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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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How to Teach Social Skills to Gifted Kids

I am sure you have observed or heard other teachers talk about how gifted students lack social skills.  The stereotype is that they are awkward, withdrawn, aloof, and perhaps lack basic communication skills such as manners or eye contact. Well, in my six years of working with gifted children, there is some truth to the matter. Of course, I am generalizing, and I have worked with gifted kids who are exceptionally social, highly popular, and capable of conversing with the best of us. I have also worked with highly intelligent children, who have trouble communicating, relating, and demonstrating empathy.

Nevertheless, I think true education teaches to the whole child, and this includes addressing social skills or what is popularly known as social intelligence. The question becomes then: what is an effective way to do this?  While this is simply one approach, I would like to share an activity that has proved very successful with gifted students. Several years ago, I read a book by educator Ron Clark called The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck--101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers, in which he describes an event that involves having students practicing social skills in a competition called The Amazing Shake. Students hone their social etiquette by navigating an obstacle of 25 executives, who they must address while demonstrating manners, poise, and charisma.  I loved the idea and tweaked it to fit my classroom. Prior to the event, I gave my students a scoring guide that listed some 15 different social skills, such as eye contact, handshaking, smiling, questioning, and posture and had them study the techniques by practicing at home. I informed them that we would be having a competition to see who could get the most points in each of these areas (we know how gifted kids can be highly competitive—so this fed into their nature). To stage the event, I utilized the school’s gymnasium and recruited parents, community members, and school administrators and stationed them around the gym.  Each participant was assigned a role to play and provided a script in advance. For example, one person played an older woman, who was irritated because she couldn’t find her cell phone. Another person accidentally dropped her groceries. A third person played a man who was shy and quiet. The idea is to get the students to interact successfully with a number of personalities within various social settings. Using a timer, I gave the kids two minutes to interact with the adults, who also doubled as a judge and provided a score in each of the areas of the rubric. Students then rotated to the next adult. At the end, we added all the scores up and declared a first, second, and third place winner (you can provide prizes if you wish).

Overall, the contest gave my students a reason to hone their social skills and try them out in a safe, positive environment. A number of adults commented on how well-spoken and poised many of the students had become. This school year, I am tinkering with the idea of turning the activity into an entire unit, which could involve having students first research social intelligence and social etiquette and creating a product such as a book or video.  Lots of possibilities.

Thank you for reading,