What Are They?

Prosocial teaching strategies are not limited to particular curricula or programs, or to certain academic subjects. They are methods and techniques that can be used in a variety of classes, age groups, and circumstances.

What they have in common is that, in addition to serving learning objectives, they promote social-emotional development and prosocial goals. When implemented well, these strategies can aid educators in creating a supportive, caring classroom environment and spur students to behave in kind and helpful ways towards each other.

To help foster cohesive lab groups in the beginning of the school year, a middle school science teacher gives students a contrast experience of working individually versus working in a group. Using straws, plastic wrap, cotton balls, aluminum foil, and paper, each student has one minute to engineer a wall with protective devices so Humpty Dumpty won’t break when he falls. Then, in groups of two, students are instructed to do the task again, but in three minutes. Finally, students are assigned lab roles (project director, materials manager, data recorder, and time keeper) and told to complete the task one last time. After each grouping, the students discuss what worked and what didn’t, with a focus on problem-solving skills, cooperation, and conflict resolution.

 

Why Are They Important?

Prosocial teaching strategies can create a more positive classroom climate and promote students’ social-emotional development, while also enhancing learning.

Cooperative learning enhances students’ learning and social-emotional development.

  • Reviews of the research on cooperative learning show that it has a range of positive effects for students: heightened academic effort and achievement, improved interpersonal relationships, and increased psychological well-being.
  • One of the reasons why cooperative learning works so well may be that it promotes empathy.
  • Especially when students work together in structured groups—with guidance on how to communicate and collaborate with each other—they not only perform better, but are more helpful towards each other and build stronger group identities.

 

Strategies that allow students to teach each other benefit both the givers and receivers.

  • As stated in a book on teaching and learning by McKeachie and colleagues, “The best answer to the question, ‘What is the most effective method of teaching?’ is that it depends on the goal, the student, the content, and the teacher. But the next best answer is, ‘Students teaching other students.’”
  • Research on peer and cross-age tutoring—in math, reading, and in general—shows that both tutors and tutees tend to experience positive results, including improvements in academic performance, attitudes towards school and other students, self-efficacy, and self-concept.
  • One study of cross-age tutoring in particular found that the program increased empathy, altruism, and self-esteem in the high school-age tutors.

 

Supporting student autonomy can also be valuable.

  • When combined with peer collaboration and supportive teacher-student relationships, giving elementary school students opportunities for autonomy and decision-making can help foster friendly and prosocial behavior.
  • Studies show that a more autonomy-supportive teaching style leads to more engagement and prosocial behavior (and less antisocial behavior).

Practices

Level
Duration
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A cooperative learning technique that engages all students’ participation through movement, discussion, and communication of ideas.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College
≤ 1 hour
Use the Circle process to encourage students to safely and respectfully share their level of understanding on an academic topic.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Students read a text slowly and reflect on its personal meaning for them.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Students explore their thoughts, emotions, or ideas by freewriting on a topic of their choosing, an academic-related question, or an ethical dilemma.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 15 minutes
Help students understand that mistakes are important for learning and growing our intelligence
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 15 minutes
An interactive learning strategy that helps students clarify their own ideas and hear other perspectives—while getting them out of their seats.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
A simple way to build students’ academic mindset, trust, and positive identity.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 15 minutes
Students reflect on how their science learning is relevant to their lives.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 15 minutes
Staff members brainstorm how they will intentionally model SEL in their interactions with students.
Adult
≤ 1 hour
Students discuss the SEL skills touched upon during the activity in which they have just participated.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson