Name(s) of student(s):

Age and grade level:

Goal from IEP connected to lesson:

Objective from IEP connected to lesson:

Purpose of lesson: To learn to recognize assertive, aggressive, and passive forms of communication

Materials needed: Internet access, resources for a field trip


Situations arise daily involving the opportunity to assert one’s concerns, rights, or desires. Examples include verbalizing a request, attempting to correct an error, giving an honest opinion, and saying “no.” to a request. You can communicate your opinions in a variety of ways. Three of the most common styles of communication are:

  • Assertive, which emphasizes being honest, kind, and respectful.
  • Passive, which downplays your desires and avoids disagreements or conflict.
  • Aggressive, which makes demands and does not respect others.

Which style do you think you use most often?


Imagine you are in the following situation: you paid to have a new dishwasher installed in your home this morning and it is not working properly. Let’s consider three responses.

You can respond aggressively. After all, you paid a large sum this very morning to have it installed properly. You’re angry and you call the installer to let him know his error is unacceptable. Over the phone, you speak in a disapproving manner and are condescending. You tell him you want him to correct the problem today and expect a full refund for his service. When he comes to fix the mistake, you continue to speak disapprovingly and condescendingly.

You can respond passively. After all, he came all the way to your home, which is quite far from his shop. You don’t want him to have to make the trip again. You plan to ask your handy friend to look at the problem the next time she visits. If she can’t fix it, it’s not a huge inconvenience to hand wash the dishes. You want to avoid the confrontation and hate having to stand up for yourself. You decide that it’s easier to not let the installer know that the machine is not working.

You can respond assertively. The situation is frustrating, but you realize that everyone makes mistakes. You call the installer and let him know the dishwasher is not working properly. You ask if he is available to correct the installation error within the next few days. You accept his apology and explain that you understand that sometimes these things happpen.

Exercise: Communication Styles

Ask the student to search the Internet for descriptions of passive, assertive, and aggressive communication.

Exercise: Assertive, Aggressive, or Passive?

Assist the student in determining the assertive, aggressive, or passive behavior and communication styles in the following scenarios.

  • Alicia and her boyfriend have a dinner date planned this Friday. She recently realized that her boyfriend is usually the one who decides on the locations of their dates. She feels like she needs to voice her opinion. When he comes to pick her up she states, “You always decide where we eat and I’m real tired of you not asking me where I want to go. We’re going to Lulu’s Fish and Chips. If you want to be with me, you better step up to the plate.”
  • Derek is a 12th-grade student who also works as a grocery store cashier twice per week. Each of the past three weeks, his coworker, Jeff, has asked if he would work a shift for him. Derek no longer wants to work a third shift. When Jeff asks Derek if he can cover for him on Tuesday evening, Derek says, “I am unable to pick up a third shift. If you want to swap a shift with me, that’s fine. Otherwise, I just can’t.”
  • Michael asked his friend, Laura, to take class notes for him when he wasn’t feeling well. Laura happily obliged. After Michael was feeling better,he continued to ask Laura for her class notes and she eventually felt Michael was taking advantage of her. Each time Michael asked Laura for her class notes, Laura obliged, even though she was slowly becoming resentful.
  • Nada has a visual impairment. She can see the information on the whiteboard best when her teacher uses a dark marker. After class Nada approaches the teacher: “Hi, Mrs. Harrigan. I have a visual impairment which makes it difficult for me to see writing with low contrast. It was very difficult for me to read the words you wrote in orange marker today. Would you please use a dark marker in the future, so that I can see the written information? Thank you!”
  • Lorenzo has been working hard as a nursing assistant for four years and has been performing managerial tasks for approximately six months without any increase in his pay. He wants to respectfully request raise, but he doesn’t want to rock the boat, so he’s just going to wait until his boss offers him more money.

Exercise: Movie Theater

Bring a group of students to watch a popular, appropriate movie in the theater. After the movie, discuss assertive, aggressive, and passive communication.

  • Do you remember any assertive behavior or communication?
  • Do you remember any aggressive behavior or communication?
  • Do you remember any passive behavior or communication?
  • Did any character start with an aggressive or passive style and gradually change to an assertive style?
  • Did aggressive behavior or communication make the character less likable?
  • Was a passive character respected?
  • Was a passive character “walked over”?


“Today we discussed assertive, passive, and aggressive communication styles. Assertive communication is polite and firm passive communication is avoids conflict, aggressive communication is controlling, angry, and lacks empathy toward others.”

Progress notes, data collection, comments, and modifications: