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Special School District of St. Louis County

Teachers Help Students Build
Friendships and Social Skills

Displaying good manners, communicating effectively with others, being considerate of other people’s feelings and expressing personal needs are among the social skills that help students succeed in school and in life. SSD staff use a variety of innovative strategies to help students build these important skills.

Jody Croghan, an SSD early childhood special education teacher who works with children who are deaf or hard of hearing, collaborates with a behavior team to develop “social stories” that promote good social skills. The activities teach students the behaviors that teachers expect in their classroom. 

“We did a lot with using nice ‘talking words,’ which is one of our rules,” Croghan says. “We would role play. For example, we used many different kinds of blocks and created a scenario where a child built something with blocks, and then we practiced the steps of what you needed to do if you wanted to knock down the friend’s structure – which was often a huge problem and created tears galore!”

Croghan taught the students to first ask the person, second to watch the person, third to listen to the person and finally to wait.

“I used hula hoops as a visual marker on the floor, and we walked through the steps in each hoop to practice what we need to do,” says Croghan. “The hula hoops helped map out the sequence to our play scenarios and the pictures for the steps of this sequence were posted everywhere around the room.”

Croghan’s students role-played with many kinds of blocks and toys, and she also used a puppet to model the expectation or do the role playing. Students could choose to use the puppet if he or she didn’t want to act on their own.

Staff at SSD’s Neuwoehner High School uses a program called Boot Camp to help students build social skills and form friendships.

“The students meet three times a week and first do a few exercises as a large group,” says SSD physical therapist Laurie Dahle. “Then they break up into small groups and do an activity together. It’s a student-run program. Some of the students are the leaders and they choose the activity they are going to lead for the day. And they help the students who have difficulty doing gross motor activities.”

Dahle says she and other staff have noticed that the students are interacting with each other more often throughout the day and showing more compassion toward each other.

Neuwoehner student Mark Allred points to benefits from participating in the program.

“Boot Camp has helped me learn to be more organized,” he says.

SSD facilitator Lindsay McCracken suggests that older students write social stories to promote growth in the areas of developing friendships and social skills.

The students target a behavior or situation that is difficult for them. They then look at the situation and determine what other students are doing. And finally, they write from the student’s perspective. 

According to materials written by SSD Area Coordinator Ann Matoushek and adapted from the works of Carol Gray, social stories do more than just tell students what to do, they help them to see social situations the way others do.

Some other ways to help children build friendships and social skills include teaching them to:

  • Be aware of the personal space of others and learn not to invade it.
  • Practice making and maintaining eye contact during conversations.
  • Pay attention during conversations.
  • Try not to monopolize the discussion.
  • Think twice before speaking.
  • Allow others to finish speaking before beginning to talk.
  • Always be courteous – say please and thank you.
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12110 Clayton Rd, Town & Country, MO 63131  /  314.989.8100  /  314.989.8552 – 711 (Missouri Relay)

Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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