This post originally appeared on the blog Whimsy Workshop Teaching.
WHAT ARE SOCIAL STORIES?
Do you use social stories in your classroom?
Social stories are simple stories that describe common situations that occur frequently in the classroom. They state a situation clearly, possible feelings that may occur, self-talk strategies that can be helpful, and the desired outcomes. These stories have been especially helpful for my younger students, students with autism, or students with self-regulation problems.
Over the last 20+ years of teaching, I have seen many students struggle to navigate the complex social situations in the classroom. The many transitions and social dynamics can cause big emotions that can be overwhelming without the right tools. Social stories give students the opportunity to learn, practice, and demonstrate appropriate social skills.
HOW MUCH TIME WILL I NEED?
As the school year starts, I choose topics that are likely to be relevant, such as fire drills, bathroom expectations, or walking in the hallway. We focus on one topic per week, and spend a bit of time each day reviewing the concept.
Here’s a typical week of planning (about 20 minutes a day):
Monday – Introduce a new topic (using a teacher script), and read a social story about it. Discuss the concepts and give students their own one-page folded mini-book versions to make.
Tuesday – Review the story using posters as a reference; students complete a journal writing template or printing task.
Wednesday – Read or perform a one-page partner play about the topic, or role play.
Thursday – Discussion: Invite students to discuss whether they have had to use the strategies from our social story. Complete a cut/sort activity about making good choices.
Friday – Final review of concepts in fun ways, such as using a board game, making a flip-book, or creating brag tag rewards for that topic. Students can bring all of their work home so parents can reinforce concepts.
WHAT ARE THE SOCIAL STORY TOPICS?
Ideally, your topics should arise from situations that occur in your classroom. Whenever you have to help to mediate a conflict or notice students having difficulty, take a moment to make a note of it so you can make a social story about it.
Here some of the social story topics I have covered in my own classroom:
★ I Can Use Calm Down Strategies
★ I Can Be Assertive
★ Fire Drills
★ I Can Raise My Hand (Wait To Talk)
★ I Can Clean Up Quickly
★ I Won’t Interrupt (ie. when adults are talking)
★ Losing A Game – I Can Handle It!
★ I Can Use My Inside Voice
★ Mistakes Are Okay (I Can Learn From Them)
★ Being Flexible When Plans Change
★ Taking Good Care Of Belongings
★ Personal Space
★ I Can Focus On My Tasks
★ I Can Keep Trying (Practice and Perseverance)
★ I Can Share
★ I-Feel Messages for Conflict Resolution
★ Appropriate Behavior In The Hallway
★ I Am A Problem Solver
★ I Have Good Manners
★ Following Playground Rules
★ Asking To Play
★ Including Others
★ Giving My Best Effort
★ Smooth Transitions
★ Taking Turns
★ Substitute Teachers
★ Lining Up Quietly
★ Washing Hands/Prevent Spreading Germs
★ Being Kind
★ Saying Sorry
★ Respecting Differences – culture/appearance/ability
★ Spelling Strategies – stretch the word, listen for sounds, guess and move on
HOW TO BEGIN MAKING YOUR OWN STORIES
Here’s a quick guide to creating social stories with your students:
- Think about which social issues are causing the MOST disruption in your classroom right now.
- Write down what the problem is, and invite an open discussion with your students to gather specific details. Brainstorm and record ideas.
- Validate your students’ feelings when they are expressed, and then discuss the desired and expected behavior. Be sure to explain the reason for rules, such as safety or consideration for another student’s learning.
- Turn your brainstorming notes into a “story” in either first or third person. For example: “When I am walking in the hallway it might be hard to keep my voice quiet. It’s important to be quiet so I don’t interrupt other students. When I want to shout in the hall, I can use self-talk to remind myself that others are working. My teacher and friends will be happy if I am quiet in the hallway.”
- You can turn the story into a poster, or make it into a book with one sentence on each page.
- Invite students to illustrate the books! Illustrations are particularly important for younger students.
AFTER THE STORY: REINFORCING CONCEPTS
As I mentioned above, I spend about a week on each topic. That means about 20 minutes each day talking, thinking, sharing and writing. What kind of activities can you do to reinforce these essential skills?
I have some ideas for you:
1. PARTNER PLAYS: Students LOVE reading partner plays in front of the class, or in small groups. We make our stories relevant by using situations that have actually happened in class. (See pictures below.)
2. DISCUSSION CARDS: Whenever we have a few minutes, we grab a discussion card to have a quick talk with the class. These cards can describe a situation and ask open ended questions about it. These also make great journal prompts! (See pictures below) They are also a great way to spontaneously review previous topics so they aren’t forgotten.
3. DESK STRIPS: Many students benefit from having their own copy of a social story on their desk. It’s a visual reminder to make good choices and to use self-control. (See pictures below)
4. READ AND SORT: Social stories are straightforward by design. They state the desired behaviors clearly and succinctly. Read and Sort activities are perfect for this style; students decide if a described behavior is a good or not so good. (See pictures below)
MORE SPECIFIC ACTIVITY IDEAS
5. PRINTING: My younger students review our topics by making their own poster. The topic is stated in a short sentence for them to print. (See the picture below.)
6. REFERENCE POSTERS: Review each story in a single page for quick reference. These posters can be hung on the wall so you can reference them easily. (See the picture below.)
7. JOURNAL PROMPTS: Using journal templates, invite students to write their own ideas about each social skill.(See the picture below.)
8. REWARD COUPONS: Reinforce good choices with simple reward coupons! Students love coloring and collecting these.(See the picture below.)
9. REMINDER WATCHES: My students love wearing paper watches and having a social skill reminder right there on their arm is a great visual reminder, especially for topics such as interrupting or using an inside voice. (See the picture below.)
10. GAME BOARDS: Games are a great way to reinforce ideas in a fun way. In this board game, students land on a spot and read the question. Both players discuss their ideas before moving on with the game. I often play this game in front of the whole class with the game board under a document camera so everyone can see and share ideas. (See the picture below.)
If possible, try to create or use social stories that are presented in both first person and third person. This approach allows students to view a problem in different ways and make personal connections with the experiences being described. You can take a look at the different options I use in my classroom by clicking HERE.
Susanna has been teaching primary grades for over 20 years, with specialties in early literacy intervention, S.T.E.M, technology integration, and visual arts. She believes in a differentiated, hands-on approach that considers students’ social/emotional needs along with academics. She also creates teacher-friendly clip art to help other teachers create or sell classroom activities!