On the subject of social skills

Should teachers have to toilet train pupils, or is it the parents’ job?

There is an ongoing heated debate on whether it is the role of schools to teach students basic human skills; a bit of an academic question for teachers stuck in in the day-to-day mayhem of a secondary comprehensive school where kids are still asking for a pen with the phrase “Give pen!” Watch that quote and others like on ITV’s This Morning: “Should teachers have to toilet train pupils, or is it the parents’ job? 

Answering that question would send me on a rant, but as this blog is intended to provide resources for teachers vetting and implementing Cooperative Learning rather than political diatribes (Business, Gvt & Collaboration etc. being the exception that proves the rule), it suffices to say the problems described in the video are systemic, and not one we as teachers (or, for that matter, the government) can solve overnight.


However, many of us still need to teach kids who simply have no other place to learn how to communicate or behave. Social skills must be taught at schools, but not at the expense of subject matter with ensuing grade drops calling in Ofsted SWAT teams.

This is where you find one of the core strengths Cooperative Learning; since all teaching consists of student interaction, you don’t need to choose between social skills and proper subjects; from the onset of implementing CL at our school, social skills were integrated into every lesson. Catch1Partner, where students mill around to find partners and discuss and exchange materials, is an excellent example, implemented in every lesson to rote learn basic vocabulary. Ask any of my former students in their sleep “Will you be my partner, please?” they will murmur: “Yes, I will be your partner!” Day in and day out the drill was the same: “WE NEVER REJECT A POTENTIAL PARTNER” – it doesn’t matter whether s/he’s Kurdish/wears the wrong clothes/smells/kicked you little brother two weeks ago/etc.

Gradually more complex phrases are added: “Would you like to be my partner, please?” and the replies also get more nuanced as more understanding of context and appropriacy is introduced – “Sure!” – “Yes, that sounds nice!” – “Yes, I’d love to be your  partner!” –  “It’s sweet of you to ask, but Samir is already my partner in this round. How about next round?” Every day, day in and day out, every lesson, in every CL interaction pattern, whether in home teams, visiting other teams or open class – often back to square one.

Essentially, in the UK context, it’s teaching functional language to native speakers as if they were learning English as a foreign language. Teach them gambits to ask for advice on a task, ask for pens or scissors, ask for a compliment for work well done or a new blouse, ask for an opinion on a presentation – and teach them to answer these requests from their peers without being rude or insulting – and if they can’t, without provoking a fist fight.

Teach them how to praise each other as if they were rote learning nouns; “Good! – Well done! – Excellent!” Because these functions are used in REALISTIC personal interaction on a day-to-day basis, they gradually become second nature.  And don’t forget to demonstrate by example the body language, facial expressions and eye contact needed to support the phrases.

I mentioned in C? that CL could be used for for “teacher-parent knees-up.”  Looking at the comments in the above debate on parenting classes workshops, this would be a viable method to work with basic parent-child interaction skills as well.

Trading vocabulary flashcards during Catch1Partner – now with handshake .


So with Cooperative Learning it is not a question of subject OR social skills. As with Facts vs. Free Thinking? the question is once again:

Is it to much to ask for both?

Related post:

From Cooperative Learning of skills to Collaboration as a Skill


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