One of my favorite questions to ask fellow counselors is which tier of counseling they personally prefer/enjoy the most. More often than not, votes are mostly cast in favor of group and individual sessions as compared to tier 1 class lessons. Given that school counselors don't typically come with any teaching experience, it is not surprising that many counselors do not feel fully equipped to handle this part of their job, and even when they eventually get the hang of it, many are still left wondering how to liven up guidance lessons. If this sounds like you, here are a few tips that should help.

1. Pick relevant topics

Have you, like me, ever wondered how fantastic it would've been if we were taught classroom management strategies at grad school? To be honest, it took me a while to have good classroom management and facilitate an effective guidance lesson simultaneously. But with time and a fair amount of trial and error, I was able to navigate both. So I completely understand when fellow counselors tell me they're not sure of what topics to teach in the classroom, what should be the scope and sequence when teaching a unit, and most importantly, how to make it interesting.

My first suggestion would be to choose topics of relevance. If you aren't new to the job, you are already aware of some of the common issues each grade level deals with, therefore, start with what you have. Go by what you've done before that was required and that benefitted your students in the past years. Next, since you aren't always in the classroom, ask teachers to fill out this Needs Assessment Form to crowdsource topics you should be teaching. Of course, there will be times when as-needed lessons are required. Don't forget to schedule lessons that go with what is happening at that time of the year, such as a lesson on friendship or empathy around Valentine's Day or a Bullying Prevention lesson in October. Need help getting started with guidance lessons? Check out this bundle of editable classroom guidance lessons.

2. Incorporate a variety of elements

Do you think you cater to the different learning styles in your classroom? Are your lessons completely teacher-led? Do you incorporate movement-based activities in your lessons? Have you had students lose focus or interest halfway through your lesson?

Lesson Plan Guide

Lesson planning is time-consuming, for sure, and planning a meaningful and engaging lesson can be quite a task. This is why I have created an infographic guide. All you need to do is choose one item under each column and that will give you the head start that you need!

3. Use videos to drive home the point visually

I've always enjoyed supplementing my class lessons with videos. Try using a video at the beginning of a lesson as a sneak peek of the topic. It gets the kids attention and also has them bouncing off ideas of what they think you might be teaching them that day. Videos are great for your audio-visual learners. I love how meaningful discussions can stem from watching a video together. My guidance lessons have at least one relevant video included in each of them. For example, when teaching my 3rd graders about self-regulation, I like to use a short clip from the Disney movie 'Inside Out' to show how quickly Riley's emotions change in different situations.

Looking for a comprehensive topic-based list you could use with your kiddos? Check out my School Counseling Video Resource Guide.

4. Pick up a relevant book

Read-alouds work like a charm, especially with younger learners. Books are great for aiding students in processing strong emotions, learning various social skills, and practicing positive character traits. Some of my favorite SEL authors include Julia Cook, Jeanne Willis, Bryan Smith, and Jory John. If you're an elementary counselor and are looking for recommendations to stock up your SEL library, here are my favorite read-alouds that support a plethora of topics.

5. Engage in role-plays and charades

Movement and modeling! I absolutely love this combination, which is also why role-plays and charades are such a great way to bring more life into classroom guidance lessons.

When it comes to teaching students how to use Kelso's Choices or I-Statements, you could divide the class into smaller groups and have students enact/role-play the scenario you give them along with a resolution/strategy that they can come up with on their own/a strategy you have explicitly taught them to use. This is an easy way for students to learn how to put theory into practice!

Charades are so much fun and I especially suggest incorporating this activity when teaching self-regulation strategies or even in a lesson on mindfulness. Students take turn acting out a specific strategy and the rest of the class gets to guess which one it is. You can then have this lead to a discussion about who has used this strategy before and ask the students if it has worked or not for them individually.

6. Embrace escape rooms

Escape rooms have been a recent trend among educators across the world, and for all the right reasons! They are super engaging and fun. By using problem-solving skills and working as a team to find a solution to puzzles, you can teach a power-packed guidance lesson on literally any SEL/counseling topic. Escape rooms are a great way to engage your students, manage behaviors, and appeal to different learning styles.


While escape rooms challenges are fun to set up, I will admit they are extremely time-consuming to prep if you have to start from scratch. Not sure how to set these up and run them? Check out my Escape Room Guidance Lesson Bundle. 

7. Utilize digital resources

Despite being back on campus, many counselors continue to enjoy using tech in their teaching of guidance lessons. Students also almost always enjoy digital tools and resources in their everyday learning. Some of my favorite digital resources are my Boom Cards Bundle and my jeopardy-inspired Meet the Counselor Digital Game Show.  

Whether you project the resource for the whole class to view or have students undertake an activity on their own devices, it’s always a great idea to infuse technology into your tier 1 lessons.

8. Take it outdoors

Some lessons are better taught outdoors than indoors, right? If you’re teaching a topic that doesn’t require tech tools or you need more physical space to drive home an important point, or you feel your students would better grasp what you’re teaching on the playground or on the lawn than in the classroom, my advice would be to take your lesson outdoors. It could be for a lesson on mindfulness which might involve a guided meditation, a rainbow walk, or even a scavenger hunt. Try teaching personal space and body safety with hula hoops outside. Conflict resolution strategies can be modeled and practiced on the playground where most problems occur. 

How do you liven up your guidance lessons? What is a new strategy you might try? I’d love to know in the comments. 


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