Are you a School Counselor, Psychologist, or Speech Pathologist who has a “LUNCH BUNCH” or other type of Social Skills Counseling Group? Have you been using regular old “Board Games” in the hopes of making your lunch bunch fun, but found that they really aren’t helping to teach specific “Social Skills” that your students may need, such as conversational skills, initiating play, and improving manners?
Sure, your students are practicing turn-taking and sportsmanship, but there are a lot more “social skills” that social skill-specific activities can provide. These 10 activity ideas can hopefully help you spark some new ideas on how to jazz up these groups and help your students to build the social skills that they need.
1) RAPPORT BUILDING GAMES
Rapport building games are a great way to start your counseling group. This is because they can both help the students get to know each other while engaging them in a play activity that helps build social skills. There are many types of rapport building activities, such as “all About Me” coloring worksheets or a general intake questionnaire. Rapport, or “getting to know you” games, however, will engage your students in play while helping you and them get to know each other. There are several game types that I have created both Rapport Building Questions and Social Skill Questions and Prompts with. Which type of game that you decide to play as your rapport building game activity depends on several factors. These factors include the grade or ages of the students, the developmental abilities of your students, and… your office size.
For rapport building game activities, I use either my JENGA, Beach Ball, Cards, or Laptop with Zoom if doing telehealth therapy. It is essentially the same game and same questions, but just different ways of social play skills that you would be working on with each type of game. All of my students enjoy the Beach Ball version of my Rapport Building Game, but the JENGA is a close second.
I will typically not use the Beach Ball version if I cannot go outside or if my students are more aggressive, as they will start throwing or kicking the ball if they get too excited or angry if something doesn’t go their way. I use the JENGA or Card Game version primarily with older students, such as students in 4th or 5th grade or in Middle School.
2) SOCIAL SKILL CARD and BEACH BALL GAMES
I use the beach ball and card game version of my Social Skills Game frequently with my counseling students. Students really enjoy the ball throwing and catching aspect of the beach ball game, but can get wild at times. Wild is fun, however, and fun keeps kids happy and engaged. To play, just number a beach ball 1-26 and when the students catch the ball, I have them tell me what number their “right hand” is touching. Then I read the question or prompt related.
Here are some of the questions from the game:
Give the person to your right a compliment.
What is one way that you can show someone that you are listening to them?
What is an appropriate was to respond if a friend makes you angry?
Why is compromise and sharing important parts of friendship?
3) SOCIAL STORY COLORING BOOKS
It might not be a “game”, but social stories can target a specific skill that your students may be struggling with, such as personal space, conversation skills, controlling behaviors, or playground rules. There are many short stories out there and even stories on video in YouTube. I will often pair a video about a certain topic with a social story coloring book that each student can color and personalize as the counseling activity. Then they can keep it and take it back to their classroom for their teacher to read and review with them on occasion when needed.
Here is my video explaining a little more on my Personal Space Coloring Book counseling activity.
JENGA is loved by almost all kids in my experience. There is no rolling the die, spinning a wheel, or using a board game involved, which makes it easier and less stressful for some students. It helps children practice turn taking and when questions with counseling themes are incorporated, it can be an fun tool for engaging children in discussion and practicing skills related to making friends and getting along with others.
In addition to using JENGA for Rapport building, you can also use it for practicing Social Skills, Anger management, self-esteem, and coping skills with your students. With this game, you can number your JENGA pieces and when the students pull the pieces, you can read the prompt or question about making friend, giving compliments, and engage in discussions about what good social skills look like. The game is designed to help you facilitate discussions and teach your students skills through play and while having a little, or a lot, of fun.
Some of the specific questions in the game include:
What are one of the ways that you can show someone that you are listening to them? .
Why is compromise and sharing important parts of friendship?
How can you tell if you are bothering someone sitting next to you in class?
What is personal space?
Name 2 qualities that make someone a good friend.
5) GAMES THAT FOCUS ON MANNERS
Focusing on Manners is an important part of teaching social skills. Since it’s School Based Counseling, most of the manners activities and games that your should focus on are school manners, such as listening to the teacher, taking turns, giving personal space, using your words, and not interrupting the teacher. I like to do a few activities that focus on Manners. The first activity is usually the game, “Mrs. Manners Says”, which is either a power point version that I will play as a game, or I will show the game in it’s video format. The video and Power Point start with a discussion of what manners are and gives examples of “good” vs. “bad” manners. Then the game has students give a thumbs up or down for each scenario on the slides. Click below to check out the video.
The following week, I will play the “Manners Game” to help reinforce the lesson from the video/game.
I use videos with my group counseling sessions probably more than most, and I give YOU permission to use video too! Videos can be great tools in teaching children about getting along with others, compromising, initiating play, being a good sport, and so forth and so on. With the right video, for the right developmental level, your students can be engaged in an activity that is always preferred…watching videos.
Over the years, I have created a list of videos that I can use with my students for any number of issues or skills. Some videos are cartoons, while others are songs or even puppets. Students that are very young respond well to cartoon format, social stories, and songs. Students that are around second grade or above seem to attend and respond best to videos with similar aged peers modeling scenarios or discussing the topics. I have spent many hours searching for the perfect videos for my counseling sessions. With many of the videos that I use, I will create a worksheet or coloring activity to go with them, so that the information is reinforced with an activity.
Here are a few video examples that are from my list of over 200 videos. This list has grown by over 50 videos just this (2021-2022) school year, with topics, such as Executive Functioning, Working in Groups, and Personal Space being added to just this week.
7) GAMES THAT FOCUS ON CONVERSATION SKILLS
Part of the goal of most social skills groups is to help students practice talking socially with other peers. The problem with a social skills group, however, can be that all the students participating struggle with this skill. The trick is to find activities that facilitate conversational skills or bring up questions that help facilitate conversations. If you want to get even more targeted, you can use “The Conversation Game” to help your students learn to initiate and maintain conversations. To play this game, students pick from a hat a slip of paper with a topic on it, such as “favorite pizza topping” or “vacations”. Then, you give the the directions to first practice greeting the peer and then to engage in a discussion for one minute about the topic or at least 3 exchanges of comments or questions about the topic.
8) REGULAR BOARD GAMES
Regular board games can be good at times, as many kids with social skills deficits may not have the experience of playing many games that you and I think of as common. I’m always amazed when I have a group of students that have never played UNO or Guess Who. While I clearly love playing my own games that are specifically working on targeted social skills, teaching students actual games that they can play with their peers is also a useful skill for them.
9) OUTDOOR GAMES
If you love Cornhole like I love Cornhole, then you might also enjoy sharing your love of outdoor games with your students. I’m not talkin soccer or basketball, but outdoor social games that have minimal contact such as horseshoes, red light green light, throwing a frisbee, hopscotch, cornhole or four square. Building experiences and knowledge to play outdoor games can definitely benefit students who lack social skills, as they may not be getting these experiences independently due to their social and play difficulties.
10) COMPUTER OR iPad GAMES
I’m sure your students are professionals at technology games. While I wouldn’t normally recommend playing video games at home or school, there are a few games out there that are designed to teach social skills. My district provided me with an iPad many years ago, so I have a few games that I will use to teach social skills. By using technology, you may be able to engage some students who are more familiar and comfortable with computer type games, which might help ease them into your social skills group if they are resistant. Here are some links to check out the apps that I sometimes use for social skills.