As Teachers, Aides, Therapists, and Principals working in educational settings it’s often easy to forget about social skills. After all, it’s second nature to us. We know where to look and how to stand, we can introduce topics, maintain conversation and even repair it when there is a breakdown or miscommunication. We can read the body language of others, laugh at jokes and detect sarcasm. As Educators, we are well versed in successfully employing our social skills; we use them each and every day, in every interaction, without thought. But, what about our students?
The term ‘social skills’ is poorly defined in the literature and includes any number of skills, depending on which book or article you pick up and read. Essentially though, social skills are those skills that we need in order to interact and communicate effectively with others. This includes both verbal and non-verbal skills, with skills varying between countries, cultures, value systems and beliefs.
When students have poor social skills, the classroom can be a chaotic place with students snatching and grabbing toys, pushing in, squabbling over activities, ‘dobbing’ on their peers, calling out, disrupting others, and even engaging in bullying. Given that each student has a unique background and set of experiences, it is worth taking the time to explicitly teach social skills, in order to have a calm and inclusive classroom.
Over the coming weeks, I will be sharing some of the social skills I like to target for school aged children, including hands on and engaging activities I use to teach these skills.
Two of the first social skills I like to teach in the first few years of school are taking turns and sharing. In my experience, these terms tend to get used interchangeably, without awareness that they have different meanings. In order to set students up for success, we must explicitly teach them our expectations (the desired social skills) and be precise in our communication.
Taking turns implies that only one person can engage in an activity or game at a time; one person has a turn, that turn finishes and the next person can have a turn. Sharing on the other hand implies that more than one person can engage in an activity or a game at a time. It seems like a small distinction, but it makes a big difference. To illustrate this point, here are two scenarios.
(1) There are two students and one ball. The students are told to “share the ball”. Of course, you cannot share a ball, two students cannot play with a ball simultaneously. What ensues is a squabble over who in fact gets to have and play with the ball. In this scenario, the student has been set up to fail by being given an impossible instruction.
(2) This time, the same two students are given one ball and are told to “take turns with the ball”. This time, instead of squabbling, the students engage in exchanging the ball back and forth; the students have been set up to succeed by being given clear communication.
So, how can we teach our students to take turns and share?
Well, like many things in education there is no magic formula that says “Taking Turns = A + B” or “Sharing = X – Y”. And, although I don’t have any magic formulas, I do have a structure that I have found to be effective. When I’m in the classroom teaching social skills, I try to keep it as simple as possible. I do a warm up activity, a main activity and a cool down activity. The warm up activity is designed to introduce the topics and get the students engaged in the session; the main activity is to practice the new social skill(s) that is being introduced, and; the cool down is to review and evaluate the session. This structure can be repeated again and again, with any number of activities.
In the warm up I define the aim of the lesson, define the key terminology, and introduce the expected language. This can be done through a brain storming activity, telling the students or reading a social story. For example, you could use the following script:
Today we are going to learn about taking turns and sharing. We take turns when there is only one toy. I have a turn, then you have a turn. When we take turns we can say “My turn” and “Your turn”. We share when there is more than one toy. We can both have a go together. When we share we can say “Some for you” and “Some for me”. It’s good manners to take turns and share.
To finish off the warm up, I would do a quick engagement activity such as singing a song or watching a video about the topic. Remember, the engagement activity should only be short and reinforce the skills of taking turns and sharing. Non-examples (i.e., examples of poor turn taking or sharing) should be excluded as we always want to demonstrate the expected behaviour or skill to a student.
The main activity should focus on practicing the skills of taking turns and sharing. I like to divide the main activity into two sections; first we practice taking turns, then we practice sharing. For both skills, I like to use the same activity or game. Some favourites for teaching these skills are musical instruments, bubbles, masks or dress ups. Let’s use musical instruments as an example.
I will choose on instrument and tell the class they are going to practice taking turns. I will then allow each student to have a turn with the instrument. When handed the instrument, the student will say “My Turn” and when finishing and passing to the next student they will say “Your turn”. In this way, students begin to practice the language associated with taking turns. Once the students have had plenty of practice at taking turns, I will then introduce sharing.
This time, I will pass the box of musical instruments around the class. When handed the box, each student will say “Some for me” before passing the box to the next person and saying “Some for you”. The phrases “One for me” and “One for you” could also be used. The students get to play with their chosen instrument for a period of time before putting it back in the box and starting the process again.
The cool down provides an opportunity for reflection and consolidation. I ask students to tell me what skills they practiced (taking turns and sharing) and ask them to explain what those skills are. I then ask them to think about times when they have to take turns or share. This can either be done by each student giving an example or through the use of visuals. For really little ones, I like to have pictures and ask them to tell me if they would have to take turns or share in each scenario. Pictures might include things like going down the slide, going on the swing, playing with blocks or playing in the sand tray.
Finally, I have a few last little tips:
By explicitly teaching students how and when to take turns and share, and by using these terms correctly, we are setting them up to succeed.
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