Most people learn how to behave appropriately—that is, they follow rules, expectations, routines and established social norms—by watching the people around them and adjusting their behavior according to the feedback they receive from others. It is a process that happens naturally through the developmental stages. Of course we are guided by rules, consequences, and social cues, but sometimes those boundaries are not sufficient for the development of social skills. For those who cannot learn these behaviors naturally, they must be taught. Similar to providing targeted instruction in math or ELA, some students require direct instruction in how to behave.
Disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Conduct Disorder, Mood Disorders, and learning disabilities can impede a child’s ability to accurately perceive situations, empathize with others, and regulate behavior. These deficits make it difficult for children to learn appropriate behavior. Students who face these challenges benefit from direct instruction in social skills. Social stories are just one of many components of a social skills curriculum for helping these students prepare for specific situations and to reinforce positive behavior.
Social stories were initially designed to support children with ASD on a one-to-one basis. However, practitioners have realized the benefit of the use of these stories with children who have social struggles due to a variety of reasons, both individually and in whole group instruction.
The use of social stories in whole group instruction is effective when the entire group has a similar skill deficit. For example, if the entire group has a difficult time regulating behavior on field trips, a social story about what to expect and how to behave will benefit the entire group.
Mr. Yetz created a social story on Storyboard That to support his class in developing appropriate behavior during transitions to specials. Reading the story as a class has become part of the morning routine. After they read the story, he practices the behavior with them. Practice allows the students the opportunity to experience what they read and gives Mr. Yetz the opportunity to provide feedback. When the students show progress, Mr. Yetz will decrease his involvement in the process. First, he will have his students read the story independently before they practice as a group. Eventually, as the class is able to consistently transition without incident, Mr. Yetz will wean the class off of the story entirely. He will maintain consistency by continuing to follow the procedure outlined in the story and by providing feedback each time they transition.
Mr. Yetz created his social story by first identifying the task he wanted them to complete. Although his group of students experiences behavioral challenges throughout the day, he found that transitions were problematic for all of his students at one time or another. Next, he identified target behaviors - the behavior he wanted to eliminate - and identified what he wanted his students to do instead. Mr. Yetz’s school uses the phrase “safe body”, meaning one who is not running away from staff, one who is not hurting him/herself, and one who is not hurting others. A “calm body” is one who is not agitated and is steady in his/her seat or space in the room. “Quiet voice” means no talking. The students are very familiar with these three phrases as they are part of the daily expectations. Mr. Yetz decides to stick with what the kids already know in order to reinforce previous expectations and maintain continuity throughout the school. Next, he outlined the steps the students needed to complete. For each step, he wrote a sentence or two that describes what to expect and the action they should take. Since many students who have difficulty learning social and behavioral expectations also have difficulty empathizing or seeing the consequence of their behavior, he included the effect their behavior could have on others. Finally, Mr. Yetz created an image using Storyboard That to accompany each step. The image illustrates what the students are expected to do.
Mr. Yetz uses social stories to support the social development of individual students as well. His student Stefanie has a difficult time managing her anger and frustration during unstructured times - typically during transitions - walking in the hallway, and getting on and off the bus. She also has a difficult time during lunch, recess, and choice time in the classroom.
Mr. Yetz has worked with Stefanie on developing coping skills. She has had the most success walking away from situations and taking five deep breaths when she is angry or frustrated. Mr. Yetz created a social story that reinforces the use of these strategies. He reads the story with her each morning during independent reading, and then they review her coping strategies. When Stefanie is able to employ these strategies more consistently, Mr. Yetz will gradually decrease his role in the process to increase Stefanie’s self-efficacy. He will have her read the story independently and then meet with her to practice her coping skills. Eventually, Mr. Yetz will allow her to complete the entire exercise independently. When Stefanie demonstrates the ability to follow the steps outlined in her social story, Mr. Yetz will wean her off the story altogether.
When developing Stefanie’s social story, Mr. Yetz first identified her target behavior. Stefanie’s aggressive actions are the most detrimental to her success in school, both academically and socially. He identified the situations in which she acts out. Instead of stating specific times like “recess” or “in the hallway”, he used the terms “angry” and “frustrated” as these are the emotions Stefanie was able to identify feeling just before her target behavior. Mr. Yetz identified her behavior, the consequences her behavior can have, her coping strategies, and the positive outcomes that result from using her coping strategies. For each of these items, Mr. Yetz constructed a simple sentence or two. Finally, he put it all together using the images he created on Storyboard That.
Identify the specific social skills that students need to develop or improve. Consider individual student needs, classroom dynamics, and age-appropriate expectations. Determine which skills are best suited for teaching through social stories.
Develop engaging social stories that focus on the target social skills. Break down complex skills into smaller, manageable steps to facilitate comprehension and learning. Incorporate appropriate language, tone, and vocabulary that resonate with the students' age, developmental level, and cultural backgrounds.
Utilize visual supports, such as illustrations, photographs, or pictograms, to enhance understanding and engagement with the social stories. Ensure that the visuals effectively represent the key concepts and actions related to the targeted social skills.
Design social stories in a way that promotes the generalization of social skills across different contexts and settings. Include diverse scenarios and examples that students may encounter in real-life situations. Discuss and explore with students how the social skills presented in the stories can be applied in various situations, both within and outside the classroom.
Scaffold the learning progression by starting with simpler social stories that focus on basic social skills and gradually progress to more complex skills. Provide opportunities for students to practice and apply the targeted social skills in controlled settings before gradually transitioning to more independent and real-life situations.
Regularly assess students' understanding and application of the social skills taught through social stories. Use observation, checklists, or other assessment tools to monitor progress. Provide reinforcement and positive feedback to acknowledge students' efforts and successes in demonstrating the targeted social skills.
Social stories can be used in the classroom as a form of direct instruction by teaching students social skills and appropriate behaviors in a clear and structured way. Teachers can use social stories to provide explicit instruction on social situations that students may encounter, such as how to make friends or how to respond to teasing. By breaking down these skills into small, manageable steps and using visual aids, social stories can help students understand what is expected of them and how to behave in a variety of social situations. Additionally, social stories can be used to teach emotional regulation and coping skills, which can support students' mental health and well-being.
Yes, social stories can be used in conjunction with other teaching methods to support student learning and skill development. Some effective teaching methods to use alongside social stories include role-playing, modeling, and direct instruction. Role-playing involves students practicing social skills in a safe and controlled environment, where they can try out different strategies and receive feedback. Modeling involves teachers or other students demonstrating the desired behavior, which can help students learn through observation. Direct instruction involves teachers explicitly teaching the skill or behavior, breaking it down into small, manageable steps. By combining social stories with these other teaching methods, teachers can provide a comprehensive and multi-modal approach to social skills instruction, which can be particularly effective for students with diverse learning needs. It is important for teachers to choose the teaching method that works best for the specific skill they are teaching and the individual needs of their students.
Social stories can be effective for all students, not just those with disabilities. They are particularly useful for students who struggle with social skills or have difficulty regulating their emotions. Social stories can be tailored to meet the needs of individual students and can be used across a range of ages and abilities.
To measure the effectiveness of social stories in your classroom, you can use a variety of methods, such as observation, data tracking, and feedback from students and parents. Look for changes in student behavior and social-emotional development, and adjust your social stories as needed to ensure they are meeting the needs of your students.