Zax are terrible role models for how to solve conflicts! But their story, “The Zax,” by Dr. Seuss, is a great way to start a discussion about conflict resolution. The zax are two single-minded characters, one who wants to go north, and the other who wants to go south. When they meet face-to-face on the north-south path, neither one will budge. At all. Ever. End of story.
I use “The Zax” to introduce my conflict resolution unit because it perfectly illustrates what happens when you don’t use conflict resolution strategies. (I use it in third grade, but it would work at many grade levels, as well as individual and group counseling sessions.) “The Zax” can be found in The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss.( I adapted this lesson from one in the wonderful, but apparently out of print book, Teaching Conflict Resolution Through Children’s Literature by William J. Kreidler.) This lesson takes 30 minutes.
1. If this is the first time you will be teaching these students about conflict: Begin by asking students to share what they think conflict means. Many will probably say “an argument” or “a fight.” Respond by saying, “Sometimes a conflict can cause ____________ (a fight/argument/etc.) Tell them that you and their teacher had a conflict recently (I usually tell them that I wanted to teach their class at one time but the teacher wanted me to do it at another time.) Ask if they think the two of you yelled, slammed the door, or showed any other “fighting” behavior. Then ask how they think you did solve it.
If you have previously taught these students about conflict: Review what students already know. I start by asking students to recall what they learned about conflict in second grade. My curriculum spirals through the grade levels, and I use consistent language with visuals, so generally almost everyone remembers:
Conflict = Disagreement
The Trick Question about conflict:
- Is conflict good or bad? (Neither. Conflicts just happen. They are part of life.)
- What could be good or bad? (The choices we make.)
When conflict gets worse we say it __________. (escalates)
When conflict gets better we say it __________. (de-escalates)
2. Go over rules/expectations for solving conflicts. Ask students why each rule is necessary if you want to solve a conflict. I use rules from a Peace Education Foundation poster that is no longer available (they have others that are close, but I still like these).
- We find out what the problem is.
- We attack the problem, not the person.
- We listen to each other.
- We care about each others’ feelings.
- We are responsible for what we say and do.
Here is a similar poster that I use with fourth and fifth grades. (I go over the fouls in the next lesson, when we talk about what causes conflict to escalate.)
3. Read “The Zax.” Before you read, ask kids to notice when the zax are following or not following the rules. The kids will be surprised when the story ends, because there is no resolution. The zax just stand there unhappily-ever-after, continuing their argument, even when an entire city grows up — and highways are rerouted — around them.
4. Discuss: What did each of the zax want? What was the conflict? Did they get what they wanted? What made the conflict worse? Which rules didn’t the zax follow? How could following the rules have helped?
5. Have two kids at a time come to the front of the room to show how the zax could have solved their conflict. Kids should stand face-to-face, talk with each other about how they want to resolve the conflict, then act out their resolution. Options could include: going around each other, leapfrogging, sidling by each other, one stepping aside for the other, both going in one direction together, each going back the way they came, going east and west instead, etc. Point out how kids are following the conflict resolution rules while they are figuring out what to do.
Kids love this lesson! The story is great, the ending shocking, and the active problem-solving at the end is engaging and fun. What would make it even better? A cool Zax shirt, like the one Marissa at Elementary School Counseling made for Dr. Seuss’ birthday. I am on a mission to find someone to
help me make one make one for me!