Most middle and high school teachers like to hope that students come to them already pre-programmed with strong social skills and abilities. It would definitely make classes easier, but we know that it is not true in many cases. Sometimes, problems with lacking social skills actually manifest themselves as behavioral challenges. For example, the student who is always interrupting in class may not know or understand the social rule that he should wait his turn. The student who constantly gets in trouble during group work might not know the group ground rules and how to work with others. Lastly, the student who gets involved in lots of drama and arguments with peers in your class might struggle with peer relationship skills. All of these behavioral challenges that cause such distress in our classrooms can be aligned with a lack of strong social skills.
Once your recognize that a student or group of students need some social skills support, the next step is providing the instruction that will teach them the social skills. If they do not have good social skills by middle or high school level, they will likely need a lot of direct instruction, practice, and support to make good progress. Kids CAN learn social skills though, regardless of their age.
What makes social skills instruction so challenging at the middle and high school level is that there usually is not any time in the day to focus on these skills. In elementary school, there might be a morning meeting time, small groups, and recess – all great times that teachers, school counselors, and social workers can target teaching social skills. At the middle and high school levels, though, the level of academic rigor is increased significantly, leaving minimal time for social teaching. Still, there are ways to weave social skills instruction into your classes.
- Use literature to discuss social behavior. While reading a passage or book, use the characters to highlight social skills and behavior. Ask questions like, “Why do you think he did that?” and “How did his actions impact the others?”. Even more, highlight and discuss specific skills that some of your students might have challenges with. This is a great way to incorporate teaching social skills because it makes it less personal for kids.
- Use small group work to review social skills. This goes for any group or partner work, such as science labs, partner reads, think-pair-shares, and more. Prior to starting group or partner work, review how your students should work with others. Explain and show what it means to keep eye contact with your partner, to listen to your group members, and to do your fair share of the work. These are essential social skills when working with groups or partners. You can find more direct instruction with the Working with Others – Groups and Partners workbook.
- Allot a short period of time to social skills each week. This can be done during resource room, study hall, or an advisory period. Focus on explicitly teaching and practicing the social skills your kids need. Consider running a social skills group once a week for 20 minutes. Adding peer role models will help significantly.
- Train peer role models to support social needs. Kids just learn better from other kids. This is especially true when it comes to social skills. Spend time training some peer role models to give cues and reminders to their “buddies”. Training them is simple – just privately meet with the student and direct them: “When you see Jimmy _____, just remind him to ______”. For example, in a science lab, “When you see Jimmy out of his seat during group time, just remind him to stay with his group”. The peer reminder will go farther than one from an adult.
- Talk with the school counselor and social worker. The other support staff in your building may have other ideas and strategies for how to support kids inside and outside of your classroom. Find out if they are running any social skills groups and give names of kids who you think could benefit.
If you find yourself needing to practice social skills in your middle and high school classroom, try these Social Skills Task Cards for Middle and High School. It is a pack of 100 task cards specifically designed for middle and high schoolers. The cards are organized into five different sets that target different skills: Basic Interactions, Conversations, Empathy, Friendships & Relationships, and Conflict Resolution Skills. You can use them during a lunch group, study hall, resource room, advisory period, or anytime you have a few minutes left over in you class period to review.
Take the time to teach social skills and it will pay off – not only for your students but for your classroom management, too!