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  • Mrs G

Establish a Language for your Social Skills Group


I have taught many, many social skills groups at nearly ALL the levels. Starting with adults at a non-profit in my pre-teaching days, and continuing through to my current elementary students. Some would say it is my thing. I say, it's a good time. I simply cannot resist a skills lesson. Today, I'm going to share a tip to help you set up for success with teaching social skills.


High School Social Skills

My favorite social skills groups are the high school students. They are past the, “why do I need to learn this” phase of elementary school. They are beyond the “I am too cool to learn this” phase of middle school. By high school, students are onto the “can we talk about real things” phase. And that, is the sweet spot. But no matter the age of your students, you need the same three things to start your social skills group.


For any Social Skills group, you need three things:

1. Trust: The students have to know that they are free to ask and tell without consequence or judgment. If this one isn’t there, it's difficult to do anything truly productive.


2. Structure: This can be as loose or as rigid as the group needs, but a structure of some kind has to exist. Students need to know how and when they will have a chance to participate in order to feel safe.

3. Set Behavior Expectations: Will your group call out? Raise their hands? Can they ask anything at any time or do they need to stick to the topic? Having agreed-upon rules for behavior gives you a point to reference to return to if things get out of hand.


If you can nail down these three things up front, your group will be much more successful. Take as much time as you need to establish each one. It is worth it! One of the ways I establish behavior expectations is to establish a language for my social skills group. Intentionally teaching the language of social-emotional learning gives your group a key component for success. This can be as simple as teaching one word at the start of each group meeting, or as complex as developing a full week's worth of interactive lessons. Keep reading for a look at the resources I created to support developing a language in my social skills group.



Social Skills Lesson Resources

In order to make progress with my groups, I discovered we needed one more piece to the puzzle. We needed a common language. A social skills dictionary with vocabulary that told us who we were, why we were meeting, and where we were trying to go. Words like advocate, conflict, emotion, participate and role model became the cornerstones of our conversations.

During those early, pre-classroom teacher years, with a group of high school kiddos, I scratched out a list of the words that we needed to define upfront. Originally on post-its and eventually in a doc. That list has evolved over the years into this Social Skills Dictionary. A full lesson with interactive activities for each topic. You can try a free sample of it by clicking here!

The dictionary scaffolds students understanding of each of these words by providing context. Students are not only asked to define the word, use it in a sentence, illustrate it, and identify its part of speech but also to use the dialog provided to act it out. Understanding and using these words will be a powerful tool for students who need to advocate for their own needs long after they leave my social skills group.

The journal is meant to take 30 days to complete on average. Although with some groups I have had, it was longer. On the good days, the vocabulary turned into meaningful conversations, and connections were made.


I hope you will find these tools helpful as you support your students in becoming adults (you can read about my Check In Check Out tools here!). If you find yourself scratching out your own list of words I would love it if you shared them with me!


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