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Ways to Help Middle Schoolers Practice Social Skills

written by: Amanda Smith • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 7/12/2012

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "The only way to have a friend is to be one." Social skills are some of the most important building blocks of life. Here are some great ideas for incorporating social skills in your junior high groups.

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    The Need for Intervention

    Good social skills can be hard to come by. We like to think that we are all born with an innate ability to form healthy relationships and make friends. Some of us naturally possess this quality, but there are many students who need a little extra help understanding and responding to social cues.

    Incorporating skill groups can be beneficial because you give students a hands-on opportunity to work on developing a system of clear and appropriate communication. It also creates an environment that allows students to begin understanding important concepts, such as empathy for others.

    Sometimes teaching social skills seems elementary. It is easy to assume that students have already been taught these concrete concepts. This becomes a problem because teachers and coaches can overlook that some of their students are still lacking the basic skills that they need to function well in a middle school environment.

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    Dividing Your Class Based on Group Dynamics

    The chemistry between students can make a big difference in the overall success of groups. It is important to take everything into consideration when designating groups. There are many ways to go about dividing kids in your classroom. You can create groups of students with similar interests and learning styles. You can also pick groups based on diversity, creating a well-rounded team with differing perspectives and talents. However you decide to determine your groups, make sure that it has a clear intention. If you are planning to create groups based on similarities, be prepared for group members to bond and learn from each other's experiences. On the other hand, developing groups based on differences can provide a good opportunity for students to learn to compromise and become open to differences in opinions or learning styles.

    A good teacher uses both of these strategies in planning groups. It is important for students to have support from peers while also learning how to interact with students that they may have nothing in common with. This is especially important when using a group approach to teach social skills. Students need practice being in all types of peer settings in order to improve their overall social skills.

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    Building Better Relationships

    There are many ways to teach social skills. One of the most important things to remember is to highlight the specific skill you want to work on and develop your plan around it. Here are several common skills that you can use to develop great plans:

    • Building trust
    • Building patience
    • Developing empathy
    • Accepting responsibility
    • Telling the truth
    • Healthy relationships
    • Accepting praise
    • Self-control
    • Accepting constructive criticism
    • Dealing with arguments
    • Resolving conflicts with peers
    • How we say what we say
    • Effective communication
    • Expressing negative emotions
    • Initiating a conversation
    • Communicating with adults and/or authority figures
    • Providing constructive feedback to others
    • Giving and receiving
    • Understanding diversity
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    Ways to Teach

    With these concepts in mind, here are some ideas and examples you can start using in your social skills groups for junior high students.

    Role Playing - Have students go through an imaginary scenario. This is a great way to teach them how to deal with the situation before it actually happens and can be a good preventative activity. For example, if you know that two of your students are having trouble getting along, you can have them pretend to have a quarrel and then give them the opportunity to figure out how to solve the problem. Not only is this beneficial to the peers involved in the role play, but other students in the class have an opportunity to observe and provide feedback. With a little creativity, role-playing can be used in developing almost all of the skills from the list above.

    Team Building - Sometimes it is as simple as having students interact positively with one another and praising them for the use of proper social skills. You can have students play board games while they are thinking about concepts such as being respectful, taking turns, dealing with constructive feedback, etc. Yes, they are having fun playing a board game, but they are also actively practicing communication, conflict, patience, trust and so forth, which are needed to make the game successful.

    Communication Box- Oftentimes students have problems with one another but never express this with an adult. With the prevalence of bullying in our schools today, it is crucial that you present yourself as someone who students can confide in and trust. It is a great idea to have a box in your room where students can leave messages about any problems they are having with their peers. This will help them learn to express their feelings and give you the opportunity to teach relevant social skills. It will also help you determine whether or not there are other, more serious issues going on. When using this box, just make sure to maintain student anonymity.

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    Beyond the Instruction

    There are many students who need help understanding the basics of communication, especially as they graduate into a new world of communication in their teenage years. They need help understanding how to deal with situations they have not been exposed to before. As a teacher, you have a great opportunity to assist them in building these life skills that they will carry on beyond your classroom.