How to Teach Problem-Solving

How on earth do you teach problem-solving??? I’ve never found a resource thorough but flexible enough for any situation.  I’ve created a “Problem-Solving Workbook” to guide you through teaching this complicated skill, but here is an in-depth look at how I teach students to understand, identify, and solve problems.

Problem-Solving Step #1: Language, language, language! Problem-solving is a complicated process requiring comprehensive understanding of intangible concepts. Do your students know what a “situation” is? Are they “aware” of what “caused” the “problem” and what “behavior” is required to solve it? And so much Theory of Mind!  The first ten or so pages of my “Problem-Solving Workbook” dive into the vocabulary, concepts, and figurative language required for solving social problems. 

Problem-Solving Step #2: build situational awareness. I first learned the term “situational awareness” from an ASHA CEU article by Sarah Ward.  She has broken down situational awareness in her fabulous “STOP and Read the Room” curriculum as it pertains to executive functioning. In my “Problem-Solving Workbook,” I’ve highlighted the social element: understanding the relationship with and expectations of the other people in a situation. Anything social implies there are MANY factors to consider when trying to understand what the heck is going on!

Problem-Solving Step #3:  My “Problem-Solving Organizer” (included in the workbook) helps our methodical thinkers to break down a problem and generate a solution.  First the students identify relevant factors in the situation, especially the social ones. Next they identify what went wrong, what they didn’t like, or what didn’t meet their expectations. Then they select what type of solution they need to remediate the situation (ignore it, be flexible, talk to an adult, etc.).  Finally students implement their solution plan. There is also room on the organizer to summarize what they learned in THIS situation so they can apply it to similar situations in the future.

Problem-Solving Step #4: Solving problems in hypothetical but life-like situations.  Often the materials I’ve found for problem-solving focus on this step without linking it to understanding problems or applying what they’ve learned.  That said, it is still an important step and my workbook includes 26 stories of varying complexity and topics to give students practice applying these skills.

Problem-Solving Step #5: Application.   Many of my students are happy to solve someone else’s problems and VERY resistant to talking about their own.  The “Problem-Solving Organizer” and hypothetical stories all contain prompts to get kids thinking about what factors make them similar to those they’ve experienced in real life and how to apply what they’ve learned in their real problems.

I hope this has been helpful to you in your practice and definitely check out my “Problem-Solving Workbook” on TpT!

Author Info

Danielle Nichols

A speech-language pathologist in Centennial, Colorado dedicated to helping kids and adolescents improve their social communication skills.

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