Materials, Social Skills, Therapy Ideas

Describing and Solving Problems: Emotional Regulation Activities


Size of the problem is something I definitely target in some way each week! I typically teach size of the problem using the following hierarchy:

1) Big vs small problems

2) Small, medium, or big problems

3) Five levels of problems

I move onto the next level once the child can sort problems into the appropriate categories with around 80% accuracy. Once they get to the five level of problems and generally understand each level,  I send home tons of carryover activities.

I always go back to the same point: that size of the problem is determined by four characteristics:

1) How long the problem will last

2) How many people the problem affects

3) If people get hurt from the problem

4) How easy the problem is to solve

Below are five ways I target size of the problem. Some of the material shown below is from my Size of the Problem Detectives packet that can be found on TpT here.

1) Visuals

Visuals are pretty much my favorite thing for all goals, targets, activities, and games. Visuals are especially important for concepts like ‘size of the problem’ because it is so abstract! Below are some visuals that I use when teaching size of the problem:


I use visuals like the one shown above for teaching and also for lots and lots of sorting tasks.


I love the visual shown above for when a student gets comfortable with recognizing sizes of problems and needs work understanding appropriate responses to different sized problems. This is when I have to remind my students that the size of the problem should not necessarily dictate the size of your reaction!

2) Card Games

My absolute favorite way to target size of the problem is by playing War. Anybody else play this with a deck of cards?


To play, split the deck evenly between all players. Each player flips over one card at a time. The player who flips over the highest number, or in this case, the biggest problem, gets to keep all of the cards. Play until the clock runs out or somebody runs out of cards! Winner is the person who has the most cards at the end of the game. Super simple, but it keeps ALL of my kiddos motivated. For some, we run a short obstacle course between rounds to stay active and regulated.

Note: If you have a case of the kid who makes every problem bigger than it should be, try switching the rules for War and make the smallest problem the winner! I had some kiddos trying to argue about how their problems could actually be bigger problems than they seemed which was the opposite of the point of the lesson 🙂

There are tons of other activities to play with cards including scavenger hunts, feeding cards to boxes or containers, or burying them in sensory play like shaving cream or beans!

3) Worksheets

For my super concrete thinkers, I use objective worksheets that will mathematically calculate the size of the problem.


I’ve found this to be super helpful for those kiddos that constantly disagree about the size of their problems. If sorting tasks are too difficult at first, I’ve seen success with using a worksheet for many different problems to compare and contrast how different problems get higher or lower scores.

4) Short Videos

My kiddos tend to think anything involving short videos is fun, fun, fun. So I love incorporating videos into my sessions to keep the motivation up! I have an entire Pinterest board for short video clips that I love using in therapy. Not all of them are for size of the problem, but many are! Check out the whole collection here. My favorite is called a short called This Side Up which you can see here.

5) Books

So many books can be used to target size of the problem as most books involve at least one problem! But, my absolute favorites are below:


These two books are perfect for size of the problem discussions. I love sorting the characters problems onto the visuals shown above and discussion the characters reactions to their problems.

6) Discussion, discussion, discussion

Simple strategy, but don’t forget about simple, old school discussion. After reading books, playing games, going on your awesome scavenger hunts, and watching all sorts of silly, short videos, don’t forget to make a connection with your students and really talk through their problems! Some good questions to get you started are:

-Why do we need to have appropriate reactions to different sized problems?

-How can you figure out how big your problem is?

-How can you figure out how to solve your problems?

-What can you do to make you feel better when you experience a big problem? What about a small problem?

-Are most problems big or little?

7) Social Stories

I love using both generic and personalized social stories to target size of the problem as well. This is typically the first thing I do (sorry to put it so late in the list!!) in order to clearly introduce concepts related to size of the problem.


The social story included in my packet challenges students to become detectives and figure out how to solve their own problems based on their size.


Sometimes, if specific problems keeping getting a rise out of my kiddos, a personalized social story might do the trick!

{thanks for reading}

Click on the picture below if you wanna check out my Size of the Problem packet in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!


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7 Comment

  1. Reply
    Suzanne Roberts
    February 24, 2015 at 7:07 PM

    This is a great post! I purchased your product and have used it with a few groups already but the additional ideas in this post are really helpful. I have been an SLP for many years and I love following all of these great blogs for new ideas. It really has made my planning so much easier which means I have more to give to my kiddos. Thanks for sharing and doing such great stuff!

  2. Reply
    February 25, 2015 at 12:27 PM

    I love this packet! I also love all of your ideas you have included! Thank you!

  3. Reply
    February 3, 2017 at 5:38 AM

    Such a great packet. Thank you for making it available on TpT. Your copyright notes are HILARIOUS! I am a general education teacher, but my second graders really struggle with this topic. Can’t wait to use it!

    1. Reply
      February 3, 2017 at 11:17 AM

      Thank you so much!! <3 Hope it helps your students a ton!

  4. Reply
    September 14, 2017 at 7:52 PM

    You are seriously AMAZING!!

  5. Reply
    October 30, 2017 at 9:21 PM

    Hi CF here 🙂 – how do you incorporate this area into a goal?

    1. Reply
      November 4, 2017 at 2:12 PM

      I have a goal bank on my site (use the link below) and it has several ideas that would relate well to this packet! Hope that helps!

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below.