Tips for Special-Needs Teachers | Social and Emotional Learning

Photo by Arthur Crenshaw

by Tricia Gomez

Let’s talk about the social/emotional developmental domain. (The five developmental domains are cognitive, motor, self-help, social/emotional, and communication.) Kids with autism tend to struggle with social situations. They fail to pick up subtle cues such as lack of interest, and they often understand words literally, missing inferred meanings (in jokes, for example). But that doesn’t mean those subtleties can’t be taught. You can help your students become more attuned to the world around them.

Tip 1
Make learning about emotion part of class. Ask: what is it? How can you recognize it? How can you express it? During warm-ups or circle time, have students sit close to the mirror. Call out a feeling and have them show it on their faces. Try excited, sad, angry, scared, surprised, shy, tired, silly, and happy. This can be a gratifying part of class, and it provides an appropriate time to stare into the mirror. Next, have one student at a time choose an emotion to show; the rest of the class decides which emotion the student is feeling. You can also add this theme to your routine by having students show different emotions while performing the dance.

Tip 2
Make class social! Warm-ups are a good time to work in pairs. Students can work on balancing while using each other for support, or play “Foot Phone”: have students face each other in a butterfly stretch, lift a foot to the ear, and simulate a phone conversation. Dance games are a great way to incorporate social opportunities. “Dancephone” (similar to “Telephone”) is a favorite. Have students stand in a single-file line facing the back of the room. Teach the student on one end a short dance combination, then have students pass the combo down the line. Does the combo at the end of the line match the original combo?


Creator of Hip Hop in a Box, Tricia Gomez is the global director of Rhythm Works Integrative Dance, which certifies teachers to work with special-needs students.