Why Is Social Skills an Important Part of Any Elementary Classroom?

Written by: Mariann Primus


Depending on where you teach, you may be just getting into the fourth quarter of the year but here in Florida, we are in week 34! The state wide assessments for writing and grade 3 reading assessments are complete. Math and reading for grades fourth through tenth will be coming up soon. Teachers are taking stock and filling in the gaps before testing, giving students every best chance possible to be successful.

One area that is not assessed but often requires continuous exposure and practice is social skills, which covers a broad range of pragmatic skills. Social skills include skills typically seen in infancy and early development, such as:

  • initiating and maintaining eye contact,
  • using appropriate facial expressions,
  • and using appropriate personal space in different situations (family vs strangers)

Social skills also include skills that develop throughout childhood, such as:

  • turn taking skills,
  • making predictions,
  • perspective taking,
  • participating in pretend play,
  • being able to participate in and eventually tell jokes,
  • request clarification,
  • maintain a conversation with 3 or more exchanges,
  • tell stories,
  • understand teasing,
  • provide appropriate and sufficient responses (not too much nor too little information),
  • and negotiate and assert oneself

This of course is not a complete list but rather a window into the skills we expect our students to walk into the classroom with. However, you don’t have to be in the classroom very long to realize a lot of students do not have many of these skills. Some children may be missing these skills due to a lack of exposure. Other students lack these skills due to a Social Communication Disorder or Autism related disorder.

Many of these skills, including eye contact (or fake it until you make it), personal space, turn taking, and perspective taking were skills I worked on with my students in a self-contained VE classroom, K-2nd and 3rd-5th graders. Most of my students were on the Autism Spectrum. Some had communication disorders but every one of them had social skill needs. It was always our goal to mainstream our students into the general education setting if and when appropriate and for as long as possible. Several students eventually mainstreamed full time by fifth grade. I am saying this because I know that the need to teach social skills is not just an ESE classroom issue. Whether it is because you have ESE students that mainstream part or fulltime into your general education classroom or because some (or many) of your students are lacking some of these crucial life skills, for numerous possible reasons, finding a way to include social skills in your day is becoming a necessity.

The school day, from as early as Kindergarten, requires students to interact and work with each other. It seems as if we are introduced to a “new” type of collaborative learning group every year. If students are lacking the ability to take turns in conversations or activities, struggle with staying on topic in conversations, or taking the perspective of another student, they will assuredly struggle in collaborative learning groups.

Following are some of the many types of collaborative learning or small groups that can be found in a classroom.

Small groups can be organized in various ways, such as:

  • random grouping
  • achievement or ability grouping
  • learning cycle groups
  • cooperative grouping
  • interest grouping
  • task grouping
  • knowledge of subject grouping
  • skill/strategy grouping
  • student choice grouping
  • group investigation
  • peer tutoring

More info on these types of groupings can be found at: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/organizing-small-groups-do-you-know-all-options/ or https://educationnorthwest.org/sites/default/files/InstructionalGrouping.pdf

Additional partner and small group collaborative learning groups include:

  • turn and talk
  • think-pair-share
  • buzz groups
  • circle of voices
  • rotating trios
  • snowball groups
  • jig-saw
  • fishbowl
  • and learning teams

More info on each type of partner or small group collaboration can be found at https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/developing-assignments/group-work/group-work-classroom-types-small-groups

As teachers, therapists, and administrators, we want our students to be successful, to be able to work with others, and to be able to express themselves well enough to be understood. Giving them specific social skill instruction, as well as techniques and strategies to self-regulate, will add to their overall success. Check back to this blog each week for specific strategies and ways to incorporate many of the above-mentioned social skills and more.

Mariann is a certified kids’ yoga teacher through Kidding Around Yoga. She currently lives in Marion County, FL and will teach classes in Ocala and Gainesville. She has developed a 36-week social skills curriculum and presents an in-service on social skills and calming techniques to PreK through Elementary level teachers and staff. She also creates yoga brain break sequences with a literacy connection on her Teachers Pay Teachers store, https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Ommazing-Kids

You can also find her at https://www.ommazingkids.com/ and on social media:

Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ommazingkids/

Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/mprimus/

LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mariann-primus-27458570/


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