Problem size vs reaction size is a big social skills topic and one that needs to be direct taught to many students.

Problem Size vs Reaction Size and How to Teach It

Problem size vs reaction size is a big social skills topic. It is important for people to have a problem and reaction size that match to be successful in many aspects of life. 

Let’s get into the basics of the size of problem size of reaction as it relates to social emotional learning. 

Problem Size Is Defined As

When looking at this social/emotional skill, problem size is defined as how big of an issue is what is happening? 

I often tell my students that there are big, medium, and small problems. 

Big problems are those that need adult assistance and could take a while to solve. An example of this is a bully at recess that has been aggressive several times. This could take several adults to address –  including classroom teacher[s], recess supervisors, and maybe even the principal. 

Additionally, big problems using the size problem definition are those who might take several days to solve. So going back to the bullying situation, this problem might take a week or so to solve. Chances are many chats would need to be held with many people. There would also need to be some restorative conversations and reteaching of expectations. Social skills instruction may also be beneficial. 

A medium problem is something that would generally need adult assistance but can be solved fairly quickly. A younger student who returns to their classroom space after using the bathroom only to find the class is not in their room, is a medium problem. That student might need teacher help to locate their class. But, the problem would be solved in less than 15 minutes, making it a quicker issue to fix. 

So what size problem is a small one then? Small problems are things that can be solved quickly by the child themselves. This can be something as simple as a pencil breaking while writing or wanting to sit in a certain spot. Both of these problems can be solved easily by the student if they use a bit of flexible thinking

Problem size is defined as how big of an issue is what is happening?
Problem size is defined as how big of an issue is what is happening?

Reaction Size is Defined As

You can’t fully understand this concept without talking about the size of the reaction as well. 

Reaction is how one responds to something. In this case, there is a focus on making the reaction match the situation. 

For instance, it would not be appropriate for a student to scream aloud and throw their snack across the room if the problem was that they just didn’t like it. That would not be a matching set. Instead, a matching set would be that the child gets a different snack or asks an adult for something else. 

It is important that size of problem size of reaction is fitting. This allows people to be successful in managing their emotions. Especially since there are so many problems (mostly little ones) that we have throughout the day. If we had big reactions to all our problems, we would be exhausted halfway through the day. 

Additionally, others around the person also would know what to expect when reactions match the problem. This makes people feel comfortable around the person. It also helps to foster and maintain good relationships. 

Size of problem size of reaction relate and go hand-in-hand when talking about social skills.
Size of problem size of reaction relate and go hand-in-hand when talking about social skills.

Size Of Problem Size Of Reaction Examples

Here are a few more problem size examples. You’ll find a situation followed by the problem size as well as what an appropriate reaction size would be. 

Small: Sarah wants to color with the green crayon but Bryon is using it. A matching reaction would be that she waits until Bryon is done and then uses it. A response that would not match would be throwing the box of crayons on the ground. This would be a big reaction to a small problem. (Pro tip: Using a problem size scale like this one can be helpful in visually showing this discrepancy.) 

Medium: Barb was pushed by Serriena for the 3rd day in a row while lining up. This is a medium problem because it would need adult assistance due to it being something that has happened a few times. This is especially true If Barb already talked to Serriena about stopping it but Serriena didn’t. An adult would need to step in (with Barb having the reaction to ask for help). This adult would need to do some reteaching of expectations and figure out if there was a deeper reason Serriena continued to push. This problem size and reaction size would then match at a medium level. 

Big: Luis fell off the monkey bars at recess and can’t move his arm. This is a big problem because Luis is going to need to be seen by a medical professional. Meaning several adults are going to need to be involved. Also, this problem could go on for a while if Luis needs to be in a sling or cast. This may also involve more adults helping him throughout the day if needed. A matching reaction size would be bigger. He would need immediate care. Luis would have some big emotions (scared, worried, sad). Plus chances are adults would also have some big feelings – especially his parents(s)/guardian(s). 

These size of problem size of reaction examples help to understand this ide and show their important connection.
These size of problem size of reaction examples help to understand this ide and show their important connection.

Ways to Teach 

Teaching this important social skill is something some students may need. Direct teaching is often done in a small group setting. Using a problem size visual like this one can also help to reinforce taught concepts and give students something to reference. 

Check out this size of the problem visual to help students better understand this social skills concept.
Check out this size of the problem visual to help students better understand this social skills concept.

Direct Instruction

Giving direct instruction on this concept is an important first step. 

When teaching, it is important to start with defining what is problem size and reaction size. Then give students some examples. Examples are best when they are highly applicable to the student’s everyday life. See the situations above for some examples that may work for you and your students.

If you aren’t sure how to teach this using direct instruction, check out this resource. You’ll find a one page lesson plan all about size of the problem and another full pages lesson on size of the reaction. Also included is a great visual chart to help your students see the connection. So great to use as a non-verbal reminder down the road too! Plus you’ll get some scenario cards for student practice. Find this teaching resource here

This problem size chart and lesson plan resource makes teaching this social emotional skill a breeze.
This problem size chart and lesson plan resource makes teaching this social emotional skill a breeze.

Problem Size Activities

Posing different problem size scenarios can be super beneficial for students to practice matching the problem size with scenario size. 

This can be as simple as coming up with different situations that occur in everyday lives of the students you are working with. It is also a great idea to write different situations on task cards and have the student(s) either find the card around the room (like a social skills hunt) or just have them pick one. Then have them state what size problem it is and what would be a matching reaction. To make it even more advanced, have the student come up with several different reactions and decide which one is best. 

If you are looking for a done for you size of the problem scenarios, check out this resource. Find 70+ different situations written on task cards. Situations take place in several different locations, such as hallway, classroom, recess, and home – such a wide variety! Plus there are blank cards for each category for added personalization. So great for really personalizing if a student has a hard time in a specific situation time and time again. Simply print, cut out, and go – awesome for the busy teacher. Find this size of the problem scenarios resource here

Or if you love using technology (or your students do, hello motivator!), then find the digital versions here. These are in the form of Boom Cards. (Not sure what Boom Cards are? Check out this post to learn the basics and how to use them to increase student engagement – plus find a few free decks to get started.) Students read the posed situation and decide if the problem is big, medium, or small. And because Boom Cards are self-checking, students know right away if they are on the right track and you have no grading to do when they are done. Win-win! Find these digital task cards here: Size of the Problem Boom Cards (deck 1) and Size of the Problem Examples (deck 2). 

Problem size activities like these scenario task cards help students practice and better understand this concept.
Problem size activities like these scenario task cards help students practice and better understand this concept.

Problem Size Game

Playing games is a great way to get student buy-in. 

Practice this social skills concept by playing a bingo game using scenario cards. You can make a simple bingo card (or just use one of the traditional ones that can be found just about anywhere). Then make calling cards by writing a scenario on them. Make sure that each calling card has the letter/number on it that matches your bingo cards. 

To play, choose a calling card. Read this to students and have them tell what size the problem is. For a more advanced game, have students give examples of possible reactions. Next, have them state which reaction would be the most fitting. Mark the corresponding bingo square. The first player to get 5 in a row wins. 

Don’t have the time to make this engaging activity? Then look at this done-for-you resource. Simply print and cut out. This low prep game has 10 different versions of bingo cards and 30+ scenario calling cards. Students will love the real life situations and fun graphics that they match to get a bingo – and you’ll love how much time you’ll save while still teaching an effective social skill. Find this problem size game here

A problem size game like bingo is an engaging way for students to learn.
A problem size game like bingo is an engaging way for students to learn.

More on Problem Size

Looking for more on why size matters with problems and reactions? Check out this post with more information along with some great size of problem social thinking activities

Problem size vs reaction size is a big social skills topic and one that needs to be direct taught to many children.
Problem size vs reaction size is a big social skills topic and one that needs to be direct taught to many children.

Happy Teaching!

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Hi, I'm molly!

I help educators meet the diverse academic and social/emotional needs of struggling students so that they can focus on teaching during the day and enjoy life outside of the classroom after the 8 hour work day.

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