How to Teach Problem Solving Skills Like a Pro
Problem solving can be one of the most difficult things to teach children. It isn’t super cut and dry, and often times it can be simple to explain, but challenging for students to put into practice.
Here are the different ways I love to teach problem solving strategies to my students, and will make you a problem solving pro.
Problem Solving Strategies List
- Have a script
- Consistency, consistency, consistency
- Kelso’s Choices
- Realistic & Specific scenarios
Before we jump in- I am going to let you in on a little secret. When I am teaching my students problem-solving skills, I am typically referencing one of two things 1) my problem-solving posters and scenarios or 2) materials from Kelso’s choices. Kelso’s choices is a FANTASTIC, concrete way to give students action steps to take when they are trying to problem-solve.
I highly recommend incorporating Kelso’s choices from the beginning of the school year, and consistently teaching your students how to use it.
1. Have a Script
When you are teaching younger students how to problem solve, it may seem like they should know what to say and when to say it. You ask them, and they can tell you what should happen… and somehow, when that moment comes where there is disagreement…you still are hearing that yelling and screaming that you were hoping to avoid.
Here’s the thing- students need more help with these skills than we think, and that is why I believe it is crucial to have posted scripts for students to use to talk through their problems.
2. Consistency, consistency, consistency
Yup, you guessed it. You can’t just teach problem solving skills once or twice, and expect students to have it perfect. Just like with a new math or reading skill, problem solving takes time. LOTS of time- and lots of practice. Any time you can, have students practice their problem solving skills. Teach whole group and small group lessons on problem solving regularly. Choose one strategy, and teach it as often and consistently as you can.
Also- make sure to catch students working through problems IN THE MOMENT. Talking about it after is helpful, but not as helpful as if you can pull students aside as they are working through a problem, and guide them through it.
Some of the things I tell students before we do a ‘Talk it Out’ is:
-When student A is talking, you will wait to speak. I want you to focus on LISTENING to what they are saying. When Student B is talking, you will stay quiet, and focus on LISTENING.
-Then, I will have student A explain how THEY are feeling (and not what they think the other student did wrong). Then Student B shares their feelings.
-Afterwards, I help the students lead their own discussion on coming up with a solution to the problem.
How do actors memorize their lines? They act out their script until they have it memorized. Give your students opportunities to practice solving made up, but realistic, scenarios.
4. Kelso’s Choices
I love Kelso’s Choices. You can access the Kelso’s Choices poster (and other free resources) by clicking here, or, if you are feeling fancy, there is an entire curriculum that can give you some easy, low prep lessons to work on with students.
(If you are someone who prefers to have things ready to go, this is for you. For example, look at this Conflict Management kit! Tell your principal and counselor how awesome it is, and see if they can squeeze it into the budget.)
I introduce Kelso’s Choices at the beginning of the school year. I have the poster hung in the classroom, we look at the wheel, and I play this Kelso’s Choices Rap for students. (It is super silly and engaging.)
Over the first few weeks (or sets of lessons if you don’t see students every day), we really dig into what each choice looks like and means. I also love the motions that this counselor adds to her lessons.
Then, we use scenarios to practice which choice we might choose, and why.
Lastly, we act out those scenarios, so we get lots of practice.
Students know that they need to choose two Kelso’s Choices to try before they come get a teacher to help.
5. Realistic & Specific Scenarios
Last but not least, make your practice scenarios realistic. If you ask a student what they might do if someone has something they want, or they want to join into a game- that is important. But really dig into the specifics of these issues when you practice. Think of every day scenarios, and don’t just practice the original scenario, but what happens NEXT.
What if you ask someone if you can join their game, and they tell you no? What if you left your homework at home and you already tried to call your grown-up, and they didn’t answer the phone? If your friend says something mean to you multiple times and you already told them you didn’t like it? I have a bunch of specific problem-solving scenarios in this product!
Be sure that when you have students practice, your scenarios are realistic and specific.
Overall, when you are teaching problem solving skills to your students, really focus on the specifics, your consistency, and regular practice!