Christmas break is almost over and we’ll be returning to school. There will be some who are excited to return and tackle the spring semester and some just hoping to survive. Everyone will have the BIG spring tests moving closer to the front of their minds and we stress and cram before the big day. I know that the state assessment is more strenuous than ever before; unfortunately the state assessment does not measure some of the most important skills needed to be successful. I’m talking about social skills. These are the skills that we use everyday without stopping and thinking about how we learned them. How to ask for help, make a friend and speak to an adult. These are skills that fewer and fewer students are learning, leaving a large portion of our population with a “social impairment”.
I understand the pressures of the classroom. Teachers are stressed due to higher expectations and fewer resources. Our kids are expected to learn more at a younger age with more kids in the class and more diverse needs to be met at once. But when we skimp on these important skills we create students with HUGE gaps that are often harder to fill as they get older.
So here’s what I’m asking. As we start to prepare to go back for another semester of class, think about your classroom structure. Most of you already work on social skills in some way. Think about how you can continue to help develop your students socially. Most social skills can be taught as part of your class routine. Look at the suggestion below and get creative. Talk to a Pre-K or Kindergarten teacher, they work on social skills more than other grades. Unfortunately for some of our kids that’s not enough. Look on Pinterest, that’s were I get a lot of my ideas.
The ideas below were found in various places. They are not appropriate for all ages, but I think there is something listed for every age. Most of these ideas can be blended into your class routine.
Social Skill of the Week: Pick social skill and use it for the focus of the week. For instance, if your skill of the week is showing responsibility, the word responsibility goes on the board. The teacher introduces the words and talks about what it means to be responsible. Students brainstorm ideas of what it means to be responsible. Throughout the week, students are given opportunities to comment on responsible behavior as they see it. At the end of the day or for bell work, have students talk about what they’ve been doing or what they did that showed acting responsibility.
Social Skill Weekly Goals: Have students a set social skill goal for the week. Provide opportunities for students to demonstrate and tell how they’re sticking to their goals. Use this as the exit dismissal key each day. For instance, children state how they met their goal that day “I cooperated today by working well with Sean on my book report”.
Set Goals: After you’ve reviewed the essential character traits. Ask students to set goals about improving the traits they feel they need the most improvement in. Have each student fill in a goal sheet that identifies at least 3 steps that they will take to improve the goal. At the end of each week, review the goals and steps with students. Have students revise and edit goals as necessary.
Good Character Submission Box: Keep a box with a slot in it. Ask students to put a slip in the box when they observe good character. For instance, “John tidied up the coat room without being asked”. Students that are reluctant writers will need to have their compliment scribed for them. Then the teacher reads the slips from the good character box at the end of the week. Teachers should also participate.
‘Social’ Circle Time: At circle time, have each child say something pleasant about the person next to them as they go around the circle. This do can be themed based (cooperative, respectful, generous, positive, responsible, friendly, empathetic etc.)
Mystery Buddies: Put all the student names in a hat. A child draws a student name and they become the student’s mystery buddy. The mystery buddy then offers compliments, praise and does nice things for the student. The students can then guess their mystery buddy at the end of the week.
Good Solutions: This activity takes some help from other teaching staff members. Have teachers leave you jot notes of the conflicts that have arisen on the yard or in the classroom. Collect these as often as you can. Then within your own classroom, present the situation that have happened, ask the students to role play it or to come up with positive solutions and practical advice to avoid repeats of the incidents.
The Button Jar: For this activity, you ask the students to catch somebody exhibiting great social skills. When students see another student sharing or helping out, they will ask if a button can be put in the jar. Likewise, the teacher puts buttons in the jar for targeted behaviors. There should be a small celebration each time the class reaches a defined number of buttons within a time period. For instance when a teacher says “Oh, I really like the way Jenny is cooperating”. A button then goes into the jar. This strategy really hooks kids providing they have opportunity to celebrate.
Good News Box: A box is displayed prominently in the classroom. You explain to the students that each time you see acts of kindness, consideration, patience, cooperation, encouragement, helping hands etc. the student writes a praise note stating who and what and then places it in the box. At the end of the week, the teacher reads out the praise notes to the classmates and gives them their praise notes. Teachers need to make sure that all students at some point receive a praise note for the desired behavior.
Seize the Moment: During lineup times for recess or lunch or other times when you have a few minutes to spare, have students select something nice to say about other student and why. For example: “Tara was helpful today because she lent me a pencil would I couldn’t find mine”. Sometimes start at the back of the line, sometimes at the front.
Random Acts of Kindness: At the beginning of the week, tell students to watch for random acts of kindness. Brainstorm acts of kindness to ensure all students understand. At the end of each week have a vote for the best random act of kindness.
Conflict Resolution: Give students opportunity to be mediators in conflict resolution. Teach the value of give and take. Have a role-play each week on conflict resolution, which enables you to have a different child act as mediator.
Newspaper Scrounge: The newspaper is a great source to find both good and bad character traits. Have students work in pairs to locate various articles about good and bad character. Have them explain why the article shows good character traits and what they are, and for the articles that demonstrate inappropriate traits, decide how could they have been prevented.
Here are some more resources for GREAT social skills ideas!
http://www.autism4teachers.com/autism4teachers_060.htm Interactive lessons for teaching social skills
http://www.mrdonn.org/sociology.html Lesson plans for teaching social skills
http://www.wingsforkids.org/experience/hot-wing great pre-made lessons
http://www.cccoe.net/social/SAdirectory.htm computer based activities
http://pbiscompendium.ssd.k12.mo.us/ResourcesSchools/SSD/SocialSkills/activiti.htm pre-made, age appropriate lessons.