How to Develop School Social Work Lesson Plans

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This post outlines how to determine school social work lesson plans for the school year. This post discusses some of the most important considerations including: the role of the social worker, mental health supports, age/ grade level, mandatory lessons and calendar considerations.

3 faces drawn on chalkboard- happy, middle and sad with a checkmark next to happy.
Social work lesson plans that make you happy!

As a new school social worker, developing an intentional plan for groups or lessons during the year was really difficult for me!

First, I will need to take into account some very important considerations. Here are several of these considerations.

What is the role of the social worker?

In my previous school, the social worker worked solely with students on Individual Education Plans (IEPs). I was able to provide services based on the goals on their IEPs, and that helped inform my lesson plans based on the skills they needed to work on.

In my current school, where the role of the social worker is to serve both general education students and students with disabilities, the plans may look a little different. While I will still serve kids on IEPs with mental health goals, I may also include some of the students in general education in the groups.

Here are some common themes of group topics the social worker might include:

  • Anxiety
  • Bullying
  • Coping skills
  • Grief

What is the mental health support like at the school?

If you are the only mental health provider at your school, you might be tasked with teaching a wider variety of lessons. However, if you are part of a team of mental health providers, it might be better to “divide and conquer”.

At my previous school, the counselors had several organizational “study halls”, where they would help the students get organized and develop executive functioning skills. We also had a Social Emotional Learning Specialist, who would set up schoolwide social/ emotional learning lessons.

It’s always helpful when you can pair with other staff members to help reinforce lessons. Classroom teachers who are with the kids everyday can help build in some of the structures on a daily basis.

Depending on other supports available to students, lessons may change or be presented differently.

What grade level or developmental age is the target group?

In middle and high school, grade level is less important when determining groups. It is easier to consider if the students have a similar “off/ free period” or electives.

In elementary, it often works better to have whole class lessons or groups that are in the same grade level as the schedule is typically run by grade level.

Regardless of age, it is helpful to have students who are in the same range of developmental functioning. For example, if you have several students who are non-verbal, group lessons for these students may look very different than a group of students of the same age who are verbal.

Grouping students of mixed developmental stages can also depend on the topic of the group. For example, if you are doing a grief group, the students have a shared experience and it isn’t as important to ensure they are the same age. However, if you are doing an executive functioning group, it may not be very useful for the student who already has strong executive functioning skills.

Are there any school values I will be discussing? Are there any mandatory lessons?

It’s important to consider if there are any mandated lessons (like suicide prevention lessons, safety lessons…etc.). These lessons typically are required to take place in the beginning of the school year and will help inform how you set up your curriculum calendar.

Your school may also have values or topics that are required to be taught. These values can be infused into social emotional lessons.

Our school goes to an outdoor learning experience- Outdoor Lab- every year. I created this social story and infused the core values of Outdoor Lab (words in red text) as part of a lesson.

You will also want to consider any district-wide initiatives or specific curriculum you will be required to use. Typically, schools have resources available to support social workers in using specific curricula like Zones of Regulation or Second Step.

Holidays, School Events or Other Calendar Considerations

The school calendar can help inform when groups are held. But it can also help provide a starting point to the types of group lessons you might do.

As mentioned, often the safety lessons need to be presented at the beginning of the year, with several re-norming lessons throughout the year. I really liked this end-of-year safety lesson from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Other school events provide an opportunity for lesson planning as well. Homecoming, assemblies, or another type of change in typical routine can be great settings for social stories!

School breaks can sometimes be a source of anxiety for students, so it is important to consider which students you might make a point of connecting with during shortened weeks leading up to breaks.

Developing a School Social Work Lesson Plan Calendar

Now that you know some of the most important considerations when developing school social work lesson plans, it’s time to roll out your calendar!

Check back soon for a step-by-step guide to setting up the curriculum calendar!


  1. Gloria Baldino on June 30, 2022 at 10:39 pm

    I love this blog and your website! This type of support is needed now more than ever! You are doing noble and important work.

    • tesla on July 1, 2022 at 1:23 am

      Thank you so much Gloria! I appreciate your kind words and I hope my content will be useful for many people!

  2. Giovanna Bocanegra on July 7, 2022 at 2:31 am

    Great website, Tesla! So much helpful information in one place. This will definitely come in handy for many school social workers!

    • tesla on July 7, 2022 at 4:13 am

      Thank you Giovanna! Hopefully it will continue to be a helpful resource!

  3. Brenda Gullickson on May 15, 2023 at 11:52 pm

    Do you have a school social worker lesson plan?

    • tesla on June 1, 2023 at 6:48 pm

      Hi Brenda- sorry for my delayed response, the end of the school year was a whirlwind! I do have somewhat of a group of lesson plans, however, I typically change it based on the considerations listed here so it actually looks more like a “toolkit” of lesson plans and resources that I can kind of cycle through. I’m working on developing something for this site that is a one stop shop for all my lesson plans/ resources… but it’s in process. Is there a particular lesson plan you are looking for? Happy summer!

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