Teaching the difference between Tell & Tattling

Students that feel like they need to update you on everyone’s moves can take up a lot of time if you do not specifically instruct students to way the importance of what the teacher needs to know without putting a stigma on telling the teacher anything. Many kids grow up with a distorted view of tattling and their have been many instances of students keeping silent when a child is bullied because they do not want to be labeled as a tattle-tell. It is important to distinguish tattle versus telling so that students are confident to talk to the teacher about what they are witnessing.

When students tell on other children, some have legitimate concerns. Sometimes the reason for concern about the others’ behavior and its effects on them and their friends is important and we need to listen. Sometimes some students do it to gather information, to test limits and try to figure out if you will enforce the rules. Some do it for attention and recognition, they want you to notice that they are following the rules and by reporting others they are looking for affirmation that they are doing the right thing. Some children do it because they do not know how to handle the problem themselves and by tattling they are using the only problem-solving strategy they know.

Don’t stigmatize talking to the teacher, communication lines should be open. In order for those communication lines to be open, good strategies need to be put in place to minimize tattling. Be open and clear about your expectations. First, estimate their knowledge of tattling and see what they have been told.

You can say, “Has anyone heard of the word “tattle?” Who can explain to me what they know about this word and what you have been told?”

Follow with, “Although, many of you have been told tattling is not good they probably had good reasons for telling you that. But I want you to know that there are times that I need to know. There will be times when I want you to tell me about the behaviors that you are noticing and today we are going to talk about when to tell me.”

  • Need help from an adult vs Can solve alone
  • Behavior is on purpose vs Behavior is on accident
  • Dangerous and harmful situation vs Harmless
  • Important vs Unimportant

After introducing what it is to telling on someone versus tell, you can come up with various scenarios and your students can vote whether it is a tattle or a tell and explain their thinking.

If it is a tell and someone is in immediate danger the student should get your attention in the way that you teach them. If it is a tattle you can create a tattle box, and students can write their story down and put it in the box.

Here is a great song to use.

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Youtube Book: Don’t Squeal Unless its a Big Deal.

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After the lesson, be sure to be respectful to the next tattle or tell. Assume that the child’s motivations for tattling are positive. You can then assess and guide, if the student is tattling you can guide them over to your tattling strategy of choice. If your student is feeling agitated at all – maybe it is time to visit the calming corner. Whatever you do – be consistent and be active – in this and your tattling problem will be solved!