Struggling with ways to get students engaged and participating in group counseling? Discussion starters are a great way to hook students in, reinforce group norms, and introduce new topics. They are also flexible so you can use them at any grade level.
Working in a middle school, I find that kids become much more focused and attentive when they have something in their hands when we are in a counseling group.
Practically speaking, having an item also helps our rule: One Person Speaks At A Time. My students know that only the person holding the item can talk. In addition, it helps me to know if everyone has shared their thoughts or ideas. I can look around the table and see who has a question and who does not.
These 7 creative discussion starters are my favorite ways to get students talking and meaningfully participating in group counseling.
I use a lot of question task cards. I’ll either have the students pick one as they are passed around the table or I will let the last person to share pick who goes next. My favorite task cards are my Group Conversation Cards because they have questions for five different group topics: study skills, self-esteem, bullying, behavior, and leadership.
Ping Pong Balls
But, I like to mix things up, so I won’t use task cards each time. I have a basket of ping pong balls (affiliate link) with questions written on them. These make great get-to-know-you icebreakers, but you can also add any question to them if you are working on a specific theme. For example, if I was talking about empathy, I would write questions like “What is empathy?” or “How can you show you are empathetic to someone having a bad day?”.
One of my favorite lessons, Enemy Pie, I use spoons with questions on them to discuss the book after it is read. Kids LOVE the spoons. I keep them in a mug and just pass the mug around the group and each student will pull one and answer it.
I found wooden dice in a craft store and of course, I had to buy them. They probably sat in my drawer for a year, but then I decided to attach scrapbook paper with mod podge, write questions on them, and then coat with another layer of mod podge.
I love to use these in my social skills groups and also with individual students.
With a group, I would have the students roll 2 dice. One has directions, and the other has questions. Directions include ask the person on your left, ask the person across the table from you, ask the person on your right, roll again, roll twice, or answer the question yourself.
Once again, you can have targeted questions about specific topics or general get to know you questions. This can be fun to talk about college and career options.
Popsicle sticks work well too. I like the tongue depressor size, plus if I ask nicely my school nurse will generally give me a stack!
I throw a coat of acrylic paint on them, write the question with a Sharpie marker, and add a thin layer of mod podge. I use different colors for different topics and the color helps me to pick the questions I want.
Fortune Tellers are another fun way to discuss topics. I used these just before state testing to talk about Growth Mindset.
Last but not least, I like to use beach balls. I can usually find them pretty cheap at Target in the Dollar Spot.
Just blow it up, write your questions in permanent marker, and toss! I usually have students answer the question that is under their right thumb. The best part about beach balls is they deflate and they don’t take up a lot of storage room.