I've always loved small groups in comparison to individual counseling sessions. Back when I was a new counselor, it somehow seemed easier to keep a smaller bunch of kiddos engaged rather than the whole class (I had a lot to learn about classroom management!) or one student only. This was probably because I was still learning on the job just like most of you had to as well. The good news is with time, research, experimentation, and practice, I came to enjoy planning and running lessons across all three tiers simply because through trial and error, I was able to figure which counseling activities enhanced my sessions.

Check out my all time favorites:

1. Games

Learning through play is terribly underrated. In my years of experience as a counselor, I have witnessed how a game is not just a game. It can be used to teach and practice new skills, check for understanding, reel in children who are otherwise skeptical about being in the counselor's office, and so much more! When it comes to games, I always suggest using:

Board Games

What's not to love about board games, right? I enjoy using them to get students talking during individual and small group sessions. You can play along so you can model responses and also make the students feel more at ease. Board games offer a fun and interactive way to get a better understanding of where your students are at and what their problem areas still might be. You can then use this information to help plan your future sessions! If you're up to a challenge, you can even create your own board games.

You can snag my set of 11 board games in my Board Game Bundle here or buy them individually too.

Scoot Games

Do you have students who just can't sit still? Does 45 minutes seem too long to not include movement breaks? Why not use scoot games instead? These games will get students up and moving which is a great way to engage kinesthetic learners, while teaching them targeted behaviors, attitudes, skills, and concepts. I absolutely love scoot games and my kiddos do too.

How to play?

  1. Place task cards around the room in numerical order. Then, give each student a recording sheet and a pencil. Divide the students into groups and assign them a number from one of the task cards to start at.

  2. Next, each student reads the card they are at and circles their answer in the number on their recording sheet that corresponds to the number on the task card.

  3. After about a minute, the teacher says 'Scoot' and the students quickly take their recording sheet with them and scoot over to the next number sign and get started on the question right away.

Overwhelmed by how much planning and prep it might take? Grab my 10 ready-to-use scoot games in my Scoot Games Bundle here or you could purchase them individually too, based on your students’ needs.

2. Social Stories

When supporting kids with anxiety, sensory needs, social/communication skills deficit, or behavior difficulties, social stories should be your go-to activity to use. The simple language and pictures in social stories help children understand what to expect and how to respond in certain scenarios that are likely to take place in the near future.

What I love about social stories is the personalization and visual cues they offer. Social stories can be used in a preventative manner or when a negative behavior is demonstrated and needs to be corrected. They are effective in redirecting negative behaviors in a way that a child can understand without too much complexity. I have found that they are especially great to use with your ESL learners.

3. Seasonal Activities

Have you had to deal with students who are thoroughly disinterested in your lesson because all they can think about is going trick-and-treating after school? Do you deal with kids who are excited about Christmas or Summer Break long before it actually arrives? Why not incorporate activities that match with the season or holiday/celebration that's upcoming? You will find students more engaged and responsive, all while learning what you've set out to teach them in that session.

My favorite seasonal activities include Bullying Prevention Activities, Fall themed Self Regulation and Size of the Problem Activities, Thanksgiving themed Discussion Cards, Countdown to Winter Break and this Christmas themed Bundle among plenty of others.

4. Journals

Journals are among my favorite activities to use in both group and individual settings. When working through self regulation, anxiety, anger, or grief, for example, a journal is the perfect tool for students to work on over a few sessions. You will find it most useful among your upper elementary kids but you can also have a more picture based journal for your younger students.

Since journals provide the opportunity for your students to reflect on their behavior/feelings and their progress, they are also able to take action. Interactive journals that include spaces and pages to draw, color, and write, are visually stimulating too. These journals can be shared with parents (with student permission) so they can use the same language at home, and can see their child's progress over the course of your sessions. Digital journals that can be used with Google Slides are a fantastic option, especially if your students are tech-savvy or if you ever have to go back into the remote learning mode.

Journals are a part of all my Tier 3 Individual Counseling Lessons that cover 11 topics ranging from anger management, anxiety, divorce, and grief, to empathy, growth mindset, self-control, self-esteem, self regulation, and trauma.

5. Read Alouds

I’m a sucker for SEL books and I love using picture books across all three tiers of counseling. With relatable (and diverse) characters, facing challenges that are similar to the ones your kiddos go through, discussions/reflections following read-alouds help reinforce SEL concepts that you are targeting in your session.  Books are great for helping kiddos process strong feelings, learn social/communication skills, and positive character traits. There are a ton of excellent SEL books to choose from to use with your students based on their needs. If you’re an elementary counselor and are looking for recommendations to stock up your SEL library, check out this blog post that lists my favorites and how I use them in individual and group counseling.

What are your favorite school counseling activities? Which of these do you already use? I would love to know in the comments. 


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