how to teach social skills
Sep 14 2023

13 Evidence-Based Ways to Teach Social Skills in 2023

Positive Action Staff
Many students struggle to learn important social skills, like interacting positively with others and starting conversations. The time spent lecturing in schools means that kids don't always have the time to use these skills in the classroom.

A lack of social skills can contribute to poor academic performance, causing problem behaviors in class and dropping grades. We’ll show you how to teach social skills just as you teach math, science, and writing using evidence-based SEL techniques.

1. Work with Peer Mentors

Kids develop similar social skills to those around them as they observe others’ actions and behaviors. Pairing students with peer mentors of the same age makes learning social skills feel less like a lesson.

You can pair students of the same age and go over which social skill you want to work on that day so that the peer mentor can effectively guide their students toward developing the desired skills.

2. Adopt a Research-Based Program

A research-based program like Positive Action creates a unique curriculum suited to specific grades that helps with teaching social skills in the classroom.

Positive Action focuses on social skills instruction and overall personal development through six units. These lessons don’t take much time out of your school day, but they have a significant impact on kids, teachers, and parents.

The Positive Action program promotes a social emotional learning curriculum that encourages responsible decision-making, self-management skills, social behaviors, and following directions. It is designed to guide kids through social encounters and encourage them to make their own decisions, become independent, and improve their overall well-being.

Studies show its effectiveness in schools, citing that Positive Action has helped students raise their grades, interact positively with peers, and improve overall socialization skills.

3. Model Social Skills with Videos

Video modeling demonstrates social skills and allows students to observe an action before putting it into practice for themselves.

Videos are one of the most effective strategies for teaching social skills in class. You can use different kinds of video modeling, including:

  • Basic: Students watch a video of people performing certain social behaviors.
  • Point-of-view modeling: The video plays from the point of view of the learner.
  • Prompting: The video demonstrates an action and then offers a prompt for an activity.
  • Self-modeling: Someone records the student doing a social activity so that they can watch themselves.

They and other students then point out what the student did well and how they can improve.

4. Use Film and Video Clips

Apart from video modeling, you can have students give feedback about characters in video clips. Ask them to describe what the character did wrong in a specific situation first. For example:

  • Were they talking too close to someone and invading personal space?
  • Did they not make eye contact?
  • Were they not listening?

When you teach social skills, it’s important for students to recognize problem behaviors in others and themselves. Using video clips will boost their awareness of these behaviors.

5. Have Students Create Videos

Try having students create their own videos while they practice social skills. You can use this activity for homework assignments so that kids can use their skills outside the classroom.

Creating videos lets children have fun with learning social skills. They also help each other learn by viewing their videos and offering feedback.

You might try choosing a single social skill to practice, like nonverbal communication. In this case, students create silent films. Ask the rest of the class to guess what happens in the films based on each person’s body language and nonverbal cues.

6. Imitate and Model Other Students

Much like with video modeling, kids often use imitation behaviors to learn new social skills. When you ask them to practice these techniques in the classroom, you can create situations where students model body language and other behaviors you want to encourage.

Use prompting while teaching social skills, so children get used to imitating and improving upon their skills. Kids may think they imitate well, but with instruction, find out where they can do better.

7. Construct Social Narratives

During a social narrative, you describe a situation to your students. For example, telling a short story about a student arguing with their teacher and getting in trouble presents a situation that does not demonstrate positive social skills.

With this exercise, children learn empathy when they consider how the person in the situation feels and how they would act differently. This skill allows them to explain why certain behaviors are or are not appropriate. The educator can also describe the best response after kids have thought about it themselves.

8. Create Lunch Groups

Break kids into small groups for lunch or activities. You can use topic boxes to prompt them to talk about specific subjects or use a particular skill.

Lunch groups can help students learn to talk about different subjects and relate to others by learning their interests. It also guides kids toward having appropriate conversations.

9. Form Structured Social Situations

In structured social situations, you teach a social skill to students before putting it into practice. You might have kids learn something on their own, in a one-on-one environment, before they go into a classroom to use their new socialization skills with others.

Structured social situations involve defining a behavior and the expectations that come with it first. For example, if a student has trouble standing too close to someone while talking, you might go over respecting personal space and have them practice it after.

10. Encourage Communication with Joint Action Routines

Joint action routines create predictable routines for skills that kids can repeat. You show them a skill and then have them repeat it to practice.

Joint action routines minimize distraction and confusion when you teach one skill at a time. They show students exactly what to do in social situations to form habits and become independent as they get comfortable with the behavior.

11. Create a Classroom Management Plan

A classroom management plan helps children develop a routine and meet expectations. It also helps with problem-solving, as kids learn that they must complete a certain task with or without help, as well as how to ask for help politely.

Children develop an understanding of a behavior through repeated situations. They learn how they can improve and behave in different classroom environments based on their assigned tasks.

12. Encourage Teamwork

Activities, such as cooperative games or decision-making tasks, particularly those that don’t just encourage but require teamwork for success, lead children to get to know one another, work together, and learn the fine intricacies of forging friendships and presenting well-reasoned debates to have their voices heard.

Avoid creating long-term teams to keep students continually interacting with new groups and practicing new social skills as different personalities collide!

13. Social Role-Play Activities

Social role-play activities allow students to use their new skills creatively. Give your class a scenario and ask them to come up with a short skit to act out in front of their peers.

You can make the scene specific to a single social skill, and other students will give feedback after the actors finish their demonstration. Kids come up with their own scripts, which allows them to think about the actions that do and don’t work.


When you use evidence-based methods to teach social skills, you help students learn new social techniques more quickly and effectively. Use a combination of these practices to determine how your students respond best and see which ones they enjoy.

Positive Action can help with SEL in any learning environment.

Contact us to schedule a webinar and talk about how our program can benefit your classroom.