Spicing up Your Instructional Repertoire: Working Smarter, Not Harder

By Denyse Doerries, Ph.D., and Butler Knight, Ed.S.

February/March 2011 Link Lines

Research indicates that social competence, the ability to behave appropriately, communicate effectively, and make good decisions, has a significant positive relationship with academic success (Zins, Bloodworth, Weissberg, & Walberg, 2007).  Turn taking during group activities, asking for teachers’ help in an appropriate manner, and choosing relevant topics to discuss during a lesson are examples of social skills that enhance academic achievement (Miller, Fenty, Scott, & Park, 2010). At this time of year, when instruction is intense and challenging, student behavior can become a barrier to learning. Infusing and integrating social skills with instructional lessons not only improves student outcomes but also reduces teachers’ workload and stress.

Teachers can begin by examining what they are already doing to increase socially appropriate behaviors, and then strategically determine how to infuse attention to social skills into academic lessons. The checklist below helps with the review process.


For additional information on how to engage students in instructional activities, click on the following link to review Considerations Packets, Techniques for Active Engagement and Pillars of Support: Designing Positive Behavior Interventions for Students with Disabilities.

Two behavioral strategies that are relatively easy to infuse into academic lessons are prompting and specific praise. Prompts for social behaviors can be verbal or nonverbal, and must be delivered before the behavior is expected and provide clear, descriptive information about the expected behavior. For example, before a lesson is introduced, the teacher can describe how to ask for help by raising a hand. The November/December Link Lines newsletter article, Strategies for Teaching Social Skills in the School Environment, illustrated how social skills may be embedded within a social/behavioral teaching matrix and directly taught using social skills instruction.  When the classroom matrix is prominently posted, it can be used to visually prompt students to demonstrate the necessary social skills for the upcoming activity or routine.  For students requiring more individualized prompting of specific social skills, pictures of the student demonstrating the social skill can be developed into cue cards, attached to a “key ring,” and used by the teacher to prompt the student.  

            Figure 1. Raise hand to speak                                                    Figure 2.     Key ring. raisehad

For additional examples and instructions on how to create these types of cue cards, go to http://www.challengingbehavior.org/do/resources/teaching_tools/ttyc_toc.htm

To view teachers using prompting during an instructional activity and to prepare for a transition, click on the following link: https://louisville.edu/education/srp/abri/primarylevel/prompting/behavior

Research suggests that pairing prompts with positive reinforcement in the form of specific praise increases appropriate behavior (Oswald, Safran, & Johanson, 2005). For praise to be effective (i.e., increases both social and academic skills), it must clearly describe a specific behavior and occur immediately after the behavior (Sutherland, Wehby, & Copeland, 2000).  Click the following link to view demonstrations of the use of specific praise within a variety of instructional contexts: https://louisville.edu/education/srp/abri/primarylevel/praise/gened_lbd

Promoting generalization involves integrating prompting and praise into multiple social structures within the classroom (Maag, 2006).  For example, reading comprehension strategies are practiced through-small group discussion in which the social skills of talking and listening are explicitly taught, practiced, and positively reinforced. Cooperative learning activities structure student conversations and provide opportunities for students to practice social skills while receiving peer prompting and feedback. For more information on how cooperative learning activities were incorporated into a secondary English class, click on the following link: http://www.jstor.org/stable/820164?seq=1

For additional information on how to start incorporating cooperative grouping strategies into your daily instruction, click on the following link:

Integrating social skills and behavior strategies into the various instructional contexts of the day and incorporating the use of prompting and specific praise promotes more positive relationships between teachers and students and a more supportive learning environment (Gable, Hester, Rock, & Hughes, 2009). 

For additional information on effective classroom practices, go to


Gable, R. A., Hester, P. H., Rock, M. L., & Hughes, K. H. (2009). Back to basics: Rules, praise, ignoring, and reprimands revisited. Intervention in School and Clinic, 44(4), 195-205.

Maag, J. (2006). Social skills training for students with emotional and behavior disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 32(1), 5-17.

Miller, M. A., Fenty, N., Scott, T. M., & Park, K. L. (2010). An examination of social skills instruction in the context of small-group reading. Remedial and Special Education, 1-11, DOI: 10.1177/0741932510362240.

Oswald, K., Safran, S., & Johanson, G. (2005).  Preventing trouble: Making schools safer using positive behavior supports. Education and Treatment of Children, 28, 265-278.

Sutherland, K. S., Wehby, J. H., & Copeland, S. R. (2000). Effect of varying rates of behavior specific praise on the on-task behavior of students with EBD. Journal of Emotional and  Behavioral Disorders, 8, 2-8.

Zins, J. E., Bloodworth, M. R., Weissberg, R. P., & Walberg, H. J. (2007). The scientific base linking social and emotional learning to school success. Journal of Education and Pychological Consultation, 17(2/3), 191-210.