Have you ever dealt with a student or child who has meltdowns every time you are going to a specific place? Do they have difficulty participating in a social situation? Have difficulty tolerating change? “Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular? – The answer to all your problems is vitameataveg…” Wait, wrong episode… I mean social stories.
I’ve created and used social stories throughout my teaching career with a variety of students. Social stories are a learning tool that explain social situations, concepts and behavioral expectations. This resource was designed to be used with students diagnosed with Autism Disorders. However, I have found over my years of education and teaching that they work for a number of students. These stories worked very well for students on the spectrum as well as students experiencing behavioral disorders and typically developing students that need some additional support.
If you find a student is struggling in a particular area or with a certain task or expectation, social stories are a great tool to utilize. It is extremely individualized and you can create it however you need to. You can be your own author, but where do you begin?
Identify the Topic of the Social Story
What is the student struggling with? Most commonly students may require social stories for social scenarios. However you could put your efforts towards a behavioral approach or you could focus on task analysis and break down the steps to a particular task. Some common examples include:
- Potty Training
- Community Outings (such as getting a haircut, going to the doctor/dentist, riding the bus)
- Substitute Teachers
- Daily Routines and Changes
- Behavior (keeping hands/feet to themselves, sharing, taking turns, using nice words, etc.)
- Going to School
- Fire Drills
- …and the list goes on with endless possibilities!
Brainstorm a Rough Draft for Your Social Story
Carol Gray recommends utilizing a pattern with your sentences when writing a social story. This pattern includes descriptive and perspective sentences.
Other parts of the brainstorm or planning part of writing social stories may include:
Directive Sentences –
- Includes a range of responses for a particular situation. It is important that they have a positive focus!
- Refrain from using “No ____”, or “I have to”, but rather begin your sentences with “I can try” or “I will work on”
- The greater the number of directive statements, the more specific the cues for how the individual should respond.
Affirmative Sentences –
- Expresses shared beliefs or references a rule about the situation. These statements reassure the individual. Ex.: “Everyone deserves to talk without being interrupted.”
Decide what pictures you will add to the story. I always love to include the student in this. It will add a piece of ownership to the story and follow through. Make sure the pictures represent the meaning of the story. Use photos of the child, family members, teachers and other students, (when appropriate) along with real life objects.
- If the story is for a home environment and outing, then include pictures of the family car, the home front door, important family members
- If the story is regarding walking in the halls, include pictures of the school hallways, classroom door and places where they could run: gym, playground
When pictures are not possible you can include google images, clip art, or PECS (picture exchange communication system) https://nationalautismresources.com/the-picture-exchange-communication-system-pecs/ prints.
Create the Social Story
- It is highly recommended to only include one sentence per page. Especially for younger students. The sentence should be positively stated. Here are examples across two consecutive pages of a story: “Stacey walks in the halls to lunch.” Here you could have a photograph of Stacey walking in the hall. “Mr. Olson is happy when Stacey walks in the halls.” Corresponding to the sentence would be a picture of Mr. Olson smiling.
- Next, assemble the pages using construction paper, and glue the photos and sentences down.
- Laminate for long lasting use!
- A personal recommendation is to hole punch the top corner and put it on a ring for the student to easily turn the pages. I’ve also seen three holes down the side tied together with string or ribbon.
Read the Story Together
Be sure to set aside time to read the story to the student. I would suggest reading it several times in the beginning when introducing the story. If you, the teacher, is not always readily available to read it then paraprofessionals would also be appropriate. Also, it is important to note to make sure to read the story immediately before the student has to complete the task or expectation. When appropriate or after several readings, allow the student to read it as well if possible or you read it and pause letting the student read an important word or phrase.
Things to Remember When Creating Social Stories…
Social Stories can…
- Pair well with Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) activities
- Improve child’s behavior
- Break down multi-step directions
- Reinforce abstract concepts such as emotions, sequence of events/time and actions
- Increase independence
- Encourage and Reinforce
After reading the story with the child or student make sure to provide on-going specific positive praise when the child exhibits the expected behavior. Also, you want to make sure the story is easily accessible for the student whenever they want to read the story. It won’t make much sense if you keep it stored away in a cabinet and only bring it out a few times when you remember. Keep the story in the classroom library, especially if it includes the class. Most children would enjoy being a star and their own main character in a story is even more exciting!
Have you ever tried creating social stories into your classroom before? Do you believe social stories may benefit a student or students in your classroom? We would love to hear your thoughts below!
*** I would also like to provide a special thank you to Gretchen, Robert, Catherine and Claire for your assistance with the included social story example.
Written by: Christopher Olson
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