Working in the public school system for many years, I often heard guidance counselors asking for advice about the kinds of activities they should do with their social skills groups. Students in the group often had difficulty with skills such as listening, waiting their turn in conversation, staying on topic, sharing materials, understanding another person’s feelings, getting along with others, resolving conflict, and appropriately expressing their own feelings. This article gives five suggestions for activities to do with your social skills group. You may think these activities are more appropriate for elementary age students but I think they can really be adapted for younger and older groups. Activities can also be modified for a one on one situation such as parent/child or counselor/student.
What the research says: Phillip C. Kendall, Professor of Psychology, reported the positive effects of using modeling and role playing, and teaching self-evaluation when teaching social skills. Further research, such as Social Skills Training for Teaching Replacement Behaviors: Remediating Acquisition Deficits in At-Risk Students, confirms the benefits of intense social skills instruction.
5 Social Skills Activities
When first introducing kids to a social skills group it is a good idea to have them understand what social skills are and why they are important.
As a starting activity, write down different social skills on individual slips of paper and put them in a bowl, hat, etc. Have your students sit in a circle and pass around the slips of paper, taking turns pulling them out one at a time. The image below will give you an idea of some of the social skills to put in the bowl. You can break this into several lessons by only doing a few social skills at a time. You also might want to add some skills that are not on the list such as staying on topic in conversation and using manners.
When the student pulls the slip of paper from the bowl, ask him/her to say what the social skill means, have them give an example, and/or ask them to tell the rest of the group why that skill is important. Give as much guidance and support as your students need to answer the questions. You may want to go first, to show the students how to do this activity.
Here is an example:
If a student picked “sharing materials” she could say “That means to let someone use something that you are using. For example, if I am coloring with crayons I can let my friend borrow my crayons and color with me. Sharing is important because it shows others that you care about how they feel. Part of being a good friend is sharing.” You could even have students act out the skills. So in this example, you can have one of your students pick materials to share with the other members in the group. You can also let students create their own drawing of the skill you are talking about. To give you an idea of what I mean, below is a drawing of sharing:
Depending on the students’ skill and age level, frustration tolerance, and ability to sustain attention, you can do all of the suggestions I mentioned in this activity or just one.
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The video below has a great activity for practicing sharing, turn taking, listening, following directions, encouraging others, and being polite. While the therapist uses bubbles as the prop, other objects can be used to tailor this activity to students of different ages. Imagine implementing this same lesson but using activities such as shooting a basketball in a net, playing with a remote control car, doing an activity on the computer, etc.
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This next video shows you how to use conversation starters to create a reciprocal dialogue. The counselor encourages the students to pick a topic, ask another person a question related to the topic and have the other person ask a question back. This activity allows students to practice listening, taking turns in conversation, staying on topic, and expressing interest in another person’s thoughts, ideas, and/or life.
This next video gives you great ideas for how to talk to children about what it means to be a friend. After you teach the lesson, have your students tell you what they learned about being a friend, draw a picture that shows someone being a friend to another person, and/or practice one of the skills in the video. For example, this video mentions being a good listener and sharing as two of the things good friends do, so as part of the lesson have your students practice listening to each other and/or sharing items. Talk to your students about what it means to be an active listener (e.g., looking at the person who is talking, waiting your turn to speak, responding to what the person said, trying to understand how the other person might be feeling, etc.). The “What it means to be a friend” lesson could be a great segue into the lessons above which hone in on sharing skills and conversation skills.
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Speaking of being a good friend, complimenting others (a great friendship skill) is another nice activity to do with your group. Set the expectations from the beginning that only kind words and respect for each other is allowed in the group. For this activity you could go around in a circle and have each student say something nice about someone else in the group. To make sure everyone gets a turn to be complimented, put people’s names on slips of paper in the bowl and have them pass it around taking turns pulling out names. This activity will get easier as the students get to know each other better. If the students just met and are not sure what to say about each other, allow them to say something nice about a family member or friend outside of the group. As the group gets to know each other, the compliments should be about the group members.
Side Note: To teach self-evaluation, discuss how you and your student(s)/client(s) did during each activity. Give specific feedback about what went well and discuss areas that need improvement. Let your clients share their own thoughts and perceptions about how they did during the activity. Encourage your clients to think about their own behavior when they are involved in similar real-life scenarios.
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Recommended Book: Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them.