SEL Lesson Plan: Problem Solving

Warmer: Cabbage Ball.

Teacher passes out two half sheets of paper to each student. On one paper, students write down one new word they learned from the last lesson; on the other, a fun word. Teacher takes one of the half sheets and crumples it into a ball, then crumples another one around it. Repeat with all the half sheets. You now have one ball with different layers (like a cabbage) to play hot potato with.

Lead in: My Problem Scenario.

* Note: I changed the seating arrangement for this into a half-circle so the students are close and facing me.

Teacher gives the students a problem scenario that is relevant to their lives. Mine was:

You come to class excited to learn English with your favorite teacher, but when you get there, discover the teachers have switched. This teacher isn’t as fun as the other one and you feel disappointed.

Ask the students how they would handle this situation.

Presentation: Stoplight.

Teacher draws three vertical circles on the board and writes Red, Yellow, and Green inside them. Explain that when a problem happens, they’re in the Red. Elicit what they think a person should do when they’re in the Red. Write down all appropriate responses. Repeat with Yellow and Green. 

Optional: Now would be a good spot to briefly explain some of the science behind practicing mindfulness, if you think the students are interested. Say that when a person is in the Red, they have a choice as to whether they will respond or react, become mindful or mindless. If they become mindless and simply react to the problem, they’re focus will be in the amygdala, where a fight or flight emotional response will be triggered. However, if they stay calm, take a breath, and think about what they are feeling and what is happening, they will put the focus in their pre-frontal cortex, where reasoning and problem-solving occur.

Pass out the Six-Step Framework for Social Problem-Solving, by Dr. Roger P. Weissberg. Students read aloud.

Optional: I had my students color in the stoplight for a little mind break and to sit with the material for a couple minutes.

Drilling: Categorizing Problems.

Teacher writes Mindful on one side of the board and Mindless on the other. Students stand up. Teacher takes ten strips of paper from the Mindful/Mindless worksheet, found here, and throws them up in the air. After papers scatter randomly over the floor, students pick them up and place them in the correct category.

Controlled Communicative Practice: 

Revisit your problem scenario from the beginning of class, modeling how to use the stoplight to solve the problem. This is the dialogue that I had with my students:

T: So you get to class and see that the teacher has switched. This puts you into the Red. (Teacher points to Red on the stoplight.) Student A what do you do?

S: Stop, Calm down, and Think.

T: Good. This moves you into the Yellow. Student B, what do we do when we’re in the Yellow?

S: Consider our choices.

T: Exactly. So, Student C, what choices do you have?

S: Follow the lesson.

T: That’s right. That’s one choice. You can do nothing, keep your mouth shut and follow the lesson. Is this a good thing to do though?

S: (silence)

T: If you feel upset, and you don’t say anything, will the feeling just go away? … No, it won’t. It will come out in other ways, right? You might shut down and not feel motivated to study, or you might say something disrespectful to make your friends laugh. So what should you do?

S: Tell the teacher how you feel?

T: I think yes, if you feel upset enough you should tell the teacher. But how should you tell them? What should you say?

S: We don’t like you. (laughs)

T: You could say that, Student C. But what would the consequences be?

S: (Silence)

T: Well, for one that would hurt the teacher’s feelings, right? And would it really get you what you want? Probably not. And what is it that you want?

S: (Silence)

T: You want a lesson that’s more fun so you’re more motivated to study, right? So, to get that, you need to tell the teacher how you’re feeling, but with skill. You might say, “Teacher, we really liked the way the other teacher was teaching. Would it be ok if we continued doing some of those activities?”

Teacher passes out notecards with sample problems on them. Mine can be found here. Students must run the problems through the stoplight.

Free Production: Real Student Problem.

Students must think of a real problem they are having and run it through the stoplight. Teacher makes sure the students know this can be a light problem, but if they want to go deeper, that’s ok too.

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