I’m a big follower of Michelle Garcia Winner and her Social Thinking Creation (socialthinking.com). I have attended many of her conferences and use a variety of her material with students of all ages to target those challenging pragmatic language skills. What is Social Thinking? – “Social thinking is what we do when we interact with people: we think about them. And how we think about people affects how we behave, which in turn affects how others respond to us, which in turn affects our own emotions.” (socialthinking.com)
If you want to start learning more information about Social Thinking I would recommend first getting the book “Thinking About You Thinking About Me, 2nd Edition” by Michelle Garcia Winner. Yes it’s a big book and it takes time to read but I think it’s worth it! It really outlines what Social Thinking is, how to assess it, and strategies to build communication skills. This gives you a good foundation before using some of her other resources and curriculum.
What I want to share about today is the one of the curriculums I like to use with my younger students. We Thinkers! Volume 1: A Social Thinking Curriculum for the Preschool and Early Elementary Years by Ryan Hendrix, Kari Zweber Palmer, Nancy Tarshis, and Michelle Garcia Winner is perfect to use to help build up those critical social language skills with younger students. (It used to be called The Incredible Flexible You). I have used this curriculum with several preschool and kindergarten classrooms, as well as, small social language groups. One advantage of using this curriculum in the classroom is all the teachers and clinicians can be on the same page and use the same vocabulary. In the past I have used this curriculum in collaboration with general education teachers, special education teachers, occupational therapists, school psychologists, and school social workers depending on our different caseloads and classroom set up. Having the curriculum laid out helps with consistently and follow through for everyone working with the students. Plus having the curriculum ready saves a lot of planning time.
We Thinkers: Volume 1 consists of 5 different story books and includes a variety of activities you can pair with each book. There are four main characters (Evan, Ellie, Molly, and Jessie) who encounter different social problems in various settings. The curriculum may not be for all your students. They need to have the cognition and language skills to participate and learn from these books and social activities.
The curriculum comes with a “teacher manual” which includes letters to send to parents, teaching moments to use while reading the book, activities to pair with each story, and home activities. I love time savers! I usually teach a lesson once a week and spread out reading each story book for 2-3 sessions since they are a little long. Reading the book and completing some of the different activities paired with each book may take 1-2 months to complete for each of those 5 topics. It works perfect for me because I have most of the school year planned out. When teaching whole classes with another clinician or teacher sometimes we split the groups into 2-3 smaller groups and each teacher/clinician might do part of the reading in the book or an activity for about 15-20 minutes and then we switch groups. Lots of different ways you can structured your lessons depending on class size, skill level, and how many adults to help teach.
It does take time to prep the materials the first time you use this curriculum but now that I have used for a few years, I can reuse some of the same materials and lessons from the past and just adapted it slightly depending on the students’ skill level and who I’m collaborating with for the lessons. I’ll just share a few things I do with some of the books in this series but like I said before most of these ideas are in the teacher manual.
The first book is called “Thinking Thoughts and Feeling Feelings.” We talk a lot about thoughts and feelings for this book. I printed out both large and small thought bubbles from the teacher manual which can be used throughout this series. We talked about how we can’t see other people’s thoughts but the thought bubbles give the students the added visual support to help with this concept.
We played a game using the large thought bubbles. I printed out some different picture of common objects and I would attach one on my thought bubble with Velcro but not show the students my picture on the thought bubble. Then I would describe what I was thinking about to the students. If the students guessed it right I would hold up my thought bubble with the picture on it to show them they guessed right. The students took turns describing what was on their thought bubble to peers and when the peer guessed it right the student would hold up the thought bubble with the picture on it.
I printed out small thought bubbles for all the students and put them on Popsicle sticks. We held our Popsicle sticks with our thought bubbles while we listen to the song from the CD “Where You Think a Thought” and lifted up our thought bubbles above our head every time we heard the word “thought” while we march around the room listening to the song.
I also printed out different facial expressions and we talked about different feelings and why you might feel that way. We took turns sharing about times we feel happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, mad, etc. When I did this lesson with the school social worker we also played a feeling bingo game and did a few activities she had related to feelings.
Book 2 is “The Group Plan”. This is such a great concept to teach children. I used my printed out characters and thought bubbles while teaching this lesson. The 4 kids are going to make apple pie with ice cream. The kids need to gather four different ingredients to make the pie and ice cream. The kids start out with a group plan which is making apple pie with ice cream. I have my students tell me what each of the kids is thinking about at the start of the story and we do this for each ingredient they need to gather to make the pie and ice cream.
The first item the students need to gather is apples. Evan stops thinking about the group plan and we have to take away the apple picture from above his head. He changes his plan to think about the tractor. We talk about how the Ellie, Jesse, and Molly feel about Evan leaving the group plan. Continue to use those feeling terms and point out their facial expressions in the book. Evan changes his thought and is thinking about the group plan again and we change his thought back to apples!
We do this for each ingredient the students need to gather. You can see why this book often takes a couple sessions to finish reading. It is also great to review those sequencing concepts as you continue to discuss the items the kids gather for the pie.
For a follow up activity for this book I have made both pudding and apple sauce for the students to see what happens when someone is not following the group plan. One of us teachers/clinicians put the wrong ingredient in the recipe because we were thinking about something else and it ruined the recipe. My students went crazy one year when ketchup got added to the pudding instead of milk. Then we all got on the same group plan and completed the recipe again correctly so the students can see why it is so important to follow a group plan. The students also like to eat the treat when we are finished making it the right way!
As you can tell I’ve only talked about 2 books and already had some much information to share about them and what you can do. I would highly recommend using this curriculum if you work with younger students who have the cognition and language skills to participate in these great books lessons and activities. It really targets those important concepts such as thinking about others, participating in the group plan, keeping your body in the group, and whole body listening.
You can find these resources on the Social Thinking website with the link – https://www.socialthinking.com/