SMARTER social goals

smarter goals


Social goals are a bit challenging to develop.  In working with new graduates in our field, it’s become very clear that our college curriculum is coming up a bit short in discussions of how to write social language goals that are SMARTER:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (!), Timely, Ethical, Reasonable.  The newly minted SLPs are well versed in writing goals related to articulation, language, voice and fluency but the social piece seems to have been a bit vague.   I don’t blame them, the field of social language is relatively new and it is a paradigm shift to think about social cognition,  My brain often spins thinking about the many nuances of social language skills!

The first thing I will do is share this amazing article about the Social Learning Tree .  We need to understand the foundations of social language before we can write good goals.  Next, it takes time and experience (duh) with people who have social communication impairments.  Social language goals extend to people with ASD, TBI, ADD, EBD and all along the bell curve of communication disorders. And if I may step on my soap box for a second, our electronic society is cultivating a socially language impaired culture of people who don’t look or talk to one another, but that is another post for another day!

Talk to the student’s teachers, interview the parents, utilize language and social checklists, observe the child in several settings (structured and unstructured) and interact with them to find the strengths and weaknesses.  There are lots of moving parts to the social communication puzzle!   You do NOT need twenty social goals in an IEP!   Since the IEP is a fluid document start small and focused with 3-5 goals at most and build from there.

I see a lot of IEPS from seasoned therapists as well that write goals for greetings and farewells as the first goal.  Yes, It’s important, but can you build that into each session without it being a goal?  Absolutely.  You need to consider where the student is on the social learning tree skill wise and then prioritize the deficits that impact them the most.  It’s not a one size/one goal fits all approach.  Don’t forget that a lot of social language is already built into the core, particularly in literature and language arts , including perspective taking, inferences, and cause/effect.

Utilizing materials that are researched based and are practical and brilliant at the same time such as Think Social and Superflex,  will help you develop goals and therapy plans. I know materials cost money, so consider applying for mini-grants to fund your social bank of materials. Talk to your fellow therapists, and ask lots of questions!  Look into Pinterest and other sites that can spark great ideas for you such as Jill Kuzma’s blog.  Don’t recreate the wheel, but also look at this learning curve as an opportunity to grow your own creativity!

What helped you in writing goals for social language?


It’s what’s inside that counts.

cereal boxes

I came across a great idea in  Games (& other stuff) for Teachers: Classroom Activities That Promote Pro-Social Learning that used empty boxes to touch on theory of mind perceptions.  Theory of Mind is the developmental concept summarized as “Do I know what you know is different from what I know?”   Many students with ASD have difficulty with this concept and it negatively  impacts their communication and social skills daily.  The gist of the game is to present students with a variety of boxes and ask them what they think is inside.  They will most likely predict the food or items that are represented on the box.  You, sneaky therapist that you are, will have switched the items inside before the students arrive.  The goal of the lesson is to start a discussion that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover (or a cereal by it’s leprechaun).

I think that’s a fabulous idea, and it gave me another idea when I was observing a therapy session with a student who has ASD and theory of mind (formerly known as an Aspergian).  He kept launching into discussions about basketball without giving a referent to his poor therapist.  He was going to talk about what he was going to talk about, therapy plan be darned!!  A lot of our students have this issue of speaking without context, leaving peers, parents and teachers confused.  This often translates into written expression as well.  So how can cereal boxes be used to teach context?

I think you start the lesson the same, with guessing what’s inside the box.   You can’t know what another person put in the box if you weren’t there or they didn’t tell you, right?  Our brains and thoughts are the same. I can make a smart guess about the topic of conversation based on your words and expressions (the cover of the box) but I can’t know what you are thinking inside your mind (the cereal box) or when you switch the topic (cereal) either unless you tell me. It would be great to include items such as toy cars or paper clips that aren’t at all what is shown on the box to illustrate the discussion.  We need to teach our students to give connecting thoughts to help others know what they are thinking about.  We also need to practice maintaining topics of conversation (even when it’s not what we are dying to talk about!) and asking connecting questions to show we are interested in other people’s thoughts and ideas.  Michelle Garcia Winner has a great activity for a visual conversation tree to illustrate these skills.

What other magically delicious ideas have worked for you to teach context?


Here’s to the wonky stars…


wonky stars


As I was walking into one of the nine schools I visit, I noticed that blue stars had been painted along the sidewalk leading to the front door.  As a fan of symmetry, I immediately began to notice that most (if not all) of the stars had smudges, uneven angles and wobbly lines.   Nothing that would jump out at you as a mess, but less than perfect.   Perfect.  Hmm, has that become the standard?  I let that sit with me a minute and it didn’t feel quite right.

Yes, there is merit, and even beauty, in precision and sameness.  But does that make those that fall outside of that expectation less valuable?  Nope.  Education models are merging into business models today.   Children are being viewed as “products” and parents as “consumers”-kind of a weird analogy, don’t you think?   But in the striving to create the perfect “college ready”, all AP, best athlete, highest score on the SAT type of product, we are missing the bigger picture.   What about empathy, compassion and kindness?  Not exactly standardized score kinds of stuff.   Our kids (and parents) are stressed out, angry, depressed and discouraged by trying to reach an unreachable standard for most.

So here’s to the wonky stars this school year, the kids who don’t quite fit in, the ones whose smiles are contagious, the ones who are happy with exactly who they are, regardless of where they fall on a bell curve.  As an adult, I recognize that some of my personal strengths are not from the straight edges and perfect angles of trying to be the best, but from the smudges and the wobbles that came with my struggles.  They were blessings in disguise.




Lights, Camera, Action!



We are crawling towards the last week of school in my county.  When I ask everyone how they are, the response is the same,  “I’m hanging in there” they reply wearily.   There is a light at the end of this school year but we aren’t quite done.   In one of my classrooms I am working with, an amazing resource teacher has used the lesson plans, handouts, videos and activities I have given her to work on 3 areas of social language that her students struggle with including:  whole body listening, humor, and appropriate commenting.  This should frankly be a curriculum in every middle school as far as I am concerned as 99% of students struggle with these skills!

The lessons are finished for this year and this fabulous teacher mentioned how they benefited ALL of her students, not just the students with ASD (hurray!).  As Michelle Garcia Winner so aptly noted, social skills are life skills.   Everyone needs to work on these skills to get along in a world with other people!   The next step was how to wrap up these lessons.   I thought and thought. and came up with a class project (or as it is known in the Post-core-curriculum world, a “cumulative project”).   The students would create a short video on one of the three areas taught this year.  Their target audience would be other students and they would have to not only create the video but demonstrate and apply the skills they have been working on all year.   Jackpot!!  Here is the timeline of the project:



Activity Social area addressed notes
April  28th Video groups/ideas Cooperative work in a group with peers
Team meeting Problem solving
Divide responsibilities Whole Body Listening
Storyboard development Perspective taking, humor
Storyboard development Sharing ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately
May 5 Develop script Cooperative work in a group
Develop script Problem solving
Develop script Whole body listening
Develop script Perspective taking, humor
Develop script Sharing Ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately
May 12 Start filming videos Cooperative work with peers
Filming Problem solving
Filming Perspective taking, humor
Edit Sharing ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately
edit Whole body listening
May 19 VIDEO SHARE in class Whole body listening, perspective taking
VIDEO SHARE in class Sharing ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately
Class vote/awards Humor

Students will create a short video on one of the three areas of social thinking introduced this Spring




Students will be divided into teams and given the task of creating a  3-5 minute video about one of the three topics above.  The target audience for the video is other students.   Each team will follow the time line for dividing responsibilities, creating storyboards (ideas and pictures that represent the sequence of the video), developing a script, then filming their videos.  The last week of school, the students will show the videos to the class and vote on superlatives:  funniest, most creative, best use of theme, etc..

I am bringing the popcorn and awards for the viewing this week, and can’t wait to see how the videos turned out!  I have a sneaking suspicion that videos made by kids, for kids, will be really effective and I plan on getting permission to use them in other classes around the county.  Happy (almost) summer and I am off to the red carpet….

How have you generalized social skills into your classrooms?



You WILL Be My Friend….or else

Peter Brown's book on friendship

Peter Brown’s book on friendship


The Scholastic Book Fair rolled into my school this week for the last hurrah before summer.   I strolled through the aisles looking for this and that when I found the book, “You Will Be My Friend” by Peter Brown.   I read the title first as “Will You Be My Friend?” but when I looked again, sure enough the title was a command not a request!   This book illustrates the difficulties of figuring out how to make friends, whether you are a beast or a boy.  For a lot of my students with social language weakness, friendship is tricky!

One of my favorite students started a conversation with a new classmate this year.  She recounted that she wanted to be friends with the new girl, so she told her, ” I am just going to warn you, you don’t want to make me mad.”  She felt that she was offering good insight on how to be her friend, just don’t make me mad.  She didn’t consider that starting off a friendship with a perceived threat was not a great first impression.  Yikes.

Lucy, the main character of our story, heads out on a mission one morning to find a new friend in the forest.   She bumbles her way into frog ponds, a giraffe’s breakfast and invades the personal space of a local ostrich.     Lucy’s intentions are good, but she struggles on her quest to find a friend.     The illustrations are beautiful and offer great clues on reading body language, emotion and what other’s might be thinking in the story.   It is filled with fantastic opportunities to talk about social language concepts such as whole body listening, personal space, talking too much and being yourself around others!

I have created a three page activity to go along with the story (factual questions and social thinking questions) here

What books have you used for friendship?