I get it… classroom behaviors are in a league of their own this year, and you’re beyond tired. If you’re like me, you probably struggle to find effective ways to improve behaviors this late in the school year, but look no further! Here are 15 of my favorite Social Skills and Classroom Management Activities that just might get you through the rest of this crazy year. My students can’t get enough of #13!
1 – Big Deal/Little Deal
Start by making a list of different scenarios that warrant appropriate responses ranging from no emotional response to a huge emotional response. Next, grab 3 strips of masking tape and lay them on the floor, one in front of the other about 1-2 feet apart. Lastly, use a marker to label the strips of tape, “Little Deal,” “Big Deal,” and “Huge Deal.” During this activity, students will stand back while listening to one scenario at a time and deciding if they think it’s a little deal, a big deal, or a huge deal by walking to the tape that matches their response. Before each new scenario, 1-3 students on each strip of tape should share why they stood where they did. Finally, the teacher will state what they believe to be the most appropriate emotional response and why.
2 – Crumpled Paper
This no-prep social skills activity is perfect for teaching kindness and anti-bullying; all you need is one piece of paper for each student. Ask the students to describe what the piece of paper looks and feels like (clean, new, white, flat, smooth, etc.). Next, have them fold and crumple the paper however they would like for 30 seconds, and when time is up, ask the students to flatten the paper and describe what it looks and feels like now. Take time to discuss how crumpling a piece of paper has similar effects as bullying. Every bend and fold shown on the paper is like an unkind word or action toward another person, and even if you apologize, you cannot fully fix the damage you have caused.
3 – Band-Aid
All you need for this activity are band-aids and 3 student volunteers. Start by acting out a scenario where Student 1 falls and gets a little scrape on their knee. Give Student 1 a small band-aid and ask the class if that is the best way to help them. Next, act like Student 2 falls off their bike and gets a large scrape on their arm. Give Student 2 the same small band-aid and ask if that is the best way to help them. Lastly, pretend that Student 3 fell off a swing and broke their arm. Give Student 3 the same small band-aid and ask if that is the best way to help them.
As the accidents get bigger, students will tell you that a small band-aid is not enough to help everyone. Use this activity to teach your class about educational equity by showing them how different scenarios require different levels of support. Be sure to explain that although they won’t always get what they want at school, everyone will get what they need to succeed.
4 – Unexpected Teacher
All you will need for this social skills activity are your best acting skills. Begin teaching a lesson like normal and slowly start behaving in ways that make it difficult for the students to follow the lesson. For example, get side-tracked, turn your back to the class while you teach, lay on the floor, “read” the directions silently in your head, etc. Allow enough time for students to feel confused before leading a whole group discussion about expected and unexpected teacher behaviors. Be sure to ask why they think it is important for teachers to act appropriately and then why students need to act appropriately when in class.
5 – Name That Feeling
Find short clips of Disney movies that model various emotions like calm, happy, mad, excited, frustrated, etc. After showing each clip, the students should try to identify how the characters are feeling, what made them feel that way, and what they could do to feel better (if applicable). Have a few students share their observations before holding a brief discussion and moving on to the next movie clip.
6 – Secret Buddies
Begin this social skills activity with a discussion about acts of kindness and how they make us feel. Write each student’s name on a small piece of paper and put them into a container. Have each student pull one name from the container to determine who their secret buddy will be. Set out scissors, glue, colored paper, stamps, stickers, and any other art supplies you may have and allow students to create something special for their secret buddy. Once everyone has finished their projects, choose the first student to announce their secret buddy and deliver their gift. After a student receives a gift, it will be their turn to reveal their secret buddy until everyone has a turn. This is an excellent activity to use during the holiday season and increase the sense of community in your classroom.
6 – Emotions Uno
This game is played just like traditional Uno but with a twist, and all you’ll need is a deck of Uno cards. First, discuss that each color in the game stands for a different type of emotion; blue is for emotions that have a low state of alertness (sad, bored, tired, sick, etc.), green is for a calm state of alertness (focused, proud, happy, etc.), yellow is for a heightened state of alertness (frustrated, silly, worried, excited, etc.), and red is for an extremely high state of alertness (overjoyed, angry, terrified, etc.). I recommend talking about various emotions that fit in each category before playing.
Any time someone changes the color during the game, that person must name one emotion that fits in that color category. For example, if the color is changed to yellow, an appropriate emotion for that color category would be “scared.” Before the game can continue, other players should offer activities that help them stay in or get back to a calm state of alertness. For example, if the emotion is “scared,” appropriate coping strategies would be, asking for a hug, being with friends, talking to an adult, etc. This game challenges students to think about their emotions and brainstorm coping strategies that they can use inside and outside the classroom.
Whole Class Management:
8 – The Teamwork Jar
Start by grabbing an empty jar, masking tape, a marker, and some marbles. Write “Class Prize!” on one piece of tape and wrap it around the jar as far up as you would like. Any time the entire class is on task, following directions, walking in the hall quietly, “working as a team,” etc., they will earn marbles in the Teamwork Jar (my students enjoy counting the marbles as I drop them in).
Whenever students struggle to meet expectations, give a warning that you will have to take marbles out of the jar if they cannot work as a team to get their jobs done appropriately. Once the jar is filled to the line, the entire class will get a prize of their choosing (within reason); for example, my students love extra recess and GoNoodle dance parties! After the students have earned their prize, you can dump out the marbles and start again.
Social skills and classroom management activities like these, help promote classroom community and teamwork within your classroom. Students are able to encourage each other to do well, behave, and meet expectations, so everyone earns the prize.
9 – Mystery Prize
Grab some sticky notes and begin by writing various goals and expectations for your students to meet throughout the day. For example, walk quietly in the hallway, everyone on task, no calling out during instructions, etc. Next, pick a prize for the class (extra recess, GoNoodle party, bring a stuffy to school, etc.), write it on the board, and use the sticky notes to cover up the prize. Throughout the day, students can remove sticky notes from the board as each goal or expectation is met to reveal the prize they have earned. If they cannot remove all of the sticky notes before the day is over, you should not reveal the prize, and the students can try again the next day.
10 – Classroom BINGO
Create a BINGO board with spaces that include pictures of different animals and put their matching picture cards in a container. Next, work with your students to create a list of classroom expectations and acts of kindness that help each day run smoothly. For example, helping a friend, raising your hand, staying on task, etc. As students meet these expectations, they can draw a card from the container and stick it to the matching space on the BINGO board. The goal is to cover five spaces in a row to earn a class prize. You can even have the students choose the prize they are working toward at the beginning of each new game to increase participation.
11 – Table Olympics
Another one of our easy social skills and classroom management activities, this strategy has cut our transition times in half! Give each group table a name or number, and create a scoreboard somewhere in the classroom visible to everyone. Throughout the day, watch the table groups and add tally points to the scoreboard when everyone in a group is on task or following directions.
I always give an extra tally to the first three table groups to transition to each new activity, and I give points to every table if the entire class is on task. At the end of each day, the table group with the most points will get to choose a prize from the prize box. Although it can be upsetting to some students if their table group doesn’t win, this strategy pairs well with #14, On Task BINGO, so students will also have a chance to earn a prize on their own.
12 – CHAMPS
When using CHAMPS, you discuss expectations for conversation levels, how to ask for help, what the activity is, where they should be, and how they can participate. Start by writing the words Conversation, Help, Activity, Movement, Participation, and SUCCESS horizontally on the board where it is visible to everyone. You can also get creative and make it more permanent by cutting out colored letters and taping them up. When discussing each category on the CHAMPS board before an activity, write the expectations or use pictures as visuals for students to reference on their own. Your board should look something like this:
Conversation – (Voices off, whisper voice, table talk, etc.)
Help – (Raise your hand, ask a neighbor, ask 3 before me, etc.)
Activity – (Reading, math, social studies, science, etc.)
Movement – (In your seat, on the carpet, etc.)
Participation – (Independent work, partner work, group work, etc.)
By outlining expectations before each activity, you can drastically decrease the number of unexpected behaviors during class time.
13 – On Task BINGO
Create BINGO cards filled in with numbers 1-25, small enough to fit in the corner of each student desk. Write or print pieces of paper with the numbers 1-25, laminate (if possible), and keep them in a separate container. Whenever you notice that a student is on task or following directions, they can pick a number out of the container and use a dry erase marker to cross it off their personal BINGO board. Once they get five spaces in a row, the student will earn a prize and clear their board to start again.
14 -Bucket Filling
First, grab enough mini buckets for your whole class and a bunch of multi-colored pompoms. Start by reading Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud to your class. This story does an excellent job of explaining that every person has an invisible bucket. When your bucket is filled with kind words or actions, you will feel happy, but you will feel sad if your bucket is empty.
One of my favorite social skills and classroom management activities aims to encourage students to be “bucket fillers” who are kind and respectful to each other. Whenever you catch a student “filling someone’s bucket” with kind words or actions, you can have them add a pompom to their mini bucket. However, if a student is being disrespectful to their classmates or a “bucket dipper,” you can have them remove pompoms from their mini bucket. Students who have 10 or more pompoms in their bucket at the end of each week can earn a reward of any kind.
15 – Whole Body Listening
Listening involves more than just our ears. Whole Body Listening is a tool that is introduced to young students and teaches them to use their entire bodies to listen when someone is speaking. Additionally, it can drastically improve their listening comprehension during the school day. Start by reading Whole Body Listening at School by Elizabeth Sautter. This story gives examples of how we can use our eyes, ears, hands, feet, heart, mouth, and brain to listen when someone is speaking. You can also find Whole Body Listening visuals to hang in the classroom and remind students what it should look and feel like. After modeling how this tool works, your students will be able to show you Whole Body Listening throughout the school day.
Include these 15 activities along with a Social-Emotional Curriculum that includes teacher guides, added classroom activities, read-aloud suggestions, videos, and daily check-in slides to complete your classroom management toolbox. Improving social skills creates classroom community and promotes growth within students’ social-emotional skills. The goal of all of these ideas is for our classroom management prompts to decrease over time while students independently complete tasks and follow expectations. Until that independence begins…I am definitely trying #9 when we return from break! What activity or activities are you thinking of trying? Let us know in the comments below! Do you have any ideas to add to this great list of how to improve our Social Skills instruction and Classroom Management systems?
Written by – Madison Patten
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