As a first year counselor, if there was one task that made me a little queasy at school, it was having to teach classroom lessons. I felt unprepared/underprepared for them, considering I had no prior teaching experience or classroom management skills at that point. What helped me overcome this obstacle over the years was more practice, trial and error in the process, and realizing that the more kids effectively reached via tier 1 intervention, the less need for tier 2 and 3 support.

But how exactly does one teach classroom lessons that are both effective and enjoyable? Here are a few simple hacks that might help you:

1. Choose interesting but relevant topics

Children will learn when they are interested in what they are learning. Therefore, it is important to pick topics that interest them and are relevant to the issues they face. If you're not a new counselor, you are already aware of some of the common issues each grade level deals with, therefore, start with what you have. Go by what you've done before that was required and that benefitted your students in the past years.

My advice would also be to ask teachers to fill out this Needs Assessment Form to gather topics/concepts you should be teaching. Being prepared for as-needed lessons comes with the job. Speaking of relevance, make sure to schedule seasonal lessons too. I love to teach Bullying Prevention in October and Friendship in February! This blog post provides you a comprehensive list of counseling lessons that you can teach through the year.

Have a heavy caseload and not much time to plan and prep for classroom lessons? My Classroom Guidance Lesson Bundle includes 20 counseling guidance lessons to serve students in the Tier 1 setting. Covering a range of topics from anger management, anxiety, bullying prevention, cyber safety, and cooperation to empathy, focus and attention, growth mindset, self regulation, and study skills, among so many others, all of the included lessons have a detailed counselor's guide and scripts so you are not left guessing. Everything is aligned with the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) and Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) standards and I have also made sure to provide data tools to track your students' progress.

2. Mix it up

As important as it is to teach a particular concept/address a specific issue through your lesson, there's no denying that keeping students engaged throughout is one of the most challenging aspects of classroom teaching. My suggestion would be to incorporate different elements - an icebreaker, the actual lesson, a discussion, and a fun way to review your lesson.

Icebreakers could be games ranging from Bingo and Scavenger Hunts to 'Would you rather' and charades. Your lesson does not have to be you talking at your students. Use inforgraphics, videos, stations, read-alouds, etc to teach your lesson. Discussion cards and dice games could be used to reinforce what you've just taught. Exit tickets can include a game of beach ball toss, craftivities, quizzes, journaling/interactive notebooks, among a host of other activities.

3. Use a variety of resources to support your lesson

Knowing your students' learning styles will help you plan effective classroom lessons. In my years of experience, I've found that using videos helps drive the point. I sometimes use a video at the beginning of a lesson as a sneak peek of the topic. It gets the kids' attention and also has them bouncing off ideas of what they think you might be teaching them that day. They could also be used to drive meaningful discussions.

My Classroom Guidance Lessons have at least one relevant video included in each of them. For example, when teaching my 3rd graders about self-regulation, I like to use a short clip from the Disney movie 'Inside Out' to show how quickly Riley's emotions change in different situations. Looking for a comprehensive topic-based list you could use with your kiddos? Check out my School Counseling Video Resource Guide.

Given the number of fantastic SEL books available now, read-alouds are great to support your lessons, especially with younger learners. Books help students in processing strong emotions, learning social skills, and practicing positive character traits. If you're an elementary counselor and are looking for recommendations to stock up your SEL library, here are my favorite read-alouds that support a number of topics.

Prefer to use digital resources to support your lesson? Boom Cards are for you then. My Boom Cards Bundle has been a favorite resource among school counselors even after the transition back to in-person learning. With upper elementary students, this jeopardy-inspired Meet the Counselor Digital Game Show is equal amount of fun and learning.

4. Get them moving!

Do you teach lower elementary kiddos? Have some older kids who are kinesthetic learners? Do you notice students getting bored easily? Why not include some movement in your lessons?

The combination of movement and modeling is a sure winner, which is also why role-plays and charades are such a great way to bring more life into classroom guidance lessons.

For example, when teaching conflict resolution, you could divide the class into smaller groups and have students enact/role-play the scenario you give them along with I-Statements that they can use in that situation. Likewise, lessons on Self Regulation can involve a game of charades. This is an easy way for students to learn how to put theory into practice!

If you have more time for lesson planning and facilitation, why not create a lesson that includes stations or scoot games?

5. Encourage them to work in small groups

Collaborative learning is powerful. If you don't believe me, try it in your classroom. When students work in small groups, they learn to socialize better, listen actively, consider differing viewpoints, cooperate, and so much more. I've also found that when students work together in small groups, they are more engaged, learn from and with one another, and as a teacher/counselor, you are able to understand which students require more support. Apart from group discussions and role plays, I've found that escape rooms are a great way to promote working in small groups.

By using problem-solving skills and working as a team to find a solution to puzzles, you can teach a power-packed guidance lesson on literally any SEL/counseling topic. Escape rooms are a great way to engage your students, manage behaviors, and appeal to different learning styles.

While escape rooms challenges are fun to set up, I will admit they are extremely time-consuming to prepare if you have to start from scratch. Not sure how to set these up and run them? Check out my Escape Room Guid

6. Keep it short!

One of the biggest mistakes we tend to make in the classroom is to extend the same activity for a long duration. What tends to happen is that students lose interest/focus, and if you find classroom management a challenge, it only gets worse from here. The best advice I’ve taken and given to other counselors is to keep each element of your lesson short and sweet. Prepare for transitions in advance. Know when to move on to the next activity. Sometimes, a big concept may take longer to teach, so make sure to include some brain breaks in between.

What are some strategies you use to make your classroom lessons exciting and engaging? Any new ones from this post that you might try? I’d love to know in the comments.


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