How to Teach Social Skills in PE: Grades 3-6


Physical activity environments are natural settings for peer interaction and the development of social skills. By the very nature of game play or active participation, students discover how to work in a group, how they compare with others, how “winning” and “losing” affects them, how to follow rules, and how to strategically problem-solve. In addition, teaching social skills is an important aspect to bullying prevention in physical education and around campus.

A primary objective of SPARK is to create positive movement experiences that last a lifetime. Nurturing a student’s self-perception and self-image is a critical variable when teaching students to value physical activity. Negative experiences in PE class may impact a person well into adulthood.

Teaching social skills is not unlike teaching sport or fitness skills. Students should understand the “learnable pieces,” practice them in authentic situations, receive feedback, and process their learning.

Take the following steps when teaching social skills to students:

1. Define the skill.

Discuss why it is important. For example, help students understand that “Encouragement” is a gift you give to others. It delivers empathy, support, motivation. If you encourage someone, you’ve committed a selfless, powerful act.

2. Teach the skill

Discuss strategies to address it. Use a t-chart to instruct each social skill and obtain student input. Ask students,

“If we heard encouragement during class, what might it sound like?”

Hear their responses, shape and supplement as needed, list on the t-chart.

Then ask, “If we saw encouragement during class, what might it look like?”

Shape and list. Post the completed t-chart where students can see it every day.

An example of a t-chart for the skill “Encouragement” might look like this:


What does it sound like?

What does it look like?

“You can do it!” Thumbs-up
“Don’t give up!” High-five
“Keep trying!” Pat on the back

3. Provide opportunities to practice the skill.

Remind students you will be looking for their ideas, along with the proper mechanics of the respective sports skill. (E.g., “Step toward your target before passing, and don’t forget to encourage your partner if she needs it.”)

4. Process use of the skill. Ask questions such as:

“Did someone encourage you today? How did it feel? Did you have more fun playing with a partner that encouraged you?”

Processing questions can be posed while students stretch during cool-down, gather equipment, transitioning from 1 activity to another, recording scores, etc.

The following teaching cues provide suggestions for facilitating social skills discussions:

3rd Grade Teaching Cues

Responsibility: “What might your personal and group responsibilities be in this class?” (E.g., Listen and follow directions, give your best effort, maintain a positive attitude even if the activity that day isn’t your favorite, etc.)

Helpfulness: “Will you offer to be a partner to someone who needs one? Invite others to join your group? Assist with putting away equipment?”

4th Grade Teaching Cues

Encouragement: “Encouraging others is a sign of personal strength and confidence. See if you can make at least 1 encouraging statement every class.”

Acceptance of Personal Differences: “Can you respect people that may be less skilled than you in an activity? Will you work to build them up instead of put them down?”

5th Grade Teaching Cues

Competition: “Whether your group is ahead or behind when our time ends is not important. How you handle it is. What are appropriate ways to behave when ahead? When behind?”

Positive Disagreement: “It’s easy to lose your cool. It takes courage and self-control to keep it. Can you settle your differences by listening and talking? Use rock, paper, scissors to decide.”

6th Grade Teaching Cues

Shares Ideas: “When we work in groups, do you pitch in and play a supportive role? Do you raise your hand and contribute to discussions? Offer creative ideas to your partner or group?”

Compromise: “If you have a disagreement during class, do you try and find a way to create a win-win solution that all parties can feel good about? Be the first to give a bit, and strive for an agreement that the other person is first to give next time.”

Provided by the SPARK PE 3-6 Program.  Click Here to learn more about SPARK 3-6 PE.



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