Language In The Classroom: Social Skills

Welcome back to our blog series: Language in the Primary Classroom.  In this monthly series, I am collaborating with Nicole from Allison’s Speech Peeps to bring you ideas that integrate language and other content areas into our classroom and speech rooms! This month’s topic is one that ALL teachers in EVERY grade level deal with on a day to day basis: social skills. Some of our students are naturally graced with social skills. They make and keep friends easily and they problem solve like pros. In the eight years that I have taught, I have noticed that many of these students – students who have great social skills with their peers – also have great language skills.  They succeed in verbalizing their feelings and they are able to articulate their thoughts, opinions, and conversational points with ease.
I also think about my students who struggle with social skills. These students are often (not always – but often) the same students who struggle to get their ideas, opinions, and thoughts out during class discussions. They are the students who get angry and frustrated but do not always know or understand how to use their words to help them in their situations. 
So what are some easy, simple, no-fuss ways that classroom teachers can help ALL students advance in their social skills?  We can offer our students some practice tools they can use when they are faced with various social experiences.  Today, I am going to share with you HOW I teach three important social skills that our students need to master in order to thrive.  I hope you find them helpful!
Here we go!
 It may seem like a silly “skill” to teach, but do you know that many adults have trouble with this skill, too? I’m sure you can think of a family member or a friend who has a hard time receiving a compliment.  Maybe they brush it off, get embarrassed, deny it, or ignore what you said when you complimented them.  Giving and receiving a compliment is a social skill that kids and adults need to be able to master.  It combines empathy, kindness, encouragement, and the ability to be thankful for someone’s time and consideration. 
Model Specific Compliments:
The first thing teachers need to be able to do within the classroom is give specific compliments to our students. Using language such as “Good job!” or “Nice work!” is positive but it is not productive when we are modeling what a true compliment to peers is.  Make a constant effort to give positive compliments to your students that are extremely specific. By doing so, your students will hear and mimic your language when they give their own compliments to their peers. Try modeling compliments that hone in on a specific skill:
Your topic sentence really captured my attention today!
I love the way you helped Lisa read the directions on today’s morning work.
You did a wonderful job in gym today when you pushed yourself to run that extra lap.
Compliment Circle
I LOVE using Compliment Circles at the end of the day! It’s an easy opportunity that carves time out for students to practice giving and receiving compliments. Have students sit in a circle around the carpet or your meeting area.  The teacher should start the circle by giving a specific compliment out loud to the child sitting to his or her right (or left). The child who receives the compliment must verbally express gratitude for the compliment – even a simply “Thank you so much!” works for this activity.  The child then passes a unique and specific compliment to the friend sitting beside him or her. The circle continues until everyone has received and given a compliment to a peer.  It’s also a positive way to end your day! πŸ™‚
Compliment Cards
Place a basket or a box with index cards and a pen or pencil out in your classroom. Encourage students to write compliments to the class or specific peers on the cards and drop it in the box.  Randomly pull out a compliment card to read throughout the day. These also work as great discussion starters for class meetings. 
 You probably just read the above picture and immediately thought of two to three students in your classroom who are AMAZING helpers.  We all have those students who just WANT to help.  I love kiddos that always want to help me, but my desire is for them to want to help one another – not me. I want my students to see themselves as a community and a family of learners, who work together, help one another, and challenge each other at school.  So how do we teach kids how to be a helper? 
Point It Out!
Before I intentionally thought about this social skill, let me describe a typical situation in my classroom during my first three years of teaching:  A child drops his bag of crayons on the floor and crayons scatter everywhere.  A child nearby stoops down to help the child pick up the crayons. While I’m teaching, I quickly make a comment such as “Thanks, Bill” and then I move on with my lesson.  
Now let me know describe this same situation TODAY in my classroom. Notice the shift in the students’ actions and my own reaction:
A child drops his bag of crayons on the floor and 4-5 nearby students immediately scramble to help him or her clean up the crayons. I immediately STOP my teaching and exclaim, “Oh, WOW!! Look at all of our kind and helpful friends in this room! Seeing you all stop so quickly shows how wonderfully kind and caring you all are!”
What was the difference in this scenario?  I made an intentional decision to point out the helpful act that my kids were showing one another. Notice that I didn’t say anything such as, “Seeing you all help one another makes me so happy!” Why did I not say something like that? If I had said that, my students would learn that helping a friend makes their teacher happy – not them. I want my kids to WANT to help each other because it makes THEM feel good! πŸ™‚ The language we use to draw attention to helpful acts in our classroom can make all the difference. πŸ™‚
Create Opportunities for Students to Help One Another
We need to create and set up opportunities for students to help one another if we want them to be able to get good at it. Social skills need to be practiced and practiced just like math facts, if we expect kids to master the skill. An easy way to do this is to put your students in the position of being the “teacher” as much as possible. It not only makes learning more student-driven, but they take on the responsibility of helping their peers learn, too. Here’s an example of what this might look like in my classroom:
While editing our writing, I am conferencing with a student about capital letters. I share with the class, “Is anyone having trouble editing their capital letters?” 6-7 hands go up in my room. “Boys and girls, can you find someone with their hand up and work together on capital letters?”  Many times, students WANT to help each other with learning targets such as writing skills, but they do not know how to start or where to begin. This simple question not only gives students the chance to help each other, but it also shows the class that having trouble with something is no big deal. In our classroom, we are all teachers and we are all learners. We are a team! 
Teach Kids How to Ask for Help and How to Offer Help!
We use thinking stems in writing and reading, so it makes sense that these little prompts would help our kiddos with their social skills and language, too! Create an anchor chart that shares how to ask and offer help when it is needed. This is both a language and a social skill that many kids do not have yet.
To ask for help:
Can you please help me with ____________?
I’m having trouble understanding ____________. Can you please help me?
Can you please explain ___________ to me?
Do you know where I can find _____________ in our classroom?
Can you please show me how to _________?
To offer help:
Can I help you with that?
Let me help you _______________.
Would you like help with ___________?
I would be happy to help you ______________.
Do you need help finding ____________?
These prompts provide your students with language that will support them in their social skills when it comes to asking for and offering help.  It will also help teach them empathy and reinforces that we all need help with things. πŸ™‚
“Jimmy ran into me on the playground.”
“Amanda cut me in line.”
“I was reading my story to Susie and she wouldn’t listen to me.”
Sound familiar?
When we have little ones, their first reaction is to come and tell us, their teacher. Let’s not even get into the topic of tattling vs. telling right now. Let’s just discuss how we can change our students’ actions in these situations. They will not be able to do it independently – at first. They will first need their teacher to coach them through the discussion regarding conflict. 
When a child comes up to me and “tattles” about a student, here is some language that I use with him or her:
“It sounds like _____ made you feel really _______.”
“How do you think ________ felt when that happened?” (Note that I am attempting to instill empathy into the child and at least get him or her to see this story from the other child’s point of view. This will come in handy later in the discussion.)
“What would be a good topic for the two of you to talk about together?”
In the scenario of “Jimmy ran into me on the playground,” our discussion might go something like this:
“It sounds like Jimmy made you feel really unappreciated on the playground. I can see why you would be frustrated and sad about that. How do you think Jimmy felt when that happened?” (At this point, I WANT to steer the child in the direction that Jimmy *might not have known* he ran into him or even that Jimmy might not have meant to and it was possibly an accident. I want the child to understand that this is a real possibility, and we’ll never know unless we talk to Jimmy about the situation – not just the teacher.
“What would be a good topic for the two of you to talk about together?”
(Again, I will have to do the coaching, but the topic of playground rules and the topic of respect is one I want to address in this situation. It may take me suggesting this for awhile before the students learn how to use this kind of language themselves.) 
At this point, the student and I would meet with Jimmy and instead of saying “You’re a meanie for running into me,” my hope is that the child will explain to Jimmy how he felt, and together, they could begin to discuss the topic of respect and playground rules while instilling empathy and problem solving skills using our words! πŸ™‚
Does the conversation always work out like this? No, but by modeling and coaching our children through the discussion, they learn respectful language and they get practice in how to use this language with their peers. It’s important that we take the time to develop these language and social skills instead of brushing them off. I know we have buckets of curriculum to get through, but these situations are terrific teachable moments that can help develop wonderful life-long skills! 
I hope these social skill ideas and tips were helpful and practice for you! As our students consistently hear and practice using positive language in our classroom, it will in turn lead to the development of their social skills. Happy students with positive social skills makes us very happy teachers and parents! πŸ™‚  Thanks for visiting this month’s Language in the Primary Classroom blog series. 
Don’t forget to check out Nicole’s post for this month’s topic. She’s sharing how she incorporates social skills into her Speech & Language classroom. Visit her blog post by clicking HERE or on her button below:

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