How to Create the Perfect Environment for Your Social Skills Group

Ever walk into a room and had your whole mood change?

It's not just a feeling. There is science behind the how scenic quality directly impacts our well being. 

In relationship to classrooms, the physical aspects of the room not only change mood but affects student engagement and learning. Every discrete component like lighting, temperature, acoustics, decor, and types of seating plays a part.

For example, one study of 10-12 year olds has shown that the performance of two numerical and two language-based tests was significantly improved when the temperature was reduced from 25°C to 20°C (77°F to 68°F).

Additionally, “Active Learning Classrooms” have been found to enhance student engagement. These spaces are specifically set up to promote collaboration, encourage student mobility and remove boundaries between teachers and students.

They typically have round tables, alternative or flexible seating, as well as multimedia features. All of this combined, creates a holistic approach to learning and has been shown to increase student engagement.

But beyond that, there are easy things that you can do to set up your physical environment that make it optimal for your Social Skills Group.

The easiest way to optimize your physical space is to leverage the power of association.

In Applied Behavior Analysis, "pairing" is when you establish yourself as a conditioned reinforcer for the student you are working with by being the provider of things that are reinforcing to them. Over time, it helps you build rapport with your students as when they see you, they know that positive things will happen due to their past associations with you.

You can do the same thing with your physical environment.

You may not have access to modern alternative seating or smart boards but you have something even more important. 

You have the passion and desire to find out what your students love. When you discover what already serves as comforting and makes them happy, you can incorporate it into your space-non contingently. These are things they kids don’t have to earn, or work for. They just are.

Here'a a few easy to implement ways to have your space associated with positive things for your students.

Your smile!

Doesn't it feel great when someone is genuinely happy to see you? Make sure you are making a concerted effort to smile and greet each child in your group. They should always know that you are so glad that they are there.


Barring allergies and other food issues, snacks can work wonders. Something to munch and crunch on satisfies hunger, provides proprioceptive sensory input, and gives the kids something to do with their hands while talking or listening or conversing. This alleviates the awkward pressure to be making eye contact or constantly looking at peers.


 Music can be calming and lower stress. It can also make kids laugh and feel excited when they hear their personal favorites. Make a playlist of your students’ favorite music and you’ll see how they light up.

Strategic seating! 

Strategic seating is not the actual item they are sitting on but rather where they are seated in the room, the other students they are seated near or the space between their seats. Find out where your students do best and feel most safe.

The basic premise is simple. We want our students to internalize that when they are in group, they feel good. 

It’s that comfort that is going to lead the way for their participation, their openness, and their trust.



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Categories: : environment, pairing, social skills group

 I'm a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and former Special Education Teacher dedicated to teaching kids the 21st Century Social Skills they need to live happier, healthier lives

Diana Cortese
Founder, Teach Social Skills