Montana School Counselor Association







Purpose Statement


MT School Counseling

Best Practices K-12


Middle/High School
Laura Simpson - Elementary: Exploring Feelings
Read the book The Way I Feel (by Janan Cain, published by Scholastic) with the students. Throughout the book, encourage the students to tune in to the colors, facial expressions, body positions, etc. with each of the feelings. After the book, have the students return to their desks and pass out a blank sheet of paper. Have the students divide the paper into four sections with a black crayon. In the first section have them "draw what happy looks like." Encourage them to think about the colors they choose to use. In the second section have them "draw what mad looks like." In the third section have them draw what "sad looks like." In the final section have them "draw what scared looks like." If time allows, encourage the students to share their drawings with the class.
Bridget Woodbaugh - Primary
(Around Valentine's Day)
Fill a bulletin board with hearts on which positive statements about kids have been written as a visual reminder to be positive and kind.
Ellen Guderian - 4th grade: Anger
Draw a picture of your dream car. Discuss dreams and hopes. Draw a picture of your dream car crashing because you lost control. The dream car is you. The crash is anger that got away from you. Discuss how you can control your anger. Discuss ways to avoid crashing and the results of losing control of anger. The students must be able to explain their drawings to anyone who asks. Illustration with kids really drives home the point and gives them something visual and cognitive to relate to. Drawing allows us to see into their world when they don't visualize.
Crystal Thurman - 5th & 6th: Anger
Talk about what makes kids mad. With each comment, blow a little more air into a balloon until it is full. Pop the balloon with a pin hidden in your palm. Discuss the results of building anger. Using a balloon already filled with air, let a little out with each positive comment from students until the balloon is small but not yet empty. Stick the pin in the thickest part of the balloon. Discuss why it didn't pop.
Ellen Guderian - K-2: Sticks and Stones
Draw a heart on a piece of paper. Ask students to make negative comments and crinkle the heart a little bit with each comment. This visually shows how unkind words hurt the heart. Then have students say positive things and uncrinkle the heart. The heart still has wrinkles. Discuss how there is no way to completely erase the hurt of unkind words. Post the wrinkled and an unwrinkled heart in the room for the teacher to refer to. With older students, you could repeat the cycle to show how tattered the heart gets over time.
Joy Jones - Middle School: Anger
Tell the story of a student, "Jessica," whose family life was in the "toilet." As you tell the story, draw what Jessica drew on the board. Jessica was asked to draw a picture of anger. She drew the world being attacked on all sides by alien spaceships, tornadoes, etc. and called it Armageddon. When asked why, she replied that it was the end of her world. Jessica was then asked to turn the paper over and draw what was underneath her anger. (This allows her to see her more vulnerable feelings.) Jessica drew half a face with jagged tears in blue. She tipped the tears in red. Ask the students why she drew it this way? The tears were jagged glass and cut her. It reflects intense pain and agony. Then have the students draw their own pictures of anger and what is underneath it.
Laura Simpson - Middle School: Line Up!
This activity is a good hands-on way to have the students experience leadership and what it is like to be the follower as well as learn to communicate without talking.

Have the students stand in a clear section of the room. Explain that they will be given a task to complete as a group, but they may not use any verbal communication to complete the task. Then tell them they must line themselves up in order of their birthdays. Tell the group they may begin. As the group struggles to complete the task, watch for the following:

  • Who takes the leadership role? How do they lead?

  • Who takes the follower role?

  • How has the group decided to complete the task?

No doubt, there will be frustrations as the group works to complete the task. After a couple minutes, or when the group reaches a climactic, emotional point, stop the group and begin a discussion about the process of getting the task done without discussing how to do the task. Questions to stimulate discussion may include:

  • What ideas has the group tried?

  • Johnny, how did it feel to have Sally walk away when you tried to motion to her?

  • Who does the group think is the leader right now? How is that person doing?

  • What does the group need in order to successfully complete the task?

Using your own judgment, you may wish to give the group 15 seconds of oral planning time before beginning to work on the task again. Once the group completes the task, start another discussion, again focusing on leadership styles and what it's like to be the follower.

To take this activity a step further, have them do the activity again with a different, more challenging way of lining up:

  • Alphabetically by middle names

  • Alphabetically by mothers' first names

  • Geographically by birth place from west to east

  • Any other ideas you have!

This time load the activity by having the group choose a leader BEFORE giving them the topic. Or as the counselor, you choose the leader (perhaps someone with a quiet leadership, or someone very domineering, depending on what you want the group to experience). Watch for group dynamics the second time around and again stop and process thoughts and feelings along the way.

Lisa Held - Upper Elementary and Junior High ("borrowed" activities)
Group Juggle - Students form a large circle. They toss a Koosh ball around the circle calling out the receiver's name and making eye contact before tossing it. The receiver then says thank you and the tosser's name. The first round sets the pattern. The pattern is repeated, adding speed and multiple balls. The discussion afterwards, or between rounds, should focus on what works, what doesn't, and how to improve as a group.

Poison Peanut Butter - Students are divided into two teams. They line up on one side of the playing field and are given carpet squares - one fewer than the number of team members. They must get the entire team across the poison peanut butter field without stepping off the carpet squares. Fewer squares will make it more challenging. The students should be encouraged to work as a team to develop strategies.

Balloon and Beach Ball Activities - There are many of these. Some favorites are:

Moon Ball
Try to hit a balloon or beach ball the length of the playing field. Each team member must hit the ball once before anyone may hit it again.

Balloon Trolley
Students form a line and put a balloon between themselves and the person in front of them. They must work as a team to move the length of the field without dropping or touching the balloons. (It's always fun to have a balloon popping contest at the end of the activity)

Dragon's Tail
Students form a line with hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. The last person in line has a bandana tucked in the waistband of their pants. The "head" of the dragon tries to grab the tail without any member breaking contact. Processing includes how members in the middle decided to work as part of the head or the tail.

Trust Walk
Blindfold one partner and go on an adventurous nature walk. The discussion afterwards about trust and reliable partners is great.

Blanket Basketball
Students hold the edges of a blanket, place a ball in the center, and try to toss the ball through a basketball hoop. There are many variations to blanket ball, but this one is really challenging and fun.
















Additional Best Practices
Laura Simpson - Mine Field: Leadership, Followers, problem solving, teamwork


The group pairs up. In each pair, one person is the guide and one is the traveler.


Have travelers line up along starting line with their guides behind them.


The guides give verbal instructions to the traveler to lead them through the minefield safely. Guides must stay outside the perimeter of the minefield. Guides may not touch travelers.


If a traveler touches a mine, he/she is frozen and must be tagged by another traveler to resume moving. Frozen travelers must cross their arms and may not reach out for a tag.


Travelers are blindfolded and must walk through the minefield backwards.


After the first set of travelers has completed the minefield, circle the group. Process the communication and trust needed to successfully guide a traveler through the minefield. Inform the group that these mines represent specific hazards. These hazards might be:

  • associated with alcohol use by college students, or
  • hazards that would prevent freshmen from returning their sophomore year, or
  • problems that lead to burnout as a counselor, or
  • obstacles that would prevent a middle school student from graduating high school

Have the group brainstorm examples of these hazards (e.g. for collegiate alcohol use - missing class, unwanted sex, drunk driving, alcoholism, fights).


The pairs switch, the travelers become the guides and vice versa.


Some participants may try to jump or run backwards through the minefield. Caution the group that for the safety of all participants, all travelers must move slowly and carefully.

Some people lose their balance very easily without sight. Watch for unsteady travelers. Adjust parameters so they are more comfortable.


  • Any hazard that might prevent the group from reaching a goal

  • Life guides, people who give us direction

Processing Questions

  • Was it harder to be the traveler or guide?

  • What specific types of communication did you need to use? (Instructions, descriptions, encouragement, praise)

  • How did guides work together to have travelers tag other frozen travelers?

  • Who do you help guide in real life? What hazards do you steer them around?

  • Who guides you in real life?

  • What are the mines in your life? What will happen if the mines blow up?

  • What are some strategies to avoid mines?

Minefield Adaptations

Have 2 or 3 voices giving directions - Who can you trust? How do you know you can trust someone? Be the voice of doubt by questioning the traveler's movements.

Each student is given a paper cup on which to write one problem they might have to deal with in high school (drugs, homework, choosing a college, etc.). The cups are randomly placed in the minefield. There are many variations including having many students yelling directions to the traveler. The discussion can center on the importance of listening to trustworthy people and not being influenced by the group.


Joy Jones - Icebreaker: Rock or Feather
Ask are you a rock or a feather? Have students describe the qualities of both. Have students move to one side of the room or the other depending on whether they are a rock or a feather. There can be no middle ground for this activity. Discuss why the choices were made. How do rocks and feathers perceive each other? Discuss the positive and negative aspects about being either a rock or a feather. How do each handle things differently? This activity is designed to help students understand themselves and others.
Crystal Thurmond - Common Ground
Have the group stand in a large circle. Ask, "Have you ever _____?" (been to a parade, flown in an airplane, been bullied, etc.) After each question, if they answer yes, they are instructed to walk across the circle. This activity shows commonalities and opens communication.
Joy Jones
Hold up a pencil. All of the good things in life are on the left, and all of the bad on the right. Which half do you want to keep? Break off the bad part. You still have both good and bad. Can you ever get rid of all the bad? How do you deal with it? Which direction you face matters.

The wolf has two parts to his heart - light and dark. Which one do you focus on?


  • Pickers is a Thief (Primary)

  • Touching Spirit Bear (Middle School - multiculturalism, crime, accountability)

  • Fish

  • The Way I Feel, Janan Cain (Primary - emotions)

  • Simon's Hook, Karen Gedig Burnett (teasing and put-downs)

  • Glenna's Seeds, Nancy Edwards (random acts of kindness

  • The Very Angry Day That Amy Didn't Have, Lawrence E. Shapiro (anger alternatives)

  • My Life Turned Upside Down, But I Turned It Rightside Up, Mary Blitzer Field (divorce and custody)

  • How To Be A Friend: A guide to making friends and keeping them, Laurie Krasny Brown (Primary)

  • My Secret Bully, Trudy Ludwig (Primary - friends who bully)

  • The Recess Queen, Alexis O'Neill (Primary)


- getting it all done

- time for elementary

- making constant switches between younger and older students

- getting access to classes

- being relevant for teacher and student needs

- isolation

+ have principal schedule guidance into the classroom time

+ leave posters or handouts for teachers to refer to throughout the week