Friday, November 21, 2014

Social Skills Strategies

I have observed some of the other classes in our program and oh boy is there a LOT of drama going on! "She's looking at me" "He's talking to my girlfriend", plain old kid DRAMA. I, on the other hand, have a completely drama free class this year! Now, that can be a good thing, right? Well, the reason we are drama free is that no one talks to each other! No one is friends, and no one wants to do things with anyone else. Now, we say good morning and please and thank you, and I am constantly trying to get them to do puzzles or play games together, which they will, they just don't socialize while doing it.

I really have been trying to bring them out socially all year. I have given them small tasks that requires them to be social. For example: Each week one of my kids is in charge of finding out who has money for the snack bar (which now we can go to once a week). This requires walking around the room with a pad and pen and asking each student if they have money and how much. In the beginning, some had a hard time, but now it doesn't matter who I ask, they all do a great job! I have two boys who deliver the newspaper each day to the other 18 classrooms. They are to walk in, say good morning and leave the papers on the first table they come to. They now can do it completely independently! Another of my boys has been doing the morning flag salute over the classroom Intercoms. He started out shy and timid, and now he is ad libbing so much I have to keep telling him he needs to keep it short and simple. He is so cute and mentions his whole name 2x. At the end he always says "This is John Michael Smith <---- fictitious name, then sings "this is how we do it". I can always tell when my phone rings immediately following his broadcast, that he went a little overboard, but I just love how he has come out of his shell! One of my girls takes the roll and outing sheet to the office where she has to post one and greet the secretary with the other. Another student passes out name badges every time we go off campus, which requires them to have to say the name of each of the other kids as they are called to pick them up. 

I've been working all year on this and as I am seeing improvements when we are together as a group and especially in their "jobs" they do, I am not seeing it much in their interactions with each other. I know it's in there, because some of them have absolutely no problem telling ME or their aides something they did or are going to do. For some reason they still don't see each other as social resources.

Here are some of the strategies we have been working on:

1. Include their peers in conversations - If a student comes to tell me something I stop them and try to include the whole class or at least another student by saying something like "Oh, I bet the whole class would love to hear this story" or "Kim loves dogs, I bet she would want to hear this too". 

2. The round table - I LOVE working with them at the round table, which really is just two kidney tables pushed together. We all sit around it and instead of a traditional lesson where I stand over them and they try to not fall asleep, we have more of a class discussion, where everyone get's involved in the subject. We swap stories, we share ideas, and we take turns reading and giving answers. I prefer this way of teaching even if we are following a worksheet.

3. Role Play - We role play in almost every social skill lesson we do and quite a few life skill lessons too. The kids love it, and they actually get to practice the skill.

4. Use the worksheets as a guide - Reading a student a social skills will not help them learn the skill. Talking about it, explaining it, role playing it and practice, practice, practice will.

5. Work in groups without support - I have my kids broken up into 3 groups of 3 and one group of 2. These are the groups they stay with on outings (with their assigned aide or me). Each group contains a writer, a reader (sometimes that's the same person) and usually someone with a behavior (gotta even those out). Sometimes I feel my kids become reliant on their aides, so I kick them out on occasion and make the kids work in their groups alone, usually this has been after an outing and I want to see what they learned. This requires them to talk! And the whole time I walk around and encourage it.

6. Play games - Games are a great way to get them talking and having to converse with their peers. My kids love UNO, they love Left Right Center, and last week we sat at our round table with their writing boards and played Would You Rather, which was great fun!

7. Peer help - Many times when a students will ask me for help I will send them to another student first. Usually someone sitting close to them. This requires conversation!

8. Encourage togetherness - I try every opportunity I have to pair my kids up for activities. If someone wants to go out and play basketball you bet you're going to hear me say "can you think of anyone that might want to play too?' "why don't you ask them". One of my sweet boys who I just love to death says "NO" every time I ask him if someone can sit by him for a puzzle or game, lol. He will allow them, won't speak to them, but will allow it, which is a huge milestone compared to last year!

9. LET THEM DO IT - If they can do it, let them! This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I was shocked today to find out from an aide in our program that she saw one of my kids at a pharmacy, picking up her own meds! Her living staff was no where to be found according to my staff, which is a little scary, but she did it ALL BY HERSELF! It made me so proud. So, let them order their own food, let them ask at the store where an item is, let them ask for directions to the bathroom, let them ask the teacher next door if they can come over after lunch, I could go on forever, but I'm sure you understand.

10. Don't hold them back - Most of our kids need a little push to interact with their peers. I have 4 big social situations that happen daily/weekly in my program. Breakfast, lunch, outside break time, and our Friday dancing. In my room these activities are NEVER optional. I also do not allow my kids to eat in my classroom, they eat in the cafeteria, and I want them to choose their own seat. We are not building our social circles if we are sitting with the same 10 kids we sit with all day in the classroom. Same with the dancing and outdoor time. About half my kids would much rather sit in my room all day in their little safe bubble away from all the chaos and noise of the program. But I would be doing them such a great disservice if I allowed that.

I hope this gives you a little insight on how I do things in my room. As you can see, I am pretty passionate about this. I only have them for four years before they head over to the adult programs our community offers. It's my job to prepare them for that.

Have a great weekend and a blessed Thanksgiving if I don't talk to you before that.


  1. Love this post!!! I am in my first year as a high school teacher (I have 15 years under my belt in middle school setting). Man is it hard to make this transition!!!! I struggle to find meaningful, real-life activities and REALLY struggle in getting in social skills! Out of 15 kids, only 3 are "highly verbal". This means pulling teeth to get the others to communicate with their peers. I'm using lots of games, art projects, and cooking projects. Anyway, great post to get my brain going. Can you share what the game "left, right, center" is?

  2. Thank you Erin! Here is the link for the game. My kids love playing it but it really takes me and my aides hyping it up to keep it fun and engaging. I write L and R on the table with a dry erase pen on some for some of my kids. You can find this pretty much anywhere. I've seen them at Walmart, Target etc. Hope your kids enjoy it! Oh, I even have a set at home we play for dollars with. Now that's really fun!