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How to Use Social Stories in the Classroom

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Social stories can really help many students learn more about appropriate ways to handle challenging situations. This lesson gives you some ideas for how you can use social stories in your classroom.

What is a Social Story?

As teachers, we often struggle with complicated behaviors or emotional situations. Sometimes, students may simply be encountering difficult circumstances; for instance, a student's parents may be getting a divorce, or a child may be going through a hard time learning to share. Other times, we work with students with disabilities that make the social world in general challenging to navigate.

A social story is a brief anecdote that you can use to help students who are having trouble with social and emotional situations. Usually, a social story is told from the point of view of a hypothetical student, and it offers some ideas and strategies for how to handle the specific topics at hand. Social stories also provide explicit language that students can memorize and use as self-talk, or for telling themselves as a way of self-soothing or recalling strategies.

Using Social Stories One on One

As a classroom teacher, you will often find social stories effective in one-on-one situations with students. Social stories frequently address situations that only one student is struggling with, and it can be really helpful to individualize your use of social stories.

When using a social story with one student, start by finding a time you can read the story together with them. Read it aloud, and talk about its meaning and how it makes the child feel. You can have the student draw pictures to illustrate the story, or you can have them write a brief response to the story.

Then, give the student a copy of the story to keep and reread frequently on their own. It can be especially meaningful if they are also allowed to bring the story home. Repetition is key when it comes to social stories! Next time you see this student struggling with the issue at hand, remind them of the story and see if it helps them cope.

Using Social Stories With Small Groups

Sometimes, you will also find that a group of students are all struggling with the same issue at once. It may even be your whole class, particularly when it comes to issues like cleaning up, managing time, or handling bullying.

In that case, you can read the social story to the whole group. Facilitate a group discussion about what the social story means and how it makes students feel. Give students a chance to act out role-play scenarios related to the social story. This will help them practice the new strategies they are learning and understand that it is an issue they are facing alongside a community.

Writing Your Own Social Stories

Though you can often find meaningful social stories online or in books to use with your students, sometimes it can also be helpful to write your own or even write them in tandem with your students. This gives you the opportunity to really individualize the social stories you will expose your students to, making them deeply relevant to the exact challenges that your students are facing.

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