Social Skills: Following the rules

Social Skills: Following the rules

Tips from a Speechie

All games have rules and these enable everyone to participate and enjoy. Without rules, there are no clear expectations of how to play a game, what is or isn’t acceptable, and what constitutes as success (winning or losing). Rules provide a structure, framework and a common language for everyone to have an equal opportunity to participate. Being able to understand and follow the rules of a game is a key social skill that all children must learn. Children who have difficulties with this will often become socially isolated: they are the independent players in the yard; the ones who are continually excluded from games, and; the ones who are picked last. Being able to understand and follow the rules of a game is essential to building and maintaining friendships; no one wants to play with the child who keeps changing the rules to meet their own agenda.

Focusing on following the rules in games also provides children with the opportunity to practice a number of higher order thinking skills, such as problem solving, conflict resolution, and narrative language. What will they do if people want to play a different game, someone doesn’t follow the rules, or someone doesn’t know how to play the game? Although focusing on teaching a game and the rules of that game seems simple, it actually places them under significant cognitive load – there are so many things for them to think about and consider.

Of course, there are hundreds of different games that children can play! I have tried to choose a range of games, one that I feel vary in complexity, offer some much needed movement for the school day, and can be easily transferred to the yard at recess. Similar to my last blog on ‘Taking Turns and Sharing’, I will be using the structure of a Warm Up, Main Activity and a Cool Down.

Warm Up

In the warm up I define the aim of the lesson, define the key terminology, and introduce the expected language. This can be done through a brain storming activity, giving a verbal explanation or reading a social story. For example, you could use a script such as:

Today are we going to practice following the rules of a game. Rules are important because they allow everyone to know how to play. If you don’t know the rules, you can ask. If someone isn’t following the rules, you can remind them about the rules of that game. When we follow the rules of a game, everyone can have fun!

To finish off the warm up, I like to do a quick engagement activity such as singing a song or watching a short video clip about the topic. I find partner action songs such as ‘Row row row your boat’, ‘Wash the dishes, dry the dishes’ and ‘A sailor went to sea, sea, sea’ are a great introduction to following rules. Remember, the engagement activity should only be short and reinforce the skills of following the rules of a game.

Main Activity

The main activity should focus on practicing the skills of following the rules of a game. I like to divide the main activity into two sections. First, I like to play a game that they already know. I allow the students to collectively choose a game that they would like to play and then get them to explain how that game is played. I try to let the students do this independently, but will step in to help and model strategies are required. Second, I like to introduce and play a new game. Once I have explained the game, I try to allow the students to play independently, but will step in to model how to deal with difficulties that may arise.

  • Ship, Shore, Shark
    - There are three lines, each one labelled either ship, shore or shark. One person calls out one of these as an instruction and all the students much run to that line.
    - Once the students are able to do that, I add in additional instructions for each location:
    Ship – scrub the deck (get on their hands and knees and pretend to scrub the deck), captain’s coming (stand to attention and salute), and climb the rigging (pretend to climb)
    Shore – sun bake (sit down and pretend to put sunscreen on), crab (move around like a crab), and sandcastle (pretend to build a sandcastle).
    Shark – man over board (pretend to throw out a rope and pull it back to the boat), life raft (sit down and pretend to row), and escpae (lay on stomach and swim away)
  • Jungle Run
    - This game is more commonly known as ‘follow the leader’. I find if I tells students we are going to play follow the leader, they roll their eyes and tell me it’s baby-ish. But, if I say we are going on a Jungle Run, the game is all of a sudden transformed.
    - Students are told they are going to explore the jungle. They stand in a line and they must copy exactly what the person in front of them is doing, to ensure they stay safe (they don’t get eaten by any wild animals or sink in the quick sand). When the leader (or teacher) calls “swap”, the leader must drop to the back of the line and the next person in line becomes the leader.
    - I like to take the first turn of being leader to try and set the mood and engage their imagination. I act out a range of activities that are related to the jungle: swing like monkey across the monkey bars, pound my chest like a gorilla at the top of the jungle gym, balance on logs or support beams like it’s a bridge, etc. When I’m silly, I find the students are much more likely to be silly to, making for a much more enjoyable game!
    - I also like to add in a few extra calls. “Rewind” means everyone has to start doing everything in reverse; “Fast forward” means everyone has to speed up what they are doing; “Pause” means everyone has to freeze in their current position (great opportunity to take a photo), and; “Slow mo” means everyone has to go at super slow speed.
  • Fly  
    - For this game, you need 6 cricket wickets, skipping ropes or sticks. They are laid out to create a ladder, spaced wide enough that a foot can fit between each ‘rung’.
    - Students stand in a line and take turns going through the ladder. Only one foot is allowed between each rung of the ladder, and students are not allowed to touch the run or they are eliminated.
    - The last person in the line is called the ‘fly’. When they reach the final rung of the ladder they must ‘fly’ (that is step or leap) as far as they can. They then choose a rung of the ladder to be placed where they landed. However, they cannot move the first or the last rung.
    - Students keep going through the ladder getting eliminated if they touch a rung or use two steps to clear a rung.
    - If the ‘fly’ is eliminated, the person who is at the end of the line becomes the new fly.
  • Ball bounce
    - This game requires significant coordination and listening skills. Children are in partners and each partner needs a tennis ball. One person is the ‘caller’ and they call out the directions.
    -  There are a number of calls. “Throw” means throw the ball to partner; “Toss” means toss the ball up and catch it; “Bounce” means bounce the ball and catch it; and “Bounce to partner means bounce the ball to your partner”.
    - The caller will give these instructions in a pattern e.g., toss, toss, bounce, throw, toss, bounce to partner. The partners have to listen and follow that instruction, without dropping the ball or getting the pattern wrong.
    - When students have mastered this, additional calls can be added: “Left hand” means you can only use your left hand to throw and catch; “Right hand” means you can only use your right hand to throw and catch; “Right leg” means you have to stand on your right leg when you have the ball (you can relax when your partner has the ball); “Left leg” means you have to stand on you left leg when you have the ball; “Both hands” means you can use either hand, and; “Both legs” means you can stand on both legs.
    - This can either be done as a challenge, where it is just enjoyable to try and complete the challenge. Alternatively, students might like to be competitive and use an elimination or a points system to determine a winner.
  • Helicopter
    - This is a simple game that requires a skipping rope. One person is the helicopter. They stand in the middle holding one end of the skipping rope and spin around. This creates the blade of the helicopter. The remaining students stand in a circle and have to jump over the helicopter blade.
    - Student in the middle can increase the speed and height of the helicopter blade to modify the difficulty.
    - If a student doesn’t clear the blade they then become the helicopter.
    - Students can set challenges to see how may rotations they can get through or they can play to elimination.

Cool Down

The cool down provides an opportunity for reflection and consolidation. I ask students to tell me what skill they practiced (following the rules of a game) and ask them to talk about the experience; was it easy or hard, did they encounter any difficulties, what will they remember to do next time, etc. If I have time and access to the technology, I like to take pictures throughout the session and show them to the students as a tool to generate discussion; what was happening here, were you following the rules, etc. Finally, I would quickly recap the games that they had learned so far.

To further extend the concept of following the rules of games, I like to put some of the responsibility back on the students. I do this by getting them to have some input and ownership of the game. Once they are familiar with the game, I get them to think about some extra rules we could add that would make the game more interesting. We then try out these suggestions and decide if they work. This can be a lot of fun and better yet, the next time we come to play the game, the children have to discuss which rules they are going to include.

To further extend children’s concepts of following the rules of games, I like to get them to work in pairs or small groups and develop their own games. They have to develop the game, identify the rules, name it, trial it in their group, make any changes, and then teach it to the class. This can be difficult and may require some ‘in the moment’ rules to be added, deleted or modified, but is a great way for children to understand the importance of rules.

By working on following the rules, we are building students capacities to problem solve, resolve conflict, concentrate and attend, give explanations, and build and maintain friendships. And best of all, it’s fun; learning is best done when it’s fun!

By explicitly teaching students to follow the rules of games, we are setting them up to succeed.


If you are interested in finding out more about evidence-based practice in education take a look at our free publication available on iBooks.


© EBP Education Pty Ltd 2018 - All rights reserved