Friday, June 30, 2017

Social Skills: Where to Begin?

"Social Skills need to be taught" is what we hear all the time in schools these days, especially in special education...but WHERE are they taught? WHAT skills do we teach? HOW are they taught? WHAT curriculum should we use? are just some of the many questions we teachers are asking in response to this statement. I definitely don't have all the answers, but would love to get the conversation going. I would love to hear your input in the comments below or in an email ( as I feel like this blog post is just skimming the surface of this huge topic.
First of all, WHEN/WHERE are you teaching social skills?
Whether you are a resource teacher, a teacher who has kids mainstreamed during part of their day, or are a self contained teacher, you have a variety of options of when/where to teach these skills. In general, if social skills are taught throughout a student's day, they will be more likely to generalize to a variety of locations and across a variety of people. Logistically, this isn't always possible.

Social skills can be taught in a pull out special ed setting or a push in mainstream setting...or both! They can be taught in a small group or one on one. Below are some examples of specifically what this looks like.

-Pull out social skills group: having a dedicated class period to teaching social skills in the special education setting. This may happen one time per week or every day depending on your students' needs. You should also make sure to let your paraprofessionals and gen ed teachers know what skills you are teaching/what strategies you are using so that they can carry these over to other settings.

-Push into mainstream classroom: teaching social skills in the gen ed setting as a co-teacher, or prompting students to use the skills taught in the special ed setting in their gen ed classroom.

-Teaching a skill one on one: teaching a skill to one student directly and prompting them throughout their day to use that skill as situations come up.

What skills are you teaching?
Greetings, conversational skills, turn taking, waiting, personal space, appropriate interrupting, conflict resolution, anger management, problem solving, perspective taking, empathy, making friends............. the list goes on and on!  

When trying to decide what skills to teach, I try and prioritize what is most important for my students.  I look at their current IEP goals AND I look at the most current/pressing issues.  For example, most of my students usually had some sort of IEP goal about socializing with peers (some may be working on greetings while others may be working on engaging in back and forth conversation).  However, during the school year, certain issues usually popped up like excessive tattling, bullying, interrupting, etc. When I teach social skills, I have some time set aside to work on IEP goals, but I also make time to teach the skills that pop up as well.  

How are you teaching social skills?
Skillstreaming curriculum outlines the following steps to teach social skills: 1) Define the skill, 2) Model the skill, 3) Role-play, 4) Provide feedback on performance in the role-play, 5) Practice the skill.

Similarly, Behavior Skills Training identifies steps to teaching a skill as 1) Instruction, 2) Modeling, 3) Rehearsal, and 4) Feedback.

Are you doing all of these steps in your instruction? I know I didn't always!  It is a great reminder to include all of these elements in order to ensure our teaching is as effective as possible.

What curriculum/resources are you using to teach social skills?
This is the hard part...I personally have not found just 1 resource or curriculum that meets all of my students' needs.  Instead, I collect activities, books, and resources from a variety of places.  I will share some of my favorites with you!

Julia Cook books: Julia has tons of great stories about different social skills topics...and you can easily find her books on Amazon!

Green Zone Conversation book: This book is AMAZING!! It helps kids learn how identify common interests with others and how to carry on a conversation about those topics.  It has built in activities, worksheets, and instructions.

Zones of Regulation:  This is helpful to teach students emotions and help them identify "tools" to assist in regulating and de-escalating.

5 Point Scale: This is helpful for visually breaking down a problem area into 5 parts that show increasing levels of the problem. It also focuses on helping students identify what it feels like, looks like, and what they can do about it.

Drama Time: One fun way I have found to teach social skills is through a weekly "drama time."  This helps with the role-play and rehearsal portion of teaching social skills.  Check out these posts for more info on my drama time (drama time set up, drama games, more drama games).

Social Stories: These are a great way to work on the "instruction" portion of teaching a social skill, but don't forget to model, have students role-play, and provide feedback! (The Watson Institute has an awesome selection of FREE social stories)

Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest: These are the perfect place to search a social skill and see the multitude of ideas other teachers before you have come up with to teach these skills.  

These are just some of my favorite resources...this list is not meant to be exhaustive.  I would love it if you would share some of your favorite resources as well!


  1. I do a pull out social skills group of students once a week. They are all in gen ed middle school and I only see them once a week (some only once a month). I need advice on how to set up a logical curriculum for social skills. This past year I felt like I was all over the place.

    1. I use the hidden curriculum and the mind up curriculum. My kiddos are a bit higher functioning and really enjoyed the mind up 3-5 grade book. There were lots of interactive items and it taught them about the different parts of the brain that lead us to do different things, so that they understood why they were actually reacting to what was happening.