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Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS)

Ages 5-10

Rating: Level 1


The Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum is a comprehensive program that promotes emotional and social competencies and reduces aggression and behavior problems in elementary school–aged children, while simultaneously enhancing the educational process in the classroom. The PATHS preventive intervention program is based on the ABCD (Affective-Behavioral-Cognitive-Dynamic) model of development, which places primary importance on the developmental integration of affect, behavior, and cognitive understanding as they relate to social and emotional competence. A basic premise is that a child’s coping, as reflected in his or her behavior and internal regulation, is a function of emotional awareness, affective-cognitive control and behavioral skills, and social-cognitive understanding.

The PATHS curriculum contains numerous lessons (the exact number depends on the curriculum version) that seek to provide children with the knowledge and skills within three major conceptual units: 1) the Readiness and Self-Control “Turtle” Unit, 2) the Feelings and Relationships Unit, and the 3) Problem Solving Unit. The lessons include instruction in identifying and labeling feelings, expressing feelings, assessing the intensity of feelings, managing feelings, understanding the difference between feelings and behaviors, delaying gratification, controlling impulses, reducing stress, self-talk, reading and interpreting social cues, understanding the perspectives of others, using steps for problem-solving and decision-making, having a positive attitude toward life, self-awareness, nonverbal communication skills, and verbal communication skills. The curriculum is designed for use by educators and counselors in a multiyear, universal prevention model that concentrates primarily on school and classroom settings but also includes information and activities for use with parents. Ideally, the program should be initiated at the start of schooling and continued through sixth grade. Teachers generally receive training in a 2- to 3-day workshop and in biweekly meetings with the curriculum consultant.

PATHS has been field-tested and researched in general education classrooms, with a variety of special-needs students (deaf, hearing impaired, learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, mildly mentally retarded, and gifted), and among African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, Native American, and white children.


There have been numerous randomized, controlled studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the PATHS curriculum with various populations (including regular education, special education, and deaf youth).

The largest experimental study to date was conducted by Pennsylvania State’s Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group in the late 1990s. In this study, 198 first grade classrooms from high-crime neighborhoods were randomly assigned to use the PATHS curriculum, while another 180 first grade classrooms from the same neighborhoods were randomly selected to serve as a control group. While teachers in the control group pursued their usual lesson plans, teachers in the treatment classrooms delivered a 57-lesson version of the PATHS curriculum emphasizing self-control, emotional awareness of peer relations, and solving problems. The evaluators then assessed the impact of the PATHS curriculum on students’ social competence using three distinct outcome measures: 1) teacher reports (compiled through two structured interviews with each participating teacher), 2) individual sociometric interviews with all children providing parental consent, and 3) observer ratings (compiled by having impartial observers rate the classroom atmosphere as a whole on a scale of 1 to 5). Multivariate statistical analyses were then used to control for various differences among individual students and to compare the social competencies of students in the treatment and control classrooms.

More recently, Chi Ming Kam and Mark Greenberg used an experimental research design to examine the long-term effectiveness of the PATHS curriculum for special education students. In a randomized, controlled clinical trial, 18 special education classrooms (grades 1–3) were randomly assigned to either treatment or control conditions. Teachers in the treatment classrooms implemented a 1-year model of the PATHS curriculum, while teachers in the control group pursued their traditional lesson plans. A battery of sociometric tests and teacher reports was then used to assess students’ long-term emotional development. Specifically, the study tracked changes in students’ externalizing and internalizing behaviors, social competence, self-reported depression, affective vocabulary, and problem-solving skills. Data for all variables was collected at baseline and for 3 successive years.


Both the Penn State Study and the more recent Kam–Greenberg evaluation found generally positive outcomes for the treatment populations. In the Penn State trial, PATH students performed significantly better than their counterparts on the sociometric tests for aggression and hyperactivity–disruptive behavior according to peer sociometric reports. The PATH classrooms also received better observer ratings for their overall classroom atmosphere. Further findings at the end of the third and fourth grades indicated continued reductions in the numbers of nominations of aggressive behavior by boys according to peer sociometric reports. The study, however, did not find a significant difference in the prosocial behavior or teacher-rated behaviors of the two populations.

Kam and Greenberg found that special education students who were exposed to PATHS showed more positive, long-term trends in their rates of externalizing and internalizing behavior than students in the control group. They also experienced a sustained, 3-year reduction in their rates of self-reported depression. However, the study did not find a difference in the overall social competence levels, growth in affective vocabulary, or social problem-solving skills of the two populations. The evaluators suggest that the lack of an observable treatment effect on overall social competence and problem-solving may be the result of several mitigating factors: 1) the PATHS curriculum being used was a single-year model, which may be less effective than longer PATHS programs; 2) the curriculum being used was also an early version of the PATHS program, which lacked several key lessons on dealing with difficult peer-related situations; and 3) the instruments used to rate teachers’ perceptions of social competence may not have been sufficiently sensitive.
Other, earlier evaluations of the PATHS program have also demonstrated significant treatment effects in the following areas: self-control, understanding and recognition of emotions, ability to tolerate frustration, use of effective conflict-resolution strategies, and thinking and planning skills. Evaluations reveal decreased anxiety/depressive symptoms (teacher report of special-needs students), decreased conduct problems (teacher report of special-needs students), decreased symptoms of sadness and depression (child report—special needs), and decreased report of conduct problems including aggression (child report).

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Cognitive and neurological deficits/Low intelligence quotient/Hyperactivity
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Lack of guilt and empathy
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder
  • Poor refusal skills


  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Poor family attachment/Bonding
  • Sibling antisocial behavior


  • Identified as learning disabled
  • Inadequate school climate/Poorly organized and functioning schools/Negative labeling by teachers

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family
  • Opportunities for prosocial family involvement
  • Rewards for prosocial family involvement


  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Rewards for prosocial school involvement


  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources
  • Rewards for prosocial community involvement


  • Good relationships with peers


  • OJJDP: Blueprints
  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • NIJ: What Works
  • HHS: Surgeon General
  • Department of Education


Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group. 1999. “Initial Impact of the Fast Track Prevention Trial for Conduct Problems: 2. Classroom Effects.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 67:648–57.

Greenberg, Mark T., and Carol A. Kusche. 1998a. “Preventive Intervention for School-Aged Deaf Children: The PATHS Curriculum.” Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 3:49–63.

———. 1998b. Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies. Boulder, Colo.: Institute of Behavioral Sciences, University of Colorado.

Greenberg, Mark T., Carol A. Kusche, E.T. Cook, and J.P. Quamma. 1995. “Promoting Emotional Competence in School-Aged Children: The Effects of the PATHS Curriculum.” Development and Psychopathology 7:117–36.

Greenberg, Mark T., Carol A. Kusche, and Sharon F. Mihalic. 1998. Blueprints for Violence Prevention, Book 10: Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies. Boulder, Colo.: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

Kam, Chi Ming, Mark T. Greenberg, and Carol A. Kusche. 2004. “Sustained Effects of the PATHS Curriculum on the Social and Psychological Adjustment of Children in Special Education.” Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders 12:66–78.

Kusche, Carol A., and Mark T. Greenberg. 1998. “Integrating Emotions and Thinking in the Classroom.” Think 9:32–34.


Mark Greenberg, Ph.D.
Prevention Research Center
109 Henderson Building South
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802–6504
Phone: (814) 863-0112
Fax: (814) 865-2530
Web site:

Technical Assistance Provider

Carol A. Kusche, Ph.D.
PATHS Training, LLC
927 10th Avenue East
Seattle, WA 98102
Phone: (206) 323-6688