Traffic Lights

Traffic lights have a place in every level of psycho-social development. For younger learners, they can be used as a tool for classroom management and self-regulation. For adolescents, they can be used to teach problem-solving skills.

SEL Lesson Plan: Problem-Solving

1. Warmer: Cabbage Ball


Pass out two half sheets of paper to each student. On one paper, students write one target vocab word; on the other, a fun word. Take one half sheet from a student and crumple it into a ball. Then, crumple another half sheet around it. Repeat with all the half sheets. You now have one ball with different layers (like a cabbage) to play hot potato with.

2. Lead In: Problem Scenario


Present students with a problem scenario relevant to their lives.

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

Elicit how students would handle the situation.

3. Presentation: Traffic Light


Draw 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.

Presentation continued


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

Explain science of practicing mindfuless. When a person is in the Red, they have a choice to respond or react, become mindful or become mindless. If they become mindless and simply react to the problem, their focus will be centered in the amygdala, and a fight or flight response will be triggered. However, if they stay calm, breathe deeply, and think about what they are feeling and what is happening, their focus will be centered in the pre-frontal cortex, where reasoning and problem-solving occur.

4. Drilling


Write Mindful on one side of the board, and Mindless on the other. Distribute ten strips of paper from the Mindful/Mindless worksheet, found here. Students put their problems in the correct category.

5. Controlled Communicate Practice


Revisit your problem scenario from the beginning of class, modeling how to use the traffic light to solve the problem. Click here for the Q & A I had with my students.

Pass out notecards with sample problems on them. Mine can be found here. In pairs, students run their problems through the traffic light.

CCP continued: Square Speaking


In small classes, this can be done as a whole class. In larger classes, Pairs can be combined to make groups of four.

Student A asks Student B (their pair partner): What would you do if…

Student B answers, then asks Student A: How about you?

Students C and D can either summarize Students A and B’s answers, or be assigned to ask follow-up questions.

Students C and D then ask and answer for their problem scenario.

Free Practice


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

In preschool, many teachers use the traffic light to monitor student behavior. For example, the students names might be written on clothespins and clipped onto it. Everyone starts on green, but if they misbehave they must move their name into the yellow or red circles (self-regulation).

As students move through the elementary grades, the traffic light can function more as a poster, to be referenced when a student’s behavior warrants it. In adolescents, it can be transitioned into a tool for problem-solving.


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