Classroom SeriesHow do you teach social skills to a group of students lacking the basic social skills to sit, listen, participate, and learn?

How do you get a kid to listen to you, a well-educated person that may or may not be of the same gender/race/socio-economic status as them?

This is the problem many teachers face today as they try to teach their students not only the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also the skills necessary to make it in life.

Many teachers are trying to reach across generational gaps and trying to find a foothold of credibility in the world of their students so that they can relate to them about the needs they have socially, emotionally, and developmentally. The problem is that the students aren’t listening.

Having marched down this road many times, I decided it was time to take a step back, look at how kids learn, listen to what kids are saying, and take note of what our teachers do best. What came out of this process was a two-part learning theory for teaching social skills that became the key to making LEAPS so successful.

The first part of the equation was to develop a teaching style for social skills: the pedagogical methodology.

This method is called Probative – Informative – Probative – Assimilative (PIPA).

This teaching method is the key to participation and credibility in the world of your students.

Here’s the method:


Probative – don’t tell your students their social deficiencies. This will throw up an immediate defensiveness and will cause your students to immediately tune out what you are saying. After all, you aren’t from their world, you don’t know what they are going through, and you are old! Instead, ask them probing questions and get them to identify the deficit that ultimately becomes the skill you are going to be teaching. Guide them through a series of questions so that they identify the deficit and they take ownership of the issue you are going to be addressing.


Informative – after the students have identified the problem, fully define it for them. Help them hone in on the issue by taking their identified problem and defining it in a way that molds it to the lesson you will be teaching.


Probative – once again, even though the students have identified the problem don’t just tell them how to correct it. Even though you might have the answer, you want your students to come up with the potential solutions. And here is the key, don’t correct them when they give a bad solution. Take note of all potential solutions, both good and bad, because the good and bad will occur in real life. Taking note of the suggested bad solutions also lends credence to the final step that is:


Assimilative – now we are moving to action. This is the point in the lesson where you work with your students to determine the outcome of each of the solutions they have offered. You work to the point of consequence for both the good and bad solutions and then ask the students to determine which consequence they want to live with. You are using the students’ identified problem and potential solutions to determine the consequences of their potential actions. In doing this, you have created an experience for your students because they have identified an issue, they have determined potential solutions for the issue, they have worked to the point of consequence for the solutions, and they have made a choice. It is their choice. People, even students, tend to take pride in what they chosen.

This methodology is all centered on the second part of the social skills equation that is:


You can’t hang a poster of a tranquil setting and make your students less angry.

You can’t put in a communications video and think that it will change the tone and language of your students.

You can’t hand out a hygiene crossword puzzle and think your students will smell better.

If you want to change the way your students are acting then you have to teach them in an active way. The passivity of lectures, worksheets, videos, and other static learning tools are not going to offer an experience to your students. Experiencing a consequence, even under the guarded conditions of role-playing and in vivo classroom activities, are still experiences.And your students’ experiences will be a determining factor in the way they act.

Look at it this way, a behavior is the action, interaction, and reaction to an environmental stimuli. It is the old A-B-C chart. There is an Antecedent, or provocative event, and the student behaves in a way that is either acting in accordance to the antecedent, reacting to it, or interacting with it. The Behavior to the antecedent will elicit a Consequence. If the behavior is good then the consequence is likely rewarding. If the behavior is bad then the consequence is likely non-reinforcing, such as a punishment or negative experience.

This is the basic scheme of how we learn from our experiences because our experiences become cumulative in what is called our “experiential knowledge base”. This is the place we go to, either thoughtfully or instinctively, to determine how we are going to act based upon what we know and what we have experienced. The way you will change your students’ behavior is to change their experiential knowledge base. The only way to change the experiential knowledge base is by providing an experience. The only way to provide an experience is by and through active teaching and participation.

To see this theory in motion, take a look at some of LEAPS lesson plans. They are available at There are several lesson plans for free. Try the process with your students. Invite them to identify problems and then work with them to determine solutions. Figure out together the consequences for their solutions and then work with them to determine the consequences they can live with.

Actively teach your students how to develop socially. Don’t rely on papers and videos, and lectures. Give your students the gift of knowledge by giving them an experience. Change their behaviors by making them think through the issues and make decisions. And then help guide them on their decision making process so that they can take pride and ownership in the final results. You can teach social skills and students will learn. You just have to respect your student enough to involve them in the process.