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Social Thinking Is All Day Long; Amy Davis, Elementary/Middle School Principal

04 Apr 2018 8:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

It is an easy thing to say “Social Thinking is incorporated into all aspects of the Learning Prep day” but what does that really look like?

Social Thinking is a concept developed by Michelle Garcia Winner. She recognized that for some people it is hard, if not impossible, to pick up on the “unwritten social rules of society” just by watching. She knew that for some people these skills needed to be explicitly taught and this teaching should not occur in isolation but should be everywhere. That is why in 2012 LPS took on the mission of training every staff member in Social Thinking. Michelle Garcia Winner believes that there is a social component to every aspect of a student’s academic day and the best way to target these skill deficits is in the moment.

Social Thinking shows up in all sorts of ways at LPS. While all students are learning the “why” behind the social behaviors we are trying to coach, the manner in which we teach to the different grade levels shows up in different ways and is tailored to their developmental level. All students are learning that there are behaviors/actions that are “expected” and “unexpected” and that people around us have thoughts about what we do and how we act. Some examples of everyday activities where Social Thinking skills come into play at LPS are:

  • Basic ready-learner classroom skills involve listening with your eyes, ears, brain, body and heart.
  • In Reading Comprehension class character and plot predictions require you to “think about how someone else might be feeling” or put yourself in their shoes.
  • Bake sales provide wonderful social thinking opportunities to practice being aware of how much time one typically should take when standing in front of several long tables of wonderful treats trying to make your selections (making swift selections is not an easy task.) Making eye contact with your server when you have made your choice is a signal that you are ready to order. Additionally, students practice money management skills and need to manage asking how much they owe, paying for their treats and knowing when they need to wait for change.
  • Fun days such as “Silly Sting your Principal push the students to the limit of flexible thinking to help all the students understand that while this might be a situation where someone might be mad (if you surprised them by silly stinging them in the face) this is not one of those times as we agreed to do it, it was for a good cause, and we were not going to be mad. Teaching the concepts of good-natured fun is a challenge as the definition changes depending on the situation and the age.
  • Fun Days such as PJ day, hat day, Red Sox Opening Day, crazy hair day, etc. help our students develop more flexible thinking, as well as challenge their social thinking skills. “Is it expected that I would wear this today?” “Yes, because that is the plan but it would not be expected to go to work or a meeting on a different day dressed this way.”
  • In all classes we may ask students to “make a smart guess” when we want to encourage them to take a chance and use the information they know to answer question.
  • In the cafeteria, where all tasks are unstructured, we ask students to think socially the entire time - finding a seat - seeing that someone has their backpack on a seat to save it, turning their body towards another student, so the other person knows you are interested and using the “social fake” when you are not interested!
  • Being a “Social Detective”, as Michelle Garcia Winner calls it - “reading the room” - having students figure out what is expected of them by looking at what other people in the room are doing and then doing the same.
  • We make “smart” and “wacky” guesses all day long, because MOST social situations don’t have written rules to follow - we need to try and understand another person’s perspective in order to interact with them and have them have good feelings about being around us. It is NOT good enough to simply memorize social rules and follow them - we need to understand WHY we are acting a certain way in one social situation and why we are doing something different in the same situation - for example it is “expected” to wear a swimsuit at the beach, but very “unexpected” to show up in school in a swimsuit.
  • We ask students to use their Social Thinking skills in classes to monitor their talk time, “read the room” and know when it is time to get to work, or hold their “bubble thoughts” when others are talking.

The fact that Social Thinking is addressed by every staff member creates many opportunities for students to learn as they go in a non-judgmental manner. Having the common language Michelle Garcia Winner provides with Social Thinking allows students to learn these skills throughout their day in every class and with every staff and student. This learning/teaching carries over into the less structured parts of their day which is where we see the greatest need for support. Simply teaching social skills is not effective. We need to prepare our students for life, just as our motto says. We need to teach students to THINK socially in order to have positive interactions with others. That’s what we do, all day long!


Learning Prep School provides an individualized language-based program to students with complex learning profiles, including dyslexia, expressive/receptive language issues, autism spectrum disorder, and social communication disorder.

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