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Teaching the Social Skills

by Kay Burke, Ph.D.

Social skills include skills that facilitate successful interactions among people. They are also integral tools for effective classroom management. Unfortunately, many students enter classrooms without communication, team-building, and conflict resolution skills that are essential for getting along with their peers and adults. Teachers sometimes feel that social skills are not part of their curriculum and won't help students meet the standards or pass the state tests. Yet, effective teachers know that they need to take time to teach, monitor, and assess social skills to foster the climate conducive for learning.


Social Skills form a foundation for social interactions, especially if cooperative learning is used as an instructional strategy. Even though teachers can select any skill to teach based on the needs of their students, many prefer to start with basic interactions such as making eye contact, using names, and sharing materials.

Figure 1

Once students feel comfortable getting in and out of groups, teachers can address communication skills by practicing activities, such as the T-Chart graphic organizer. Teachers can work with their classes to create a T-Chart of the negative behavior (Figure 2) to help students identify the attributes of the negative behavior.

Figure 2

Once students recognize things they say and do that may exhibit nonlistening skills, they are ready to create a T-Chart of Attentive Listening Characteristics. By writing what the skill looks like and sounds like, the abstract skill of "listening" becomes more concrete and measurable.

Figure 3

If teachers are going to assess social skills, they need to translate the skills to checklists that students can use to self-evaluate their own progress. Sometimes just the awareness of the social skills helps focus the students. Each lesson should be processed two ways: cognitive skills and social skills. Students report on their learning as well as their progress in mastering social skills.

It is important to integrate the teaching of social skills with the curriculum. Teachers can justify class time to teach and monitor the skills because students need to know the parameters and the expectations of acceptable classroom behavior early in the school year. Also, most states include standards related to interpersonal skills in their state requirements. Teachers need to take time early in the school year as well as whenever needed to teach, monitor, reteach, and assess students' knowledge and use of the skills necessary for their success in school and life.