Reading, writing, arithmetic and… good manners?
Researchers have found that 10 basic social skills such as taking turns, listening and simply being nice are just as important to children’s academic success as the subjects they study, and that students can and should be learning these skills in the classroom.
“If we increase social skills, we see commensurate increases in academic learning. That doesn’t mean that social skills make you smarter; it means that these skills make you more amenable to learning,”
Stephen Elliott, Vanderbilt Peabody education and psychology researcher and co-author of the newly published The Social Skills Improvement System—Classwide Intervention Program, said.
“In our research, we found that elementary kids and teachers value cooperation and self-control. When we teach and increase those behaviors, we reduce problem behaviors and maximize learning time.”
Elliott and co-author Frank Gresham identified the top 10 skills that students need to succeed based on surveys of over 8,000 teachers and over 20 years of research in classrooms across the country. They are:
- Listen to others
- Follow the steps
- Follow the rules
- Ignore distractions
- Ask for help
- Take turns when you talk
- Get along with others
- Stay calm with others
- Be responsible for your behavior
- Do nice things for others
Listed below are some games & activities that educators can use in classroom to help students develop the essential social skills.
1. Space Invaders
Concept: Respecting another’s space
Have your child color a cartoon alien (you do one, too!) and then assist them in cutting it out.
Adhere the alien to the popsicle stick. Explain to your child why respecting another’s personal space is important, and introduce concepts like “gentle hands” to get someone’s attention instead of shouting or hitting.
Explain to them that the aliens you’ve made together are you and your child’s “space invaders”. Model for your child that when you put your “space invader” up, that means you need a moment to regroup, and have them do the same. Explain the concept of giving people their own “bubble” of space to play in.
2. My Friend Is In The Middle
Concepts: Self-esteem, sharing, following directions
Have the children sit in a circle, and choose one child to be in the middle.
Encourage the child to dance out the moves as you sing, using their name:
Iizzy’s in the middle, Iizzy’s in the middle, Dance Iizzy, Dance! Get up, down, turn around (here have the child pick a new friend to be in the middle of the circle). Now Jacob’s in the middle!
Repeat until all of the children have had a turn. This game will ultimately teach kids to listen and follow instructions (get up, down, etc.), and teach them to involve other children in play by sharing the spotlight. It’s also a great way to instill self-esteem in children by allowing them to be the center of attention for a moment.
3. One Question Interview
Concepts: Active listening, meeting new friend
Pass out the cards, and help the children read what their questions are. Have kids disperse, taking five minutes to get into pairs. Have the children ask each other the questions, and listen to one another’s answer. Go around to each child and ask what they’ve learned about their partner.
4. I Think You Are Feeling…
Concepts: Reading Social Cues, Empathy
Have the children split into groups, and give each group a jar with slips in it.
One by one, let each child take a turn reaching into the jar to withdraw an emotion word.
Have the child pantomime (no talking!) what that feeling looks like.
Have the other children try to guess what emotion the first child is modeling.
Ask the children what they would do if they saw their friend modeling that emotion in real life.
The point of social skills games like this one isn’t to discern a “right” or “wrong” answer. Instead, it’s to help children understand what certain non-verbal cues look like when a person is feeling a certain way, and to get them to think about how they can empathize with people who feel that way.
5. Emotion Charades
Concept: Conveying and identifying expressions and emotions
Write down feeling words on pieces of paper – or, print out and cut up the worksheet below. Take turns picking a slip of paper and then acting out the word written on it. You could substitute written words for pictures showing the emotion. If kids prefer, you can draw the emotion rather than act it out like in the game Pictionary. You can make it harder by setting a rule that you cannot draw the emotion using a face. Instead, they have to express the feeling by drawing the body language or aspects of a situation that would lead to that emotion.
Share activities that you do with your kids in the comment section below.