Promoting Literacy and Social Understanding Through Social Stories
- Educational Therapist & RETA Associate Member
To promote literacy skills, teachers and other educators are often encouraged to read stories to and with their wards. For children with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other learning challenges, social stories are a powerful tool to teach literacy skills in a way that is tailored to their individual needs and can be harnessed to bring about a whole host of benefits.
What are social stories?
Developed by Carol Gray in the early 1990s, social stories were first used in the early 1990s as a tool to help individuals with autism better understand social situations and expectations. In recent years, educators have also begun tapping into social stories in mainstream classrooms, and constantly adjust these stories based on their children’s needs. These stories are short, simple narratives designed to provide clear and concrete information about a specific topic or situation. Typically, social stories follow a predictable structure and are delivered in a patient and respectful way.
This is an example about a social story about safety.
All credits to Carol Gray (2013),
What are some benefits of using social stories at home or in the classroom?
- Easily personalised to children’s needs
As social stories often incorporate the children as characters in the stories, each social story can be easily customised to address the unique needs and interests of each child. For instance, the child’s name, favourite characters, or personal experiences can be incorporated. This personalisation helps to engage the child, and makes the reading material more relatable. Using the example above, the first person perspective could easily be substituted with the child’s name, or a collective noun ‘we’ could be used when teachers read the story to their classes. When observing certain scenarios which may be valuable teaching points for children, educators and parents can also come up with a social story specific to the scenario. Some examples of these scenarios may include sharing items, turn-taking,
- Improves literacy skills
Through social stories, children can be exposed to a plethora of vocabulary which they encounter in real-life. For instance, in the social story above, children would be exposed to vocabulary terms describing physical infrastructure built to keep them safe (e.g. fences, railings), as well as the specific terms of equipment used to keep them safe (e.g. helmets, safety belts, harnesses). Furthermore, social stories include visual aids such as pictures or symbols to help children relate these stories to their real-life scenarios. For children who have literacy difficulties, this may be especially beneficial since the combination of text and visuals reinforces the meaning of the story, and aids in comprehension skills, as well as memory retention.
- Improves executive functioning skills
As social stories follow a consistent structure with a clear beginning (introduction), middle (information or instruction) and end (conclusion or resolution), this predictability makes it easier for children to understand and process the information presented. As an educational therapist, I often encounter students who also have some deficits in executive function skills such as sequencing and organisation. Thus, social stories could potentially be harnessed to help students understand sequence and structure, and improve their executive functions!
- Facilitates social skills through explicit instruction
Navigating social scenarios can be daunting for adults, what more for our children? By providing clear and concrete information about social situations and expectations, social stories break down these scenarios into manageable parts, and help children better understand what to expect. Furthermore, they often include perspectives from different characters, thus allowing children to see a situation from various viewpoints. For instance, the social story below by All Things Special Ed. breaks down the situation of sharing personal items with peers, and how to react when things do not go entirely to one’s desire.
Upon recognising the emotions and needs of others, social stories also provide some guidance on how children can respond to specific social situations, thus enabling children to learn what is considered as socially acceptable, or expected behaviour.
As children gain a better understanding of social situations and develop appropriate responses, they may also become more confident in their social dealings, and this confidence can lead to increased social engagement and improved relationships. Other important concepts that educators can explore include personal space, dealing with losses in games, and responding to peers with empathy.
Social stories are thus valuable tools for teaching literacy skills to children. Their personalised and structured approach, coupled with visual support and repetition, makes them effective in enhancing reading and comprehension abilities.
By creating literacy-focused social stories, educators and parents can provide tailored support that empowers children to develop essential literacy skills, while fostering a love for reading and lifelong learning.