It’s Monday morning. You roll into work not quite ready to meet the day. As you take your first sips of coffee, you spot a coworker in the hallway and are greeted with that same familiar question, “How was your weekend?” You have been asked this question before. You are familiar with the context and what this question is referencing. You give a brief summary of your weekend and you know what you need to ask next. “How was your weekend?” right back to your colleague. You nod and listen as they give their list of weekend activities before you are both on your way. The whole exchange is predictable, routine, and you know exactly what is expected of you. That sounds like a perfect social skill activity for our students.
The activity of discussing past events (like what you did over the weekend) teaches our students to summarize, highlight important events, engage short term memory, and provide detail. Listening to someone’s weekend events gives practice demonstrating listening behavior, commenting, asking reciprocal questions, and taking turns. The whole conversation encompasses an important goal – making a connection. This is the foundation of a friendship. Getting those “me too” moments in a conversation. I have found that engaging in a routine but socially common activity like discussing weekend plans provides students the structure and predictable to really get to that connection with peers.
How to Get Started
When you have a group of two or more students who can ask and answer questions mostly independently but struggle to expand, initiate, or advance on social skills – utilize this strategy. Start simple. Every Monday morning, ask each student what they did over the weekend. Model your own answer first. If you have another adult (like the SLP, a para, or social worker) that can join the group to be another adult model – even better. Give your weekend plans in a familiar structure – “Friday, I went out for pizza. Saturday, I went to a birthday party. Sunday, I cleaned my house.” Go through the sequence of each day and highlight one familiar activity for the students. Then prompt them to do the same. Model appropriate listening behavior when each student talks – nod, smile, and comment. After a few Mondays of this, prompt students to ask each other how their weekend was instead of you asking them.
Make it More Advanced
Once students are successful at asking each other about their weekend and engaging in listening behavior – add in associated, on-topic questions. Utilize the same process of modeling the strategy and then prompting students to do the same. Ask questions to each student about their weekend plans. “What kind of pizza did you eat? Who did you go to the park with?”
Reinforcement is King
Ideally, you will have an idea of what is a reinforcer for each student. During this process, I like to use a token economy to provide reinforcement for appropriate and independent conversation behaviors. Provide a token, point, or tally can be done in a way that doesn’t interrupt the follow of conversation. You don’t want to interrupt the reciprocal question asked to a peer by jumping in and saying “great job” or provide a contrived reinforcer because then the student being asked the question won’t answer. We want the social behaviors of peers (answering questions, etc) to be the reinforcement eventually. But to get started and while encouraging new and unprompted behaviors, some external reinforcement may be necessarily. Providing a token without any comments or interruption is a nice way to provide instant reinforcement with breaking the flow of the conversation. I like using tallies with a dry erase marker right on the table.
Add in the Recall
After you get things going well with this process, add in another discussion on Fridays. On Fridays, discuss what you are going to do over the weekend. Follow the same process as above. Emphasize specific activities that you or other students say. Then on Monday, model asking about specific events. “Tommy, how was your brother’s birthday?” Provide extra reinforcement when students demonstrate this skill independently. This skill shows that your student can remember specific information associated with a person and recall it in a socially appropriate way – such a key skill related to social skills and making friends!