6 Rapport Building Ideas for First Sessions in School Counseling

August is here, I can't believe it! While I hope you had a restful summer break, I'm also hoping when you get back to school, you won't have to scramble for new ideas, teaching resources, or supplies. One of the things I've enjoyed about back to school season is that my lessons and groups didn't quite start right away.

As counselors, it takes a little more time to gather inputs from the Needs Assessment Form sent to teachers or to even receive referrals for groups or individual sessions. That doesn't however guarantee that you will not be seeing any students at all in your first month back, which is why it is always good to be prepared, especially for that first session with the kiddos you might see in the tier 2 or tier 3 setting.

Looking for fun first session rapport building ideas? Read on!

1. Introduce Yourself and Your Role

Students referred to you for the first time might be wary about who you are, what you do, and why they've been asked to see you. One of the best ways to take the edge off is to give them a peek into your life and work at school. This does not have to be a boring monologue. The point is to build rapport and trust.

You could make it fun by playing this Jeopardy-style Meet the Counselor Game Show. Students can be confused about the role of the school counselor so it is nice to have an interactive way to explain how your program works. Students will also get a better understanding of who sees the counselor and the tools that are available to them should they need them. You can repurpose this game to use in any of the three tiers of school counseling.

Another digital intro activity you might like are these Meet the Counselor Boom Cards that can either be sent directly to students with a link, played on a device with you in person or even on a smart board with the whole class or group!

In class or with groups, a Meet the Counselor Escape Room activity is going to be more interactive and fun. Students divide into groups and must work as a team as they move around the room to solve all 5 missions! While completing missions students will learn the role of the school counselor and how they can best utilize the school counseling program.

Check out this post to find out which Meet the Counselor Lesson is right for you!

2. Give them a tour!

An office tour is something your students are going to love. Explaining to them what the calm corner is for or showing them some SEL games and books you might be using with them in the coming weeks might help them feel more comfortable coming to see you. Also, if students come to meet you on their own, instead of you picking them up from their classroom, they will feel more confident if for the first time at least you showed them the way to your office by walking with them.

school counseling office

3. Make Conversation

As important as it is for students to get to know you, it is of even more significance for you to get to know them. Very often, to avoid awkward silences during the first session, we talk so much about ourselves and what we do, and don't really listen as much as we need to/ensure that there is an active dialogue between counselor and student. How about initiating a conversation with them? You could make and use conversation cards and take turns to answer the cards you draw. I've noticed that students don't mind picking and answering questions on their own. Some kids, however, like you to play with them too. Roll and Respond activities are a great way to get the conversation going.

school counseling

4. Play Games

Games are a favorite, irrespective of age. And playing games with your kiddos is a great way to build rapport. Have you considered a counseling version of Jenga? Use a marker or tape 'Get to Know You' questions on each block and every time one is removed, the student has to answer the question on that block.

In Tier 2 small group settings, I use this Get to Know You Bingo which is great for counselors to get to know students in the group as well as for students within the group to get to know each other.

Playing 'Would you rather' with an individual student or 'Sides of the Room' with a group of students also helps you learn some of their likes, dislikes, and preferences. A Beach Ball Toss game is another great option. This game can be general during the first group session or could even have something to do with the specific topic you will be discussing in the group. Scavenger Hunts are also a favorite, especially for kinesthetic learners.

5. Read Together

I've had some kiddos who take more time to open up and talk, but would rather listen or read. If this is the case with one of your individual kiddos, have them pick a book from your SEL library and then read it together. If you want, you could also read books like The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld to draw a parallel to what your role as a school counselor is.

school counselor

6. Make Crafts

Seeing kids who express that they enjoy arts and crafts? What better way to get to know them than by getting these tactile learners to make their own All About Me Interactive Scrapbook. Making sock puppets is also a fun first session rapport building activity. Some students might prefer to paint or color and if you can find a way to make it more interactive, then go for it!

What are your go-to rapport building activities for your first sessions? I’d love to know in the comments.

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