A notable benefit of the Strong Teens curriculum is its versatility. Users can take advantage of the scripted lessons or use their own words. They can also supplement and adapt program examples to match the needs of their students. Based on feedback from users and practitioners, the following represents a sampling of activities and tips that have been found to positively benefit student engagement and application of programming materials.
Student Selection & Grouping
When forming student groups, consider the unique personalities, cognitive capacities, social skills, and social dynamics between proposed members.
- It may be important to include individuals with strong social standing to help facilitate student buy-in, e.g., those who are comfortable sharing ideas, speaking in front of the group, etc.
- It may be helpful to limit individuals with (a) significant personal conflicts or (b) who are close personal friends (e.g., BFFs) to limit the group from getting off course and/or shifting power dynamics between participants.
- The size of the group can highly influence the range and level of participation that individual students will be able to engage in. Note, the larger the group, the more "psycho-educational" versus personal/reflective it will be.
The time and place for your group is probably dictated by several non-negotiables.
- Strive for a consistent day/time to meet so that students can easily anticipate and come prepared to participate. Any changes in the meeting time should be provided in advance.
- Users have suggested that the time of day (end) and day of the week (Fridays) can be particularly difficult to engage students in group activities due to shifts in focus and fatigue.
Curriculum materials can be presented in a variety of ways.
- Use Technology. All program supplements are available as downloads. Also, timely and relevant video clips, images, and music are great ways to engage students in the program content.
- Lessons include worksheets and homework. Have paper handouts prepared.
- Homework. Depending upon the unique dynamics of your students, consider having homework to be completed within the group meeting minutes. For example, having students complete homework at the end of the corresponding lesson or at the start of the proceeding lesson. Either way, the focus is on extension of learning through guided thought/practice.
Splitting lessons. The curriculum materials offer guidelines for "Running Short On Time" and suggestions for segmenting lessons. When splitting lessons, best practice would be to keep the lessons as close together as possible to facilitate applicability to prior teaching. Some specific tips:
- Loop back to teachings and discussion that previously occurred within the lesson. Facilitators can either prompt student memory via specific components or have them re-review a previously completed activity.
- Have students "report out" what they remember from the prior lesson. This could even be a specific "job" that each group member has, rotated across lessons so that all individuals have a chance to participate.
Depending on the maturity and skills of your students, curriculum delivery (e.g., engagement, facilitation, etc.) will be vastly different.
The younger the student, the higher level of structure is required. This means clearly defined expectations that are consistently delivered. Furthermore, the ratio of physical activity/practical applications to verbal (lecture) delivery is pivotal.
- Include hands on activities whenever possible. Students will benefit from a multi-modal experience: seeing, hearing, doing, etc.
- Consider technology: videos, music. Whenever possible, loop in "high-value" characters from popular media/culture to facilitate relevance and buy-in.
- Consider older age students to be "guest" facilitators or helpers. These individuals will have high social value to the younger students and are great for engaging students in role plays, practice, etc. Moreover, these students can be great for informal "check-ins" with students as they see them throughout the school day, thus promoting further generalization.
- Consider having parents be "guest" to the group. They can offer additional examples and scenarios to build generalization beyond the school day.
Upper elementary and middle school students are adjusting to new responsibilities and have unique developmental considerations. Curriculum delivery will need to provide a balance between facilitator control and opportunities for individualization.
- Consider including a structured extrinsic reinforcement system to support student participation and meaningful engagement.
- Carefully consider those individuals who struggle with social interaction (e.g., comfort with sharing thoughts/ideas). Creating special job roles, such as homework collector or question reader, may help them feel like valued members of the group and ease their comfort with participation. For example, (a) homework collector, (b) question reader, etc.
- For small group work, provide a structured "selection process" from the beginning, e.g., counting off by 1, 2, etc. Students benefit from consistent but fair expectations and rules and are less likely to resist if you are consistent with your methodology.
High school students typically can handle higher level roles and responsibilities in group settings. However, when it comes to talking about emotions and feelings, they can also be highly resistant. Opportunities to build upon desires for control, allow for personal voice/expression, and applicability to real life scenarios are key for success. Consider:
- For older students, structuring the group as a "psycho-educational" class versus "group" may be necessary. This verbiage may be more palatable to students who are resistant to participating.
- Have students select special roles or jobs such as reading the mindfulness-based focusing activity and reading examples and scenarios.
- Link examples and scenarios to issues relevant to students whenever possible. This includes asking for their feedback and extending current curriculum materials, as well as generating student specific examples.
Today’s youth spend a considerable amount of time accessing media, including listening to music, watching TV, texting, and checking social media. Tap into this preferred medium by using technology to present lesson material as well as make materials more relatable to students.
- Use examples referencing all social media vehicles (e.g., Snapchat, Instagram, etc).
- Consider music for lessons and mindfulness-based focusing activities as derived from student driven selections (e.g., smart phones)
- Share common APPS related for personal extension: meditation, organization, etc.
To facilitate comfort with the mindfulness-based focusing activity, consider:
- Having students read the activity components
- Think about environment: body position, light, music, etc.
- Consider including popular figures and events from popular media. For example, when presenting "Thinking Traps," consider incorporating clips from popular television and movies.
- Teenagers can sometimes be resistant to the appearance of needing or accepting assistance with social-emotional health. Facilitators should consider incorporating personal stories and humor to aid buy-in and comfort.
For all age ranges, extension materials can offer opportunities to benefit engagement and generalization. Some user friendly resources include:
- Photos/Images: These can include anything from celebrities, popular movie/TV characters, animals demonstrating human qualities, etc. These are great for facilitating recognition of emotional states, levels of intensity, reading non-verbal behavior, and predicting antecedents and consequences of behavior.
- Music: Music is a great vehicle for talking about emotional states, physical reactions, and levels of intensity. In addition, it is a natural extension of the mindfulness-based focusing activity and identification of coping strategies, e.g., calming strategies.
Videos: There are an abundance of video (e.g., movie clips, TV clips, UTube shorts, structured presentations) options for you to consider. Practitioners have found them particularly useful as follows:
- Describing the cognitive processes (physiological) to experiencing emotions, including "fight vs. flight"
- Identifying emotional states, verbal and non-verbal behavior, levels of intensity, and problem-solving steps.
- Identifying "Thinking Traps"