Social Stories for Behavior Management

A while back I wrote a post about my frustrations with sticker systems – or, really, reward and punishment systems.  After learning so much about how these reward systems stimulate the addiction center in the brain, and how they encourage children to work only for the prizes, I have eliminated any of these systems from my classroom, and I actively work to educate teachers and parents about the reasons not to use them.  You can read that post, and the comments, for some background.

Of course, saying that I don’t use them obviously begs the question, “What do I do?”  Well, I have shared a couple of ideas already about building community through Education Through Music and about using A-B-C analysis to get to the bottom of what causes negative behaviors.  Please check out those posts for information.

This post is all about one more thing I do to teach my kids what I expect from them without using rewards and punishments.  Social stories are short, easy to understand stories told in the first person.  The idea is that a student takes the perspective of the narrator – kind of like they are reciting the story as a mantra.  The stories can be about any issue that comes up.  I have written stories about sitting safely at the carpet, how to manage silliness, ways of problem solving, what to do when you are worried about starting something new, how to make friends – you name it.  It is important to validate feelings in the stories.  Sometimes kids do feel frustrated, bored, and angry.  Sometimes they really and truly would rather be doing something other than what they are meant to be doing.  It is important for them to know that these feelings are ok, and that they can learn skills to manage them.  The social story recognizes the feelings, and it has the child read what they can do.

The beauty of social stories is that you came make them general enough to apply to more than one student, but specific enough to meet the needs of your group.  For example, this year I have a group of about five kids that like to mess around near the bathroom area in my class.  They frequently leave during lessons to allegedly use the bathroom, but end up playing, singing, messing around in the water, and other silliness.  I was able to write a social story that addressed this behavior, but was also general enough that it reminded all of my students what our bathroom procedures are.  That way I am not singling kids out, but making the appropriate behavior a shared understanding.

I use social stories in different ways.  Sometimes I read them to the whole class.  Sometimes I print a book and have a specific student keep it in his or her book bag to read more regularly.  I also have had students that read the story on a schedule (I note when they tend to need reminders, and then schedule a “story time” just before that time period to try to head the behavior off.)  And sometimes I have used the story as a consequence for a negative behavior.  For example, a student does something inappropriate, so we read the story together to help them remember what to do in that situation the next time it arises.

I truly believe that we need to spend the majority of our teaching time showing kids what we want them TO do, not telling them what NOT to do.  If we are specific, kids will have an image in their minds of what they are expected to do.   Do you use social stories with your students?  How do you use them?  What topics have you written social stories for?

21 Responses to Social Stories for Behavior Management

  1. Cindy December 4, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    I love this idea and would love to see other examples of stories you have made. I am so on board with the no external rewards ideal but desperately need to find other solutions that will work.

    • Teaching Ace December 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

      I am so glad to hear that you are not using the external rewards! I have done lots of social stories…. My next one is going to be about ways of getting positive attention (how to get noticed in good ways.) I have also had the whole class work together on a problem solving story. I took photos of them and had them act out different ways of solving problems. This was very powerful as they saw themselves doing the positive behaviors. One thing I like about the one I posted is that it offers a pretty reusable format – I have used some of the same pictures for several stories. My kids are starting to understand that the stories discuss feelings, then offer a plan. The plan always starts with breathing, then thinking. (This is not always the case, but with the stories I have been using, it has turned out that way.) I will work on putting some together that I can share – I just need to find some time!

  2. Carly December 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    Would you be interested in selling your social stories?

  3. Teaching Ace December 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    Hi Carly! I would definitely be interested in selling the stories, but I have some work to do on them. In order to sell something I need to have rights or permission for all of the images (which is not the case for something I just use in my classroom.) So, for the stories I use right now, I will need to remake them with different images and art. Hope that makes sense. It is definitely on my list to do, and I will post them to my store when I do. Thanks for asking – what a compliment!

    • Erin Lyons December 26, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

      I have used social stories a couple of times in the past for specific students for specific issues that we wanted to help them, and only if we had tried several other things first. I don’t know much about them, haven’t had much training in writing them, and would like to know more so that I could use them more. I like the idea of being able to have stories to teach behaviors in the classroom, but I’m nervous about writing my own because I’m not completely comfortable with the theory behind the stories, and I don’t want to lose the benefit of their impact. One thing that I DID like about the stories that I made in the past is that I used photos of the actual students I was working with with their own classmates and in the environment that they would be finding themselves (eg., if the behavior involved walking in line, we’d have photos of us lining up all over the school and outside the building!). I would be interested in purchasing your social stories in an editable form so that I could put my own photos in them to make it more meaningful for my students. I currently have a much-photocopied social story book that we are using with a student in my class that doesn’t seem like it would be nearly as effective as one that would have personalized photos and the kind of text that your example shows. Thank you for sharing what you have above!

      • Teaching Ace December 27, 2012 at 10:07 am #

        I have to be honest that I have never studied the theory behind social stories. I initially learned about them through our special education staff, who recommended them for specific students. I often found that the story was applicable to all of my kids, or at least a group, and I liked sharing the story with more than just the “target” student.

        I totally agree that using photos of the students themselves is a great idea. I have done it both ways. For example, I did a story all about getting packed up to go home, and I took photos of the actual student who was struggling. I have also used generic ones for kids that tend to get hung up on details. For example, I had one little guy that was so literal, that if he were not wearing the same shirt that he was wearing in the story, he would assume it did not apply. So, as always, you have to know your kids and what will work for them.

        I did a class book one year of peaceful problem solving, and all of my students were the stars. Everyone was part of a photo of some strategy or skit in the book, which was fantastic!

        I have also done movies of the kids in a similar vein. I had one student that did not really believe that he knew how to be kind. So I spent some time one on one with him taking movies of him doing things “right.” He walked safely, said kind words to the camera, practiced things he could say to friends, etc. Then, each morning and right after lunch he watched the movie. This was a reminder to him of what HE looked like doing things in a safe and kind manner. It was very concrete for him.

        I am working on making the social stories for sale. I need to get permission for photo usage, so they are not ready yet, but I will let you know!

        • Erin Lyons December 29, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

          LOVE the idea of the movie. LOOOOVE!!! Oh, what a kind and respectful way to teach children and include them in learning to appropriately be part of their community without losing their individuality. I can’t wait to share this with my team.

          • Teaching Ace January 4, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

            Let me know how it goes if you get some movies going. I would love to hear!

  4. Muriel Rand December 29, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    Your social stories look terrific! I teach a class for special education teacher candidates and I always share information about social stories. I am planning to send them to your blog posting to see this in action. Thanks so much for sharing!!

    • Teaching Ace January 4, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

      Thanks so much! It is so exciting to think that my blog will be helpful to your students!

  5. Eliene Loetscher January 13, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    Would love to know more about your system!

    • Teaching Ace January 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

      Hi! I would be happy to share. Do you have any specific questions?

  6. TDTClinician January 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    Great post. I provide behavioral support in an elementary school and I find this tool works exceptionally for pre-k, kindergarten, and students with Aspergers. This year I’ve written books called “J earns a sticker” outlining the routines leading up to and through nap time for a pre-k student who refused to get up from nap, “C Goes to the Bathroom” outlining appropriate things to do while in the restroom And detailing what to do instead of announcing bathroom needs/experiences to an entire class, as well as “C learns about Consequences” that reviewed some of the student’s typical trigger situations and the choices he can make in response to the trigger and possible good & bad consequences associated. It has been my experience that when including the student in the creation for the book followed up by immediate review in the mornings, behaviors relating to the books are resolved within 1-2 weeks.

  7. Barbara June 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    Hi, I saw that you were working on a social story about how to get positive attention. I was trying to make one of my own. I would love to see how yours came out. Would it be possible to email me?

  8. danny pettry March 14, 2015 at 11:25 pm #

    I wish you’d publish your social stories.

    I think that would be great.

    • Karen Langdon April 13, 2015 at 9:25 pm #

      I will absolutely work on it. The issue is that the ones I make for the classroom use photos that I can just grab off of the internet. If I were to share or sell my social stories under my name, I need photos that I have rights to, and that is much tougher! It is certainly on my “to do” list though, and thank you!

  9. Maria April 6, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    This is so fantastic! I just discovered your website and am looking forward to exploring more of your posts. I’m in my first year and have been struggling a bit with behaviour in the past couple months. I completely agree with not liking the stickers and rewards thing, but I have to be honest that I have been using that as I have not seen any other system in place at all. I have been told to use social stories to help, but have never seen how they work or are put together, and this posting shows it so beautifully.
    Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    • Karen Langdon April 13, 2015 at 9:23 pm #

      Thank you! It is difficult to resist the stickers and rewards when things are tough, but they only work for a little while, and do so much more harm than good. I am so glad my post helped with social stories – I really find them to be so powerful!

  10. Laura October 11, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    I’m a homeschooling mom who’s been struggling with my own little set of classroom management and behavior issues, and found your site when I was researching using Class Dojo with my kids. Loved what you had to say on that, and have found your other posts so helpful in knowing better how to deal with my little bundles of energy! Thanks for sharing!


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