Educators turn to books and stories to teach lessons to children of all ages and ability levels. For toddlers and preschoolers, stories teach social skills, vocabulary, rhymes, and simple sentence structure. Eventually, stories assess comprehension and model storyline structure. Children can access thousands of stories that open their imaginations.
While it is wonderful (truly wonderful) to read stories about made-up characters, sometimes students need a book about them! For example, speech-language pathologists, special educators, and other related service providers use stories to teach social skills; such stories are “Social Stories.”
“social stories [are] highly effective in minimizing inappropriate social behaviors and teaching other social behaviors…”
In a brick-and-mortar school, teachers or support staff can make a paper copy of a social story. For example, safety on the bus:
“I used a social story with a student due to his behavior while riding the school bus. During his bus ride, he would run up and down the stairs and through the bus (while the bus was stopped and occasionally while it was moving). He refused to stay in his seat safely and keep his hands/feet to himself. We began reading him this social story daily prior to him getting on the bus. After several weeks, his behavior started to improve, allowing him to safely sit in his seat more than 50% of the time (as compared to less than 10% of the time prior to the social story). Ultimately, his behavior required that he ride specialized transportation with a seat belt, but the improvement in behavior was, in part, due to the social story and rewards put into place.” – Melissa, Special Education Teacher for Pre-K – 3rd grade.
Social stories often work best when the “character(s)” and locations are photographs of the student and his/her school environment, or if the avatar resembles the student and his/her environment.
While social stories are compelling, they can be time-intensive. Sometimes, as educators, we turn to pre-made resources: when you are lucky, it is precisely what you want, but that is not always the case.
In fact, a recent search I did for a story about keeping clothes on while at school resulted in LOTS of social stories, but all of the pre-made stories were rooted in negative outcomes (calling the police, getting in trouble, etc.) instead of focusing on body safety. Yikes! That was not the message I wanted to share with a kindergartener who truly didn’t understand why he needed to keep his clothes on while at school.
Being a tele-therapist, I could have made a social story in PowerPoint or Google Slides, saved it as a PDF, sent it to the school to print and staple, and then finally sent it to the family and teachers, but I discovered StoryJumper! I created a story with a positive message about body safety. I used an avatar that looked similar to the student. I sent a link to the school and the family for the online version of the book. All within 30 minutes, before the student went home for the day, the family, teachers, and I had a social story to read to the student about keeping our clothes on at school. In the future, I can easily replace the character to look like other students using the same book. In addition, I added a voice recording of me reading the book aloud so the student can “read” it on their own. I even made the story public within StoryJumper, so all others have access to it.
Trying something new can be intimidating, but social stories are an effective tool for students (hello, evidence-based practice!). There are valuable resources and innovations to bring that evidence-based practice into online therapy! Don’t be afraid to jump right in and use them.
Watch eLuma’s webinar with StoryJumper here.
About the Author
Erin Nelson is a speech language pathologist who enjoys making a positive impact on the lives of her students and their families, while empowering them with improved communication skills. Since finishing graduate school in 2008, Erin has worked in a variety of settings. She has primarily worked with children as a part of the Early Intervention program and in schools (public schools, charter schools, and separate day schools).
Erin grew up on the east coast, but moved to Colorado 10 years ago because she was inspired by the beautify of the mountains. She has two young children and loves to watch them learn and explore.