Last month we talked about how important reinforcement is when teaching new skills. If we want our kids to continue to display these great communicative skills – we need to provide reinforcement. Sometimes we get in a habit of giving awesome amounts of reinforcement for the academics we teach but we forgot to provide that same quality level reinforcement when teaching social skills. 

When you an engage in a conversation, the reinforcement we get is attention from the person we are talking to. I ask you how you are, you say great, we keep talking. You answering my question provides immediate reinforcement for my social skills. I keep asking questions, commenting, and engaging in the conversation because I want to get more and more attention. Now let’s think about this for some of our kids who are working on more advanced social skills like engaging in a conversation. Remember that reinforcers differ for each person. Attention may not be a reinforcer for all of kids. We may need to provide external reinforcement when teaching conversation skills. 

The tricky part is that when we are working on conversations skills we don’t want to interrupt the conversation to deliver a reinforcer every time our student engages in an appropriate response. That would really ruin the flow of the conversation and eliminate the opportunity for back and forth questions and comments.

My secret weapon here is an easy combo of the almighty token economy and the dry erase marker. Learn tons about token economies in this post

You can utilize that token economy that is already rocking and rolling to build up conversation skills. When practicing a conversation, every time your student engages in an appropriate communicative response, give them a point (towards the token menu) by putting a tally on the table using a dry erase marker. {hint you can do this right on the table, most dry erase markers wipe off easily with clorox wipes} This method is non-intrusive while providing immediate specific feedback to that student. After Johnny comments to Sarah’s answer by nodding and saying “Oh cool,” I draw a tally on the table. Johnny’s comment is given immediate reinforcement without any teacher interruption. At the end of the activity or session, everyone counts up how many tallies they have and can cash them in for a preferred item. 

My favorite way to practice conversations is to talk about our weekend!

Talking about your weekend is such a great, routine-based, natural way to practice conversation skills. The structure of the conversation is usually similar so our students can practice week to week, every students’ comment will follow the same type of pattern so there is a ton of opportunity for within group modeling, and this is something you and I do on a regular basis. This is something kids and adults really talk about. I love to tie in some short term memory practice and inference skills by talking about what we are going to over the weekend on Friday and then talking about what we did do over the weekend on Monday. This gives students the opportunity to ask specific questions too peers based on what they remembered about Friday’s conversation. So instead of just “Sally what did you do this weekend?” it’s not “Sally how was going to the restaurant with your mom?” When kids engage in amazing social skills like that, load on the reinforcement. Throw a whole bunch of tallies on the table for that stellar response!

Sasha Long
Sasha Long

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