Thursday, August 5, 2010

How to Curb the Prolific Tattler

21st Century ClassroomImage by Michael @ NW Lens via Flickr

If you teach in elementary school, you know that tattling can be a huge issue.  Tattling leaves hurt feelings and takes up valuable teaching time.  We all know students who are more prolific tattlers than others.  So what can we do?

The Difference

A good start to taming the chronic tattler is to explain the difference between tattling and telling.  I usually do this in the first week of school since second graders are some of the most notorious tattlers out there.   Tattling, I explain, is when you are trying to get someone IN trouble.  Telling is when you are trying to get someone OUT of trouble.  For example, if someone is hurt, then they are in trouble and need help.  If a student is getting bullied, then they are in trouble and need help.  Conversely, if another student were talking too loud in the restroom… they don’t need help, so it would be a tattle.  Finally, we brainstorm other examples of tattling and telling.  There will be some trial and error while students figure it out.

Kids will be kids, and they will want to test you from time to time.  They want to know if the teacher really means what she says.  This can be tricky.  Let’s say you just had a discussion with the class about being too loud in the restroom.  After the next restroom break, little Johnny comes back to inform you that little Jimmy was being too loud.  The temptation is confront little Jimmy as soon as he comes back.  If you choose to confront little Jimmy, then you’ve just sent a message to the class that you have a tattling loophole.  Your prolific tattlers will quickly make the connection that where there is one loophole, there may be others.  Make no mistake… students have no compunction about finding and exploiting a tattling loophole!  Therefore, in that type of situation it may be best to tell students up front that since talking in restrooms has been such a problem, they should tell you if someone disobeys until further notice.

The Hard Cases

You will have those cherubs from time to time who just can’t resist tattling no matter what.  These are the hard cases.  I talk one on one with these students to try to determine what is behind their tattling compulsion.  It could be oversensitivity, a need for extra attention, problems at home, almost anything.  Sometimes getting to the root of the issue and talking it out helps.  However, there are some students who simply enjoy tattling.  There are several ways to handle such individuals.


First is the quick comment.  After little Connie has shared her predicament, you can simply say, “Thank you for telling me.” The student feels like she’s been heard, and that will sometimes be enough.

Next, try the Tattle Box.  Have some sort of closed box with an opening on the lid, and set scrap paper beside it.  Next time little Claire runs up to tattle, direct her to the tattle box.  She’ll write down her issue for you to read later and will likely forget all about it. 

One year I had a class with more than the usual number of tattlers.  I mentioned it to another teacher in frustration one day, and she told me about the Tattle Form.  It’s a form on a legal sized paper that the student will fill out in order to tattle.  I’ll attach the tattle form I created at the bottom of this post.  The form serves more than one purpose.  First, they have to fill in their name, address, phone, and answer some other questions.  Here they’ve worked on the skills of knowing their address and phone, plus properly writing an address.  Next they have to say who it is they’re tattling on, how long they’ve known the person, how they met, and then list 4 good things about the person.  Most of the time a student will decide not to tattle after filling that part out.  If they persist however, they must consider whether the issue will matter in two days, and if it will matter… why? Finally they must use correct capitalization, punctuation, and paragraph skills to describe their problem.  Once the student returns the form to me, I check to make sure they filled it out correctly.  If not, I send it back for them until it is correct.  Once your hard-core tattler has experienced ‘the form’ a couple of times, they will typically stop tattling. 


I do want to emphasize that none of these alternative solutions take place until you have determined that the student is, in fact, just tattling.  I tell my students, “I’ve got your back.” I mean it, and they know I mean it.  How do you do to handle your prolific tattlers?

My Tattle Form
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  1. Ha! I LOVE the tattling form. If nothing else it will get them ready for a world of "red tape" when they grow up... Hey, wait a minute. Could it be that some companies are just trying to wear us down in bureaucracy hoping that we give up on our complaint? Hmmm.... :) Maybe that is how your colleague got the idea in the first place. You should ask if they were frustrated with bureaucracy when they invented "the form". In all seriousness, I do like the idea - especially the part about writing down 4 things they like about the person they are tattling on. Good work.

  2. HAHA! You're probably right, I've wondered that myself. ;) Thank you.