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I am such a sucker for books. I love to read, and I love to see kids reading. While teaching, I would use a favorite story to teach a math concept, clarify a science experiment, and even gets kids excited about exploring new lands and space. So, when it came time for our social skills group, I of course, found myself reaching for a book. What I found, is that it became one of the most effective ways for my students to connect with the social skill we were targeting that week. This may seem counter-intuitive for some special education teachers, especially if you teach students with autism. Most of us were taught that students with communication and social deficits often have a hard time making inferences and confections with make-believe material. Would they really make the connection that it is important to be prepared and work hard after reading the Three Little Pigs or would they need a more direct translation in the form of a social story? Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE social stories as a tool to teach students appropriate behaviors. But, I found that the addition of a favorite book had a strong positive effect that I could not ignore.
Why Do I Think They Work so Well?
- Increases student engagement
- Is predictable and less threatening
- Gives teachers a place to build from
I have not done any blind studies, or extensive research to answer this question. I only have my 20 years of working with kids and students with autism to use as my evidence. There are a few reasons why I think this method has been so effective. First, it greatly increases student engagement. Most students love books, particularly those with good pictures and simple text. My kiddos especially loved when I used a familiar favorite; one they often could recite by heart.
Perhaps unlike typical students who would grow bored hearing the same story over and over, I found my students with autism LOVED listening to the same book read time and time again. I knew once I had them hooked, I could more easily slip in the social skills lesson I was targeting for the week. Second, the predictability of a well-known story makes the topic less-threatening. Once of the most anxious things for students with autism in not knowing what comes next. This is not only true when it comes to their daily schedule, but it can also be true of a story you are reading. If the book you choose is familiar, there is less anxiety about what will happen and how long they will need to listen. I believe, this allows the students to be more open to making personal connections to the story’s content. Third, it is more interesting to the teacher and parent, so he or she is more likely to reinforce and follow through with the lesson. Teaching a social skills lesson can not only be intimidating, but it can also be a little boring. Using a story, not only provides predictable structure for the student, but it also gives the teacher a starting point and a source of material to expand upon. For me a good book is like going down the isle at the farmer’s market. There is so much inspiration to choose from right in front of you. Just grab whatever looks or sounds good and go from there. A good book will never leave you empty of ideas.
How to Use a Book Effectively
Again, I can only share my personal experience that I have come to tweak and modify over the years. I usually focus on the same social skill for about a week. We usually do 20-30 minute sessions, depending on the maturity level of the students at the time. I have even done as short as 10 minute sessions during those more challenging years. I always start my lesson by reading the story. Because most of my students do not like anything changed or altered, I just read it as is every time. It gets them settled and thinking about the characters or content. Then, we do a structured activity that helps relate the social skill and the story. (At this point, I have not directly talked about the social skill yet.) We often do cut and paste sorts, circle maps, or a group activity that will get them up and moving. We end the session with a social story that I have written that pulls in the skill we will focus on that week. With each passing day of the week, I try to pull in more and more commonalities between the book we chose and social story I have written. By the end of the week, it becomes more seamless, and some of the students will actually start to interject parts of the social story into the book as we are reading. It is quite amazing to see, but takes a slow, methodical, and consistent daily approach to get there.
Finally, what I found most interesting is that during later weeks when a social situation would arise that we had previously addressed using the method above, I could refer back to the book we had read. Because the student often had a long history with that book, they could recall the message more quickly. Also, it was less threatening, as I could address it in a more indirect way, rather than saying “Remember how we talked about using a calm voice?” I could say, “remember how grouchy that ladybug sounded?”
So, maybe I am just a sucker for a good book, and that makes this approach work for me. But, isn’t that half the battle? Find the tool that works best for you and reap the benefits with your students.
So, if you would like to try this technique out, click on the image below to get download a free social story using the favorite book Elmer by David McKee. I have many other literacy units with social stories included available as well in my store at teacherspayteachers.com. I hope this work as well for you as it did for me!