Using social stories to teach SEN pupils

Julia Sharman

Julia has over 30 years’ experience working in the education sector as a specialist and advisory teacher for SEND and mental health. Previously a Local Authority Coordinator leading on educational projects and community learning in the public, private and voluntary sectors and freelance writer. She is a specialist teacher for children with dyslexia and an Advisory Teacher for children with mental health issues and medical and health needs.

Follow @JuliaSharman1

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Over the years I’ve taught and supported quite a number of pupils with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). I found frequently that a very easy tool to use to aid the development of social skills is social stories. They are a strength-based teaching strategy that helps to develop greater social understanding by providing a visualised plan of a chain of events or situation. The plan or time-frame can be in the form of pictures, sketches, stick figures, comic strips, simple text or photographs. Social stories were created by Carol Gray in 1991 “to help teach social skills to people with autism. They are short pictorial descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why.” (The National Autism Society)

"Teaching social skills to any pupil is made easier and less taxing when using visual supports."

The use of social stories can also benefit other pupils who may have special education needs (SEN), pupils who find it difficult to organise their time, struggle to know ‘what next’ or where they need to be, so don’t rule them out if you don’t have children in your class with ASC. Social stories develop sequential processing from toilet training, tying shoe laces, lunch time or playtime routines to going out on a school trip. They are particularly helpful to alleviate anxieties of visiting unfamiliar places or when transferring schools.

Social stories are also particularly useful for visual learners or very young pupils who have not yet learnt the routines of the school day or week. They visualise the level of communication relating to an activity, event or time, and help pupils to understand class rules and timetables. Teaching social skills to any pupil is made easier and less taxing when using visual supports.

Social expectations, appropriate behaviour or ways to respond when interacting or communicating with people are typically learned by example. Individuals with communication difficulties or behaviour problems sometimes need more precise instructions. Social stories are designed to help children understand social situations, expectations, social cues, new activities or social rules. It’s essential that instructions are simple visual or descriptive stories that provide specific information regarding a social situation. The stories can be used to prepare a child for a new situation or teach new skills.

Knowing what to expect helps children with communication difficulties, and those who display challenging behaviour, how to act appropriately in a social setting. They can be used by teachers, support workers, parents, carers and other adults involved in a child’s life.

Using photographs, real life objects, descriptive sentences or sketches of feelings can help to encourage good behaviour management, alleviating feelings of anger and frustration, and are a highly effective way of teaching social norms and routines. They help individuals understand what is being said in a conversation or even replace verbal communication, which some children may prefer. Descriptive sentences offer a more positive approach if they begin with ‘I can try…’, ‘I will try…’ or ‘I will work on…’ for example. Far better to teach ‘do’ rather than ‘don’t’!

A social story is effective when used at the child’s level of communication; however they do need to be specific to individual children, group or situation. What works for one child is not likely to work for another. A social story showing a sequence of events or expectations does not need to be time-consuming – simplicity is often the key, and although they may not necessarily fix the problem, they do give information about a social situation an individual may find difficult or confusing.

I would recommend anyone thinking of using social stories to review the research by Carol Gray in order to understand how they can be utilised and used appropriately. There is a host of information, too numerous to mention, available on the internet.

Do you use social stories in your classroom? Share your experiences below.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now
Login

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"