, work ethic, personal ethics, and others. Because challenges to our value system are challenges to who we are, we often respond to this cause of conflict with defensiveness and tenacity. During a dispute over values, it is difficult to abandon old patterns of behaviors and adopt new habits of behaviors for our responses. In most situations, it is best to agree to disagree in conflict over values.
Summarizing Causes of Conflict
The teacher may summarize and relate the group’s identified causes of conflict and tie in their responses with the theory that there are three causes of conflict. A formative assessment of this activity is to ask students to categorize the causes of conflict they listed into three categories:
- conflict over resources
- conflict over psychological needs
- conflict over values
Two Sides of the Story
This activity pairs up students and has them each write their version of a recent conflict. Students talk to one another about their perspectives on the conflict and then discuss and agree upon which elements are actual and which are false. By getting all students’ accounts of the conflict, students learn each other’s perspectives and may begin to understand why the conflict occurred in the first place.
Understanding the difference between “I” and “you” statements is one key to conflict resolution. When people begin a sentence with “you,” it’s usually accusatory and negative. For example, when a person says, “You’re always acting like a baby,” they are speaking in bad faith and not seeking a meaningful resolution. An option for another statement may be, “I feel unheard when we talk about this issue.”
While conflict resolution activities are meant to be fun, they are also an excellent way to channel teens’ excess energy. Unfortunately, high school students spend excessive time in these activities, so they must get a lot of practice.
Scavenger hunts are an activity that allows students to get out of the classroom for a fun time outside. Creating a scavenger hunt intended to solve a problem is an excellent way to teach critical thinking skills. This is also a suitable method for engaging students in practicing communication skills in conflict management.
The world is asking more of our students, and we must help them meet these challenges while they are still in high school. High school is a time when they are more receptive to hearing new ideas and taking on new responsibilities. After all, nobody is born ready to confront the challenges of adulthood. So we have to teach them how.
Understanding conflict and how to effectively manage conflict begins with defining conflict. Our beliefs shape our definitions of conflict about what conflict is, how it is approached and where it originates.
As teachers and students continue to explore the meanings of conflict and the meaning of conflict as discussed with conflict resolution activities, you will see opportunities for making a difference in managing conflict.
One of the simplest ways to do this is to ask our students how we can better support them in their everyday lives at school. For example, they might be able to help us find creative ways to make learning about conflict resolution more accessible for them and their peers. We can also help them to understand the importance of self-advocacy and to practice conflict resolution skills when they need to use them.
TACT (Teens and Conflict Together): A Facilitator’s Guide for Empowering Youth to Engage in Creative Problem Solving: Petryshyn, MA., Chartered Mediator, Suzanne: 9781451516593: Books – Amazon.ca. (2022). Amazon.ca.
How to Successfully Teach Teens Conflict Resolution Skills
If you are an educator, parent, or grandparent and looking for practical strategies to use with children, concepts to understand, and ideas that can be easily implemented about how to create space for self and others, you have landed in the right spot.
Children learn how to solve problems the same way they learn how to read, write, and add. Like reading, writing, and adding, there are three specific components to solving problems. These are teachable skills children can learn at any age.