When I transitioned into the elementary school counseling world, I gained three additional grade levels: 4th, 5th, and 6th. To put it simply, I was nervous. How could I motivate a student who already developed a strong pattern of defiance? How could I engage my students when “looking cool” inhibited their natural reactions? How could I foster relationships between peers when social groups seemed rigid and unchanging?
I knew I had to develop a strong rapport with my students, especially this population. I began a program called Counselor Mail, which involved writing a letter to every student in my school at least twice per school year. In each note, I wrote about the positive behaviors and strengths I saw in that particular student. This program forced me to know my students and allowed me to connect with everyone on a 1:1 level.
In addition to Counselor Mail, I worked with students individually, in small groups, and as a whole class. I quickly discovered that my students responded best to activities that stealthily eased into discussions, as opposed to jumping right into a conversation. The activities allow students to engage themselves in a safe way; they do not have to risk their reputations to answer a question or make a comment about the topic. Everyone participates in the activity, then, when the group has lowered their guards, students feel less insecure about expressing their thoughts and feelings. Additionally, activities allow for shared experiences, which can remind students of their similarities and create a more open, friendly classroom environment.
Some of my favorite activities include, but are not limited to:
· Watching a movie clip that illustrates a specific topic, then reflecting as a small or whole group. Technology, however simple, seems to energize my students, so I roll with it.
· Using doll families (yes, even with older students) to reflect on family dynamics. I used this in a small group session on divorce and my 6th graders really enjoyed it. At first, we all laughed at the image of“playing” with dolls, then the students became very serious. They looked at what they created, then discussed the similarities and differences with each other. Many students said things like, “I didn’t know your dad moved away like mine did” and “That happened to me too. It’s hard, isn’t it?”
· Games, especially in small group settings. I love Whoonu for “get-to-know-you” sessions, simple cards games (i.e. UNO, Go Fish, etc.) for relaxed conversation, and I even make my own board games to address specific topics. The video on the bottom right shows games that are more K-2 in focus, but could be adapted (the overall look, types of questions, etc.) for older students.
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