Social skills are the interpersonal skills that we need to communicate, work with others, and develop lasting relationships along the way. Having a strong foundation for social skills allows kids and teens to feel confident, prepared, able to take risks, and ready for challenges that come their way.
The term social skills is actually very broad. There are actually many social skills that we all need and use every day. They include more basic skills like using manners and following directions, but also more advanced skills like conflict resolution and developing empathy. Because social skills encompass so much, it is critical that we teach and practice them every day.
STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING SOCIAL SKILLS
Teaching social skills is important. Some learners pick up on social skills on their own, with families at home, or just through interactions with others. However, many kids and teens don’t. It is critical to lay a strong foundation for social skills.
Explicitly teach social skills. It’s important to not assume that kids and teens know the right things to do in a situation. We need to teach them! Spend time talking about and practicing social skills. You can choose to discuss one skill per week, teach it, and highlight it as you see it.
Use literature. Read alouds are one of the most effective and efficient ways to integrate social skills instruction. You can do this with any read aloud or select a text specifically to highlight a skill. Read the text and discuss the skill as you go along. For example, one great text to start the discussion about acceptance is All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. Read about more texts you can use to target social and emotional skills with read alouds.
Play games. Many games lend themselves to practicing social skills. Some of my favorites are Jenga to practice self-control and Simon Says to practice attention. Almost all games and activities can work on social skills in some way, especially because many require teamwork and turn-taking. When playing games, be purposeful about what social skills students are using and integrate them into your instruction.
Start with morning meeting. Morning meeting is the perfect way to start your day with students. They greet each other, talk about topics that matter, and begin their day with confidence. Something simple you can do is integrate social skills into your morning meeting time. Just choose one skill per day to discuss and practice.
Use writing prompts. Start each morning with a daily social skills prompt. Ask students to list out all the manner words they know or write a story about a time they might use a manner word. You might even come up with a social situation and ask students to give advice to someone. There are so many options for this strategy. This is a simple and easy way to integrate social skills instruction while still focusing on academics.
Discuss social expectations. Openly discuss social expectations before activities and situations. For example, before group work, make it a point to list out some group ground rules. Before a schoolwide assembly, review what children should look and sound like. This can help all learners, but especially those who really need an extra support.
Model and practice social skills together. Make it an everyday practice to work on social skills. For example, before a big test, model what positive self-talk sounds like and talk about how it can help. This type of modeling serves as a very natural way to integrate social skills instruction when your learners need it most.
Teach social problem-solving. Start the morning with a social scenario and have kids discuss. For example, you might work on self-control by asking, “Your best friend has a toy that you really like. You ask to see it and they say no. What do you do?” You can have partners discuss the scenario first and then bring it to a larger group discussion. This can be a great activity to build on social skills when you only have a couple of minutes before switching to another class or activity.
Discuss movies and video clips. Just like with literature, movies and shows can be a great source of information about social skills. You can find short age-appropriate video clips online to watch during a quick brain break or at the end of the day. Spend a couple of minutes talking about the social skills seen or used by the people in the video. This can be especially helpful for more visual learners.
MORE INTENSIVE INTERVENTIONS
Sometimes, kids and teens struggle with learning social skills even with social skill instruction. This calls for more intensive interventions and supports.
Create a social skills group. Whether you meet once a week during lunch or after school as an extra activity, help kids learn social skills with a social skills group. When creating your group, it’s important to make sure you add peer role models. These are classmates with stronger social skills who can provide support as they learn alongside your students needing interventions. If you aren’t sure how to fit a group into your schedule, talk to the special education teacher, social worker, school counselor, or any other support staff to make it happen together. Read more about tips and ideas for leading a social skills group that works.
Use explicit lessons and activities. Kids struggling with basic social skills often need very explicit and clear instruction on what the skills are, why they matter, and how they can use them. This involves clear instruction and practice on a regular basis. Plan your lessons to target the skills your learners need the most and make sure to give time to review them on a regular basis.
Use social scripts. Social scripts are short stories that explain how and when different skills should be used. If a student is struggling with group work, it might help to have a social script about what they should do during group time. Social scripts should be written in first person so that learners can internalize the skills they need to use.
Create a social scripts binder. Often, when kids struggle with social skills, it’s not just one thing. Create an individualized social scripts binder for your learner by putting together all the different social scripts they need. For example, your student might need different scripts on working with partners, playing at recess, and taking a test on their own. Before each challenging activity, have your student read that specific social script to help them prepare. Creating an individualized social scripts binder can help develop independence while teaching skills.
Role-play. Acting out scenarios can be such a fun and memorable way to learn social skills. Give learners a scenario based on a social skill, such as asking a friend to play, and have them act it out with a partner or small group.
Use video-modeling. After practicing role-play, help your students remember the social skills they’ve learned by allowing them to record and make a video about the skill. This can be a fun and memorable strategy to get even your most reluctant learners involved in the practice.
Integrate art. Art can be a powerful tool to teach many different skills, including social skills. Have students draw a picture of what working well together looks like. Teach about diversity and self-awareness by having students create their own self-collages. Art can be an especially helpful way to reach students who struggle to learn social skills in a more traditional way. Learn about other art activities to teach social and emotional skills.
Post visual reminders. Visuals can be a helpful tool because they require little or no verbal interaction. Post up reminders for different skills that your learners need with both visuals and text.
Create social cue cards. A cue card is a more discreet visual reminder for students that they can keep with them in their desk or binder. For example, if you have a student struggling with waiting in the lunch line, create a card for them outlining what they can do while waiting patiently in line. Encourage them to read the card to themselves before waiting. They could even take one with them and keep it to read as they wait.
Use social skills tasks discussion cards. Social skills discussion cards, or task cards, are short questions and discussion starters that allow for teaching social skills. For example, you can work on empathy and perspective-taking by asking: “You see a classmate trip in the hallway. She gets up and runs inside the classroom. How might she be feeling or thinking?” You can create your own scenarios to discuss a few per week with your students, or use this social skills task card set that is ready to use right away.
Use a coping strategies notebook. If your learner is struggling specifically with managing emotions, consider a coping strategies notebook. Essentially, the notebook is both a teaching activity and a calming tool. It is a binder that holds one page for every coping strategy a child or teen uses. For example, he or she might have a page for listening to music and another page for coloring. As you teach and practice the skills, add them to the notebook. Then, keep the notebook where the child can access it. When they feel angry or overwhelmed, have them use the notebook to select a coping skill to help them calm down.
Learn more about social skills with some of the blog posts:
- 12 Basic Social Skills Kids Need
- 100+ Read Alouds to Teach Social Emotional Skills
- 15 Tips for Leading a Social Skills Group
- Social Skills for Middle and High School Kids
- Using Games to Teach Social Emotional Skills
Social skills instruction is important. If you need to get started right away, consider some of the resources to help.
- Social skills resources for middle and high school learners
- Social skills resources for elementary learners
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