8 Social Skills Students Need (And How to Teach Them Step by Step!)

We’ve been talking with the experts at Boys Town Training® about how administrators and teachers can transform school culture. One of the key places to begin is with the explicit teaching of social skills to all students. When academic and […]

We’ve been talking with the experts at Boys Town Training® about how administrators and teachers can transform school culture. One of the key places to begin is with the explicit teaching of social skills to all students. When academic and positive social skills are the norm, students and staff feel safer and happier, office referrals go down, and, best of all, there is more time for teaching and learning.  

Here are eight key social skills that all students need to be successful. Consider working on one or two skills with your class each week. Start by gathering students together and talking about the skill. For example, ask: Why is listening attentively important? What does it look like when a person is listening? How do we know? Work together to list the steps for each skill or behavior on chart paper or a whiteboard.   

Social Skill: How to Listen Attentively

Skill Steps:  
1. Look at the person who is talking and remain quiet.
2. Wait until the person is finished talking before you speak.
3. Show that you heard the speaker by nodding your head, and using positive phrases, such as “Okay” or “That’s interesting.”

Classroom Activity:  Invite students to tell each other jokes to practice active listening. Gather joke books from your school library or send students online to Aha Jokes to find their favorite funnies to share with their friends. Have students work in small groups taking turns in the roles of speaker and active listeners. Older students can practice sharing opinions on class reading or plans for college or career.

Social Skill: How to Greet Others

Skill Steps:
1. Look at the person.
2. Use a pleasant voice.
3. Say, “Hi” or “Hello.”

Classroom Activity:  Challenge your students to come up with 25 or more possible greetings they can use with each other, with you or with a classroom guest. Include greetings in different languages. Each morning, go around the room and have each student offer a greeting to the class.

Social Skill: Following Instructions

Skill Steps:
1. Look at the person.
2. Say okay.
3. Do what you’ve been asked to do right away
4. Check back in with the person.

Classroom Activity:  Play classroom games that help students to increase their ability to follow instructions with traditional games like Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light. Or challenge your students to a scavenger hunt around the classroom or school.  Explain that theirs is no way to succeed without following directions precisely. As with all the skills, have your students go through the steps every time you issue a request until they become second nature.

Social Skill:  Asking for Help

Skill Steps:  
1. Look at the person.
2. Ask the person if he or she has time to help you.
3. Clearly explain the kind of help you need.
4. Thank the person for helping.

Classroom Activity: Asking for help can be difficult for many students and even adults. In a class meeting, have student practice this skill by taking a fun and playful approach. On separate notecards, write down situations in which a person is asking for help, e.g., “a man asking a stranger for help moving a piano,” “a teacher asking a colleague for help grading a huge pile of papers,”  “an astronaut asking for help getting out of his suit.”  Invite pairs of students to pick a notecard to act out the scene including all the steps!

Social Skill: How to Get the Teacher’s Attention

Skill Steps:
1. Look at the teacher.
2. Raise your hand and stay calm.
3. Wait until the teacher says your name or nods at you.  
4. Ask your question.

Classroom Activity:  Start by asking your students: “What is the WRONG way to get your teacher’s attention?” Encourage them to demonstrate all the wrong ways—waving their hands in the air wildly, jumping up and down, calling out, etc. They will enjoy this! Then, have volunteers model the correct way to get your attention.

Social Skill:  How to Disagree Appropriately

Skill Steps:  
1. Look at the person.
2. Use a pleasant voice.
3. Say, “I understand how you feel.”
4. Tell why you feel differently.
5. Give a reason.
6. Listen to the other person

Classroom Activity: Disagreeing without arguing is a skill that many adults as well as kids and teens find difficult. Like all social skills, it takes resources and practice. That’s why going over the steps of each skill is so important. Give students the chance to practice debating and disagreeing when the stakes are low. For example, write a controversial statement on the board such as, “Rum raisin is the very best flavor of ice cream,” or “Rap is not music,” and invite your students to disagree politely!

Social Skill:  How to Make an Apology

Skill Steps:  
1. Look at the person.
2. Use your best serious, sincere voice.
3. Begin with “I’m sorry for…”, or “I want to apologize for…”
4. Do your best not to make excuses.
5. Explain how you plan to do better in the future.
6. Say, “Thanks for listening.”

Classroom Activity:  Let’s face it: apologizing is hard, but it does get easier with practice. Consider tying your discussion of apologies to a book you are reading as a class. From David Shannon’s picture book No, David! to Louise Fitzhugh’s classic Harriet the Spy, many stories lend themselves to discussions of social skills, mistakes, and apologies.  

 Social Skill:  How to Accept “No” for an Answer

Skill Steps:  
1. Look at the person.
2. Say okay. 
3. Stay calm.
4. If you disagree, return to the subject later in a respectful manner.

Classroom Activity: Accepting “no” can be difficult when we feel strongly about a situation. This is a skill that needs to be modeled repeatedly as its draws on other important skills. In order to accept “no” gracefully, a child needs to be able to respect authority, see another’s point of view, and have self control. Write 5-6 situations on notecards and give them to groups of students.  Examples: The class wants to ask the teacher to hold class outside.  Asking your parents if you can watch an R rated movie.  Challenge students to model how they will ask, and how they will handle the answer.  Talk about how they could return to the subject with a respectful argument at another time.

Read more about building a Positive School Culture

Dana Truby

Posted by Dana Truby

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