College Awareness Week

Monday, October 14, 2013
While I was in the throws of coordinating and administering a standardized assessment to about 450 of our students (that was going to be online...for the first time...using only 30 computers), I learned that our district was about to celebrate College Awareness week and that every school had to participate in some way or another. College preparedness and development is certainly in a school counselor's wheelhouse, but I needed some activities that 1) took very little planning and 2) didn't require me to do anything in the classroom (because lessons for that month were already planned). This is what I came up with:

1. A bulletin board showing where various recognizable and diverse celebrities went to college. Under each celeb's photo is the name of their college(s) and major(s).


2. College facts on the morning announcements. I gave our assistant principal this list of facts about college to read each morning over the morning announcements.

Elementary College Awareness Facts Morning Announcements The Responsive Counselor

3. College fair t-shirt. Our district's school counseling department had t-shirts made up for our college fair. I was a little hesitant about wearing it (I don't wear many t-shirts to work) but the phrase 'got college?' written on the front sparked a lot of brief conversations with my 4th grade students about going to college, choosing a major, etc.

4. Classroom and office door decorating. Teachers were encouraged to decorate their doors for the college(s) they attended.

classroom door decorations college awareness week The Responsive Counselorclassroom door decoration for college awareness The Responsive Counselor

5. College t-shirt or college colors day. Our school doesn't have uniforms but we have a pretty strict dress code (essentially chinos and polos) so days where students get a break from this are exciting. There was unfortunately low participation in this because most of our students' parents did not attend college. I've decided next year we should make it college t-shirt OR college colors day.

6.  Other classroom activities. Some of my teachers, especially the Teach for America ones, really jumped at the chance to include college awareness into their already packed days. Some of these ideas included: college discussion in morning messages, guest speakers doing college trivia, showing the Monsters University trailer, and students filling out faux college apps.

elementary college awareness activities
elementary college application, college awareness elementary college awareness activitieselementary college awareness activities

I'm bummed sometimes that I can't do more college related (limited time, students have much more pressing needs) but I figure some exposure is better than no exposure to college/university.

*I've been asked a few times about the college application template. The one pictured above was a 'hand me down' from a hard copy. I do have two versions (upper and lower elementary) in my College Week Activity pack - click the image below to see more details.*


'Growing Up With a Bucket Full of Happiness' Book Review

Tuesday, October 8, 2013
                                                                                          This post contains affiliate links.

Like many other counselors (or people in general), I went gaga for bucket filling. I used How Full is Your Bucket? and Have You Filled a Bucket Today? with my classes last year and they were a hit. I bought Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness: Three Rules for a Happier Life when I needed something for my 4th graders that are already familiar with the other books.

                                                           Elementary counselor's review of Growing up with a bucket full of happiness.


Roxanne's review at Books That Heal Kids is where I first heard about the book - she lists the different topics/chapters that I will add here. Her review (and the reviews on Amazon) are all glowing.

  • BFF = Bucket Fillers Forever
  • How To Avoid Dipping
  • Accidental Dipping
  • Thoughtless Dipping
  • Selective Dipping
  • Group Dipping
  • Dipping on Television
  • Long-Handled Dipping
  • Use Your Lid
  • Use Your Lid for Others
  • Advanced Bucket Fillers
  • When A Lid Doesn't Work

I focused my lesson with this book on 'Using Your Lid' which is the idea that we can protect the goodness in our buckets when someone tries to dip. This is such a wonderful concept but the book did not do it justice. The chapter wasn't engaging enough to use as a read aloud, and it also didn't give concrete ways for students to use their lid (at least not clear and concise enough for mine).

The other ideas/concepts shared in the book are also great - unfortunately the actual content in the chapters is not as great and doesn't lend itself (in my opinion) to classroom lessons. I can imagine this book being useful when used weekly in the classroom, in a middle school where these concepts are part of the culture, or in a small group focusing on being positive members of the school community. At the time I prepared for my lesson, I couldn't find a single lesson online using this book. I may look again next fall to see if any other counselors are more successful with it than I was.

The lesson for me (no pun intended) is that there are definitely 'big kid' things I can do with bucket filling (beyond 'How can you be a bucket filler?') but that I won't be using this book to present them.

'Socially Speaking' Board Game Review

This post contains affiliate links.

A previous counselor at my school purchased (but never used) The Socially Speaking Board Game . When I was struggling to find truly engaging activities to do with a 3rd grade boys social skills group, I took a look at this game. I'm so glad I did! This game is a real win.

socially speaking board game review
Players travel around the board collecting little colored washers to add to their pawn. Here are the types of squares players can land on: 

QUESTIONS: Ask another player a "who", "what", "when", "where", "why", "how", "which", or "what have you" question
SHOWING EMOTIONS: Say "I have peas for tea" while expressing a specified emotion
COMPLIMENT CORNER: Give another player a compliment
SELF EXPRESSION: Complete a sentence about yourself
HOME, SCHOOL, OUT AND ABOUT, or SOCIALLY SPEAKING: given a scenario on a card, show or tell how you wold respond

Here are some examples of these cards:

Review Socially Speaking Board Game The Responsive Counselor

While in theory there is a 'winner' (the first person to collect all the colored rings), I've never had students respond to this game competitively. 

Skills Tackled:
-What to say and do in common social situations
-Complimenting others
-Asking questions
-Expressing emotion in your face and voice
***I also think this game would be wonderful for socially anxious/shy students.

The Good:
-Almost all cards are both developmentally appropriate and relatable.
-Every aspect of this game targets social skills.
-Very affordable
-Game activities match onto targeted skills (unlike some games)

The Bad:
-Takes a long time to finish the game (though students don't typically mind ending it before someone has officially won)
-Created in England so there are several words/phrases/spellings that are from across the pond
-There's no real aspect of "Why should do we these things?"

The Verdict:
One of the best social skills board games out there!

Data Wall Bulletin Board

Monday, October 7, 2013
I can't take credit for this awesome bulletin board - it came from our numeracy coach. What a fun and clear way to display data and goals for all to see! Under each bar graph is a key showing the % of students that tested proficient or advanced this first assessment and what % is our goal. Our coach will add to this after the next two assessments as well.

Bulletin board idea Data and Goals The Responsive Counselor



'Positive Thinking' Board Game Review

Sunday, October 6, 2013
This post contains affiliate links.

In my excitement to use CBT techniques - and my excitement to have funds to spend on counseling resources - I purchased Positive Thinking at my first school counseling placement (in a middle school). I wish when I'd bought it that I'd been able to find more information online about this game so I'm putting some up here so that the next time someone 'googles' the game, they get a good idea of what it's about.

In Positive Thinking, players move around the board and land on three different types of spots. On the red triangles, players read a thought and name the type of cognitive distortion. On the blue stars, students choose the most helpful thought given. On the green circles, students generate their own helpful thought given a situation. Most of these prompts are probably most relevant for 9-17 year olds, although they can be made appropriate for younger. I have the old version - I'm not sure what changes were made to the updated one.


Positive Thinking game cards The Responsive Counselor


The top of the board lists 7 types of cognitive distortions.

Positive Thinking Cognitive Distortions The Responsive Counselor

Skills Tackled:
-Identifying examples of different types of cognitive distortions
-Identifying helpful vs. unhelpful thoughts
-Generating helpful thoughts in neutral or unpleasant situations

The Good:
-Based on an evidenced based modality (CBT)
-Easy to follow
-The placement of the different spots on the board requires students to first answer many red (easier) cards before moving to the more difficult tasks

The Bad: 
-The wording of the cognitive distortions is well over the head of most of my elementary students.
-Not particularly engaging
-While some kids might benefit from being able to identify and categorize the different types of cognitive distortions, I find this part unnecessary (and time consuming) in school counseling.

The Verdict:
Not a bad game, but I wouldn't recommend it to elementary school counselors. It's better suited to ages 10+ in a longer-term counseling settings.

Fair review Positive Thinking game The Responsive Counselor



Some other CBT board game options that I've been eye balling but don't own:

Psymon: Suited for an older age group still, but it looks like a more engaging and fun option because it involves monsters and collecting cards.

Dr. PlayWell's Think Positive game (or his Positive Thinking card game):created for ages 6-12! If only libraries had board games you could check out to see if you liked them.

Color Coded Questions

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
This post contains affiliate links.
There's never enough time in school counseling. Never enough time to plan and prepare, never enough time to meet with students, never enough time to effectively use data...the list goes on. One thing I did this past summer to be better prepared for my individual sessions was create a collection of issue-specific color coded questions. 

Students pick one of several games that have colors or numbers or that you can put colored stickers on (CandyLand, Let's Go Fishing, JENGA, Chutes and Ladders, Connect Four, Don't Break the Ice, Uno, etc.) and they respond to prompts specific to their issue(s) as we play. The prompts are written so they can be answered  multiple times in different ways, so it's totally fine for someone to land on/pull the same color/number more than once.

Using kids games in counseling sessions The Responsive Counselor

I typed them, colored them, laminated them, then put them on a key ring that I hang on the side of a bookcase for easy use. 




school counseling issue prompt cards to use with kids' gamesschool counseling issue prompt cards to use with kids' games


Students, no matter what age, are always excited about getting to play a game. I've very rarely encountered any resistance to using these prompts while we play. In some games, the color/number chosen is random. In others, the students choose which allows them to direct the discussions more by selecting what prompts to respond to.

Interested in getting these ready-made? You can find them in my TpT store - click the pic below.
Any Game counseling prompts for elementary The Responsive Counselor

Classroom Counseling Posters

While some of my lessons are just introducing students to ideas or information, many of them are teaching concrete skills that I'm hoping they use. I start each lesson by introducing the students to the 'I can' statement. I also use these to 1) reinforce the fact that the learning we doing in Life Skills is just as important as the learning they do with their teachers and 2) because 'I can' statements are an important part of the learning language our teachers use. Some of the statements I've used so far this year have included:


  • I can show kindness by being a bucket filler. (2nd grade)
  • I can be a free fish when someone teases me (3rd grade)
  • I can choose forgiveness instead of revenge. (4th grade)
  • I can solve conflict peacefully. (all grades)
  • I can use an extended feelings vocabulary and cope with uncomfortable feelings. (3rd grade)

Unfortunately, one 45 minute lesson on a topic is usually not enough to lead to real behavioral or attitude change in most of my students. I am always hopeful that their teachers and parents will reinforce these lessons in the classroom and at home but I know it doesn't always happen. One way I've tried to keep our lessons in their memory after I've gone is through Life Skills posters in each classroom. After each lesson, I add the 'I can' statement to the poster. By the end of the year, each class' poster will have the 12 Life Skills they've learned. Here's one of our 4th grade class' posters so far:

Counseling Lesson Life Skills I Can Statement Posters - The Responsive Counselor

Simon's Hook Lesson

Many other counselors have already sang the praises on the internet of Simon's Hook but I have to join in. This month I used this with our 3rd grade classes to teach them how to be a 'free fish' and not get 'caught' when people tease them and it was a huge hit. Inspired by The Inspired Counselor's lesson (no pun intended!), I created this lesson plan. Not counting the review of our previous lesson together, this took 35-40 minutes in each of my classes.

The Lesson


Simon's Hook Lesson - The Responsive Counselor


Essentially, we read the book...

Simon's Hook Lesson - The Responsive Counselor


...watch the YouTube clip for Grandma Rose's story about the fish (only 1:35-5:40)...




...review the strategies, identify which were used given certain situations...

Simon's Hook Lesson - The Responsive Counselor


...and then do an activity where I go fishing for students and they sort their responses into 'free fish' responses or 'caught fish' responses. I walk up to each student and say "You're a little shrimp!", they stand up and give the response on their card, and then classmates use a hand motion to designate which type of response it was.

Simon's Hook Lesson - The Responsive Counselor


Simon's Hook Lesson - The Responsive CounselorSimon's Hook Lesson - The Responsive Counselor



There was no academic choice in this lesson so I incorporated movement. I did this with the students selecting a hand motion for 'free fish' and a hand motion for 'caught fish' that they used to show whether or not the response was biting the hook.

The Response
The kids looooooooved this lesson! My students go crazy any time we view any video and although this activity didn't have any points or winners or losers or goals they still viewed it as a game. I will say that students had some difficulty understanding that a 'free fish response' vs. a 'caught fish response' was NOT the same thing as kind words vs. mean words. After I did this with a few classes, I made sure to start explicitly explaining that a 'free fish response' meant the argument and conflict could stop (though the teasing might continue) but a 'caught fish response' continued the arguing (and then I did some role plays with this). This lesson would also translate well into a small group session or individual counseling intervention.

Hello and Welcome

Saturday, September 21, 2013
I've found so many wonderful resources from other school counseling blogs that I wanted to share what I've been doing with others so that together we can "work smarter, not harder". 

I'm The Responsive Counselor because my services are responsive; responsive to the needs of my school and students, responsive to the ASCA model, responsive to Common Core standards, responsive to district initiatives, and responsive to my personal experiences.

I'm also The Responsive Counselor because of my interest in the Responsive Classroom approach which I utilize in my classroom lessons and provide support to teachers on.


Some things about me...
  • I started as a child therapist employed by a mental health agency that was placed in a school.
  • I'm in my 2nd year as an elementary school counselor, working with 2nd through 4th graders.
  • I really, really, really love food, TV, shopping, and reading.
  • I live with my wonderful husband and crazy dog Delilah.
  • I'm originally from southeast Michigan.

Some things about my school...

  • Over 900 students total
  • Public elementary school, preK-4
  • High free and reduced lunch rate  
  • Mostly minority including approx. 30% EL
  • Located in a major city in the south
  • Our standardized test scores are low, we are constantly struggling to improve them


I'm so excited you're here!
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