Are you running out of time for providing individual counseling services at your school? If so, join the club and solve your problems with…Small Groups!

Small group counseling can range from two to around ten students. Yes, ten! Most of the time, however, it is done with groups of 2-5. Small group counseling is when you combine students with a similar topic, such as Social Skills, Grief, Emotional Regulation, or Coping Skills in order to provide the students with effective counseling.

Why I love doing Small Groups!

Providing counseling in a group can be great for most students. While some students require individual therapy and attention from you, their counselor, most benefit from counseling groups with their peers. This is because groups allow for more engagement with discussions, more fun for students, and more time for you! After all, if you can combine 4 students that require 30 minutes of counseling each, you’ve just saved yourself an hour and a half per week! That’s time that you can help even more students with your amazing counseling skills.

Although groups are one of my favorite aspects of school counseling, they may be difficult if the proper procedures aren’t followed. Here are some ideas to help you get ready for creating and running your small group counseling sessions.

1. Start with Creating a Great Counseling Referral Form

Keep it simple! Here are the basics you’ll need: 

  • Student name 
  • Teacher name 
  • Grade level 
  • Area of need checklist (e.g., friendships, social skills) 
  • A few lines where teachers or parents can add a little details or background information
  • Severity level (low, medium, high) 
  • Preferred times for student to be pulled from class (I have teachers give me 3 days/times)

Here is a Free Download of the one that I made for my schools. Just add your school’s name at the top (print this, then cut and paste your school’s letterhead to the top is ideal for a professional look.)

How to send them out: 

  • Leave them in the staff lounge or copy room in a bright colored and labeled folder.
  • Indicate on the form or in monthly emails to staff where to return the forms. (Likely your mailbox.)

2. Creating Your Small Groups

Try to combine students with similar grades as well as similar topics. Pairing a 1st grader with a 4th grader will often not work. I try to group K-3rd and/or 3rd-5th graders together, as the maturity levels and communications skills are more similar, which makes planning your activities easier. Plus, 4th and 5th graders will definitely not like being in a group with much younger children.

If your group only has two students, that’s fine. Having room to add another student is always good. Yes, it is usually fine to add students mid-year to a group. It mixes things up, usually in a good way, and adds another perspective to your discussions. Most counseling curriculums aren’t super structured, so if you need to add someone to a group that has already started, go for it, especially if the new student’s other option is individual counseling.

Plus, kids like to be with other kids for the most part. Being one-on-one with an adult can feel uncomfortable. One of my colleagues just said yesterday that she has students who don’t want to talk with just her individually. My thoughts went straight to grouping the students who don’t participate or are resistant to counseling. Having peers can definitely help these students to feel more comfortable with sharing once they have seen a peer share in discussion.

3. How to Create an Effective Small Group Curriculum 

When preparing your small group curriculum, follow these steps: 

  • Choose a group subject. 
  • Make a weekly plan for at least 3-4 weeks ahead of time to be best prepared. Poor planning and last-minute activity selection can lead to an unproductive or repetitive activity for your counseling session.
  • Select icebreakers/rapport building activities for the first 2 weeks (discussion cards, dice games, videos, etc.). 
  • Incorporate engaging activities through a multi-modal approach (crafts, games, worksheets, videos, etc.). Rotate each type of activity to keep things novel and engaging.
  • Include a reflective component (group discussions or writing in a journal). 

Do you want to press the easy button? If so, you might utilize one of my comprehensive curriculums from the Counseling Fanny Pack of Fun Store in TpT. Each includes rapport-building exercises and then tons of video links, games, worksheets, and arts and crafts activities for several counseling topics. All are great for small group to student self-evaluations, these curriculums provide all you need for several counseling, but can also work for individual if you need some individual activities as well.

Just click on the pictures to check them out!

I hope this information makes you feel better prepared as you start the new school year. 

Incorporating effective small group counseling techniques can significantly impact students’ social and emotional development. By implementing a well-structured referral form, making well thought out groups, planning activities ahead, and using engaging activities and curriculums, you ensure that you will be successful in providing small group counseling. Let’s make this school year a successful one for every child! 

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