Cooperation: Teaching Social Emotional Skills

Teaching Social Emotional Skills

Teaching social emotional skills is really important for all students, but especially early childhood students. You can’t just explicitly teach the social emotional skills and call it a day – no! You have to give students time to practice these skills. How do I do that? I have a few ways.

For Example: Cooperation

Let’s take the social emotional skill of cooperation. First, I explicitly teach students with a lesson and with an emergent reader how students can show cooperation. I say that students must listen to everyone – everyone gets to have their voice heard and to share their ideas. Before just going ahead with their idea, students need to share their idea and then each other, “Do you agree with this idea? Can we try this idea?” If the students agree, they can try the idea out. If they do not agree, they can offer up a different idea. What if no one agrees to an idea? Students could offer to do one idea first and then try the other idea or they can do rocks, paper, scissors to see which idea to try first.

social emotional learning curriculum kindergarten

Activities to Practice Cooperation

So after explicitly teaching social emotional skills, I give students time to practice with specifically picking morning meeting activities that need cooperation to complete them. The first activity that I use is the human knot (FREEBIE!). For the first time doing the activity, I break apart the class into two groups to make it more successful.

If you don’t know what the human knot is, students reach their hands over into the middle of the circle and grab someone’s hands. TIP: Have students reach out only one hand at a time and then once everyone has someone’s hand, they reach their other hand out and grab a different person’s hand. This is to avoid having someone just hold hands with their best friend and not making a knot of hands to untangle. Once the knot has been created, students must be told that the goal is to untangle hands into a circle without letting go of hands.

Students should also be reminded of the social emotional skills to cooperation, which is especially important here because one impulsive move could hurt the person whose hand they are holding. Students should offer ideas of how to untangle themselves and then agree on a strategy. Monitor the students to make sure that they are listening to everyone’s idea before agreeing on a strategy. They usually can do this during the planning phase, but once they start untangling, students can yell over each other to make suggestions. This would be where you want to remind them of the cooperation skills needed. You may have to offer a suggestion or two if they are really stuck. After students finally untangle themselves, they can write about the cooperation skills they used on this free response sheet!

social emotional learning curriculum kindergarten

Another activity that needs cooperation to complete is…  well…  I don’t actually have a name for it, so let’s call it the Hula Hoop Circle Challenge! Students hold hands in a circle. The goal is to get the Hula Hoop around the circle. This means the hula hoop has to go over the student’s head and they have to step through it to send it to the next person. Students will work with the partners next to them to help them move the hula hoop. They really have to cooperate and be aware of how their body movements affect the people around them and it really takes some body awareness as well. Once students have completed the challenge, you can add in extra challenges. Students can try it without talking at all, or you can time the students and then try and have them beat their time.

Open-Ended Practice Time

social emotional activities for kindergarten
One partnership decided to build with lincoln logs!

When teaching social emotional skills, it is important to give open-ended time to practice as well as structured activities. For example, I give my students cooperative play time. For this, I actually choose partners for my students and I choose partners that they don’t typically play with or play the same materials. Then I tell them that they have to agree on what to play and make a plan before they start playing. Once they decide what to play, they can go play and continue using the cooperation skills we have practiced. I wander around the room and praise students for using the skills and support them if they are stuck on a problem. It is truly amazing to see them all engaged with their partners on an activity and cooperating.

After about 10 minutes, I usually end the mandatory partner time and allow them to choose their own partners. It is interesting that they usually are so good at sharing ideas with a new play friend, but with their best friends they usually slip back into the habit of one leader in the group. I try and support them during the totally unstructured play time by making sure that everyone has a voice heard when making a play plan. When I see students using the social emotional skills I have taught them, I make sure to praise them and share what it is they did to use the skill in their independent play time.


How do you help your students practice the social emotional skill of cooperation? I’d love to know! Leave a comment below!


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