What is a Social Skills Curriculum?

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will look at some of the various topics and components of a comprehensive social skills curriculum, as well as lesson ideas to teach these skills.

Social Skills Curriculum

It can be said that schooling has as much to do with the socialization of children as it does with teaching academic content. At school, students learn to interact and communicate effectively with their peers and with authority figures. It is important that schools recognize this role with an explicit social skills curriculum to help students of all ages and developmental levels. These topics fall into a few basic categories, each with several possible lesson ideas to instruct children and adolescents. These categories include:

  • Communication
  • Being part of a group
  • Expressing feelings
  • Caring for oneself and others
  • Social problem solving
  • Managing conflict
  • Listening

Let's see what some lessons could be for each category.


Communication can be verbal or nonverbal. There are several ways to teach effective verbal and nonverbal communication. Students can share something special about themselves, including values and special interests. They should learn how to introduce themselves and remember others' names, get to know others, or make a new friend. Students benefit from learning to give and receive a compliment and find common ground. Nonverbal communication skills to teach include using tone and volume of voice, eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures in communicating. Students should also learn about managing appearances, personal space, using touch and posture, and interpreting these body language signals and emotional cues in others.

Being Part of a Group

Effectively managing interaction within a group is a necessary skill for students, and it doesn't always come naturally to everyone. Several lessons can help children learn to navigate being part of a group. Specific skills to learn may include: how to join a group and meet new people, cooperating and sharing, asking questions and following rules, making group decisions and following rules, being a good sport and a role model, accepting differences and fostering group identity, identifying true friends, and understanding cliques.

Expressing Feelings

Knowing how to identify and articulate one's feelings is a priceless lesson for students that can be taught with lessons about empathy for others and expressing feelings with I-messages. I-messages reduce accusatory language and reduce defensive reactions by framing discussions to focus on the speaker's feelings. Teachers model this with statements like 'I feel like my efforts to make a safe place to learn are ignored when children put their backpacks in the walkway.' Students can be taught how to exert self-control with self-talk, deal with change, and recognize mixed emotions. Another important lesson for students to learn is how to deal with anger toward others and to recognize and deal with anger in other people.

Caring about Oneself and Others

Empathy and self-care are very important lessons for children to learn. These skills are not necessarily inherent to a particular personality type or gender and can be taught. Students need to know how to seek help from adults and offer help to others. They should understand the impact of their behavior on others (empathy) as well as the impact of other people's behavior on them (self-care). Students can be taught to show interest in others, to be a good friend, and care about people with kindness and prosocial behavior. Students also can learn how to show respect, to give advice when requested, and respond to positive advice offered by others.

Problem Solving

Much of the anxiety and behavioral issues children express can be attributed to a lack of skills in problem solving. Some of the problem solving skills students need to learn is how to identify problem-causing behavior, refocusing one's attitude, brainstorming to find alternative solutions, choosing the best alternative, and learning from one's mistakes. Children should be taught how to think before acting and there's never a shortage of opportunities to teach children how to accept the consequences of their actions. Schooling also provides a good opportunity for students to learn how to solve problems within a group and work together diplomatically.

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