How to Teach Social Skills in the Classroom [List of Top 12 Social Skills]

As an educator, your focus is on ensuring your students meet set standards in subjects like history, science and language arts. While academic proficiencies are certainly important, the emotional and social lessons children learn throughout their school years are arguably just as critical.

Studies have long indicated that the development of social and emotional skills can positively affect student achievement and success — both academically and socially — in school and later in life. A study conducted by Loyola University researchers found that social and emotional learning improves academic achievement by an average of 11 percentile points. It is also proven to improve positive social behaviors such as kindness, sharing and empathy, and also improves children’s attitudes towards learning.

Teaching social skills, however, is not always the easiest task. Unlike other academic subjects, there aren’t textbooks to refer to or rubrics to grade with. The abstract nature of social and emotional skills makes it a unique discipline to teach, but not an impossible one — read on for a breakdown of the top social skills and our tips for teaching them in the classroom.

What Are Social Skills & Why Are They Important?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines social skills as “a set of learned abilities that enable an individual to interact competently and appropriately in a given social context.” In simpler terms, social skills are what people use to successfully interact with others. It is important to note that social skills include both verbal and non-verbal communication, and strong social skills are demonstrated by a person’s ability to successfully live, work and understand others.

Why is it important to have good social skills? To be blunt, social skills are essential for humans to lead fulfilled lives; social skills allow you to work with others, resolve conflict and build and sustain relationships. This makes teaching social skills such a vital function of our education systems, and equipping teachers with the tools they need to teach these skills is even more necessary.

Top 12 Social Skills Kids Need

Sharing Cooperation Listening Following Directions
 Personal Space Eye Contact Manners Self-Awareness
 Self-Management Social Awareness Relationship Skills Decision-Making

How to Teach Social Skills in the Classroom in 5 Steps

Surprisingly, not all educators are taught how to effectively teach social skills in their own classrooms. Oftentimes teachers learn by doing, through mentorships with other teachers, or after their own years of experience. The good news, however, is that there are social skills courses available that coach teachers on how to successfully implement interpersonal skill work into their curriculum.

But in the meantime, here are a few quick steps to begin teaching positive social skills to your students:

  1. Identify a social skill/skills that need improvement. You never want to bite off more than you can chew, so select one or two social skills that you have seen students consistently struggle with. You’ll also want to choose a subject that’s widely applicable so you can reach more students and make a larger impact.
  2. Set goals. Set a timetable for when you would like to see improvement in this particular skill. It helps to set benchmarks along the way so you can track progress and make adjustments if needed.
  3. Teach the social skill. You should plan a full lesson or lessons about the social skill you have chosen to focus on. There are many ways you can go about teaching this skill, but a popular tool for teaching social skills is the SAFE method — sequenced, active, focused and explicit.
  4. Practice the skill. After the lesson, be sure you are modeling this behavior and going out of your way to draw attention to it. Also create opportunities for students to practice this behavior with their peers, either in group activities or by assigning jobs to students to help reinforce the skill.
  5. Review and reflect. As you would after any lesson, review students’ progress and determine how you could improve upon the lesson. Identify specific examples of how students demonstrated proficiency in their new skill and areas of social interaction where they could use additional support.

While these are basic steps to help you introduce social skill building in your classroom, there are much more in-depth tools and techniques that can be learned when it comes to teaching social skills. For educators who are interested in enhancing the social and emotional elements of their instruction, consider the Teaching Positive Social Skills course from the University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education. In this course, you will gain a wealth of knowledge about teaching and promoting positive social behaviors. And if you’re looking for a more comprehensive overview of social skills education, check out our Character Education Certificate. To learn more about this course or any of our education offerings, please contact us.

FAQs About Teaching Social Skills

What are social skills and why are they important?

Social skills help us to communicate and interact with each other and promote healthy interactions. And, studies show that strong social skills can increase achievement results.

What are the most important social skills for children to learn?

While there is no universally agreed upon list of top social skills, some of the most important skills include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making skills.

How can I tell if my students need help with social skills?

Students with weak social skills may have a difficult time fitting in with others. They may struggle with conversations with their peers and come across as awkward, or they may negatively impact others.

How can I teach better social skills?

Help students understand the importance of developing strong social skills using awareness, reflection and empathy building to improve self-regulation and self-management abilities. Teachers should model strong social skills and provide opportunities for meaningful peer-to-peer interactions and activities. Helping students practice good decision-making skills that lead to positive interactions is essential for school and beyond.