Developing Social Skills in the Classroom

Teaching Students with Sensory Impairments
Social Skills
Dolly Bhargava, M. Spec. Ed., Renwick College
II. Developing Social Skills in the Classroom
As a teacher, you may have to deal with conflicts, emotional outbursts and
perhaps a variety of inappropriate classroom behaviors by students on a regular
basis. The typical classroom day provides many incidental teaching moments
upon which you can capitalize. For example, students who are blind may have
difficulty in initiating conversation if they are unaware of who is nearby. As a
result, a student may choose to remain socially passive rather than risk
embarrassment (Bishop, 1996). These highly important “teachable” moments
can be used to help students learn how to interact with one another in
collaborative and productive ways, such as by encouraging peers to inform the
student with a vision impairment that they are in the area. This is important
because the student might not be aware of their presence. Another example
might entail providing suggestions to the student on topics they could talk about
with their peers. The greater benefits of social skills instruction is that you can
improve both the academic and social functioning of individual students and
improve the interpersonal climate of the classroom for all students (Siperstein &
Rickards, 2004).
Your role as a teacher in helping students acquire social skills is a critically
important one. So in conjunction with the visiting specialist vision teacher and
related professionals (i.e., Orientation and Mobility Specialist; Speech and
Language Pathologist; School Psychologist), the classroom teacher can have an
important and central role in providing social skills support. In collaboration with
other professionals, you can carry out assessments of the student’s social skills
and provide strategies to promote skills in interacting with others. You can
encourage students to be assertive in expressing their needs and preferences to
ensure the development of positive self esteem, self confidence and sense of
identify. The everyday experiences children have in relationships with their
parents are fundamental to children developing social skills (Cohn, Patterson, &
Christopoulous, 1991; Parke & Ladd, 1992). Teachers and parents can work in
collaboration to encourage and nurture the development of social skills in
children. This collaborative approach can stimulate the growth of effective social
skills by providing the student with a range of learning experiences inside and
outside the classroom.
A. Developing a Social Skills Profile
First, it is important work out what skills need to be taught to the student.
Teaching social skills can be compared to teaching academics. The first step
involves knowing where to start. The parents, siblings, teachers, peers and the
child can provide information about social skills that need to be addressed.
Direct observation, checklists, social skills scales, functional behavior
assessment, identifying solutions to problem scenarios and reports are useful
Below is a social skills profile that you can use to assess the student’s abilities.
Before teaching the social skill it is important that you discuss with the student’s
parents the social skill needs and give the parents the opportunity to contribute
ideas and suggestions. This discussion is extremely important since as
teachers, we need to be sensitive to the cultural and religious beliefs of the family
(Wolffe, Sacks & Thomas, 2000).
Please note this is not a comprehensive list of all the skills that might be found in
each of the categories, nor all of the skills that you need to focus on for your
student. The following information has been compiled from a number of sources,
including Bishop, 1996; Bloom & Bhargava, 2004 b; Freeman & Dake, 1997;
Sacks & Wolffe, 2000; Wolffe, Sacks & Thomas, 2000; Wolffe, Thomas & Sacks,
Social Skills Profile
Social Skill
Behaviours to consider
Gestures: Does the student use gestures to emphasise or convey
your message such as waving; head nodding/shaking to indicate
“yes” or “no”; pointing; shoulder shrugging; shaking hands;
hugging/kissing appropriately; and covering the mouth when
Eye contact – Does the student orient his/her body towards the
person? Look towards the face of the person when speaking?
Facial expression – Does the student’s facial expression match the
message (i.e. an excited look when talking about a competition they
have just won)?
Posture – Does the student’s posture communicate interest or
disinterest to the other person?
Proximity: How close is the student to the person when speaking?
Listening – Does the student give the speaker full attention? Does
the student interrupt the speaker? Does the student make comments
about what the speaker is saying (i.e., asking questions, repeating
Grooming and hygiene – Does the student wear appropriate clothes?
Is the student properly groomed? Does the student’s appearance
suit the situation?
Voice – Is the voice audible? Is it too soft or too loud?
(Sacks & Wolffe, 2000; Wolffe, Sacks & Thomas, 2000)
Identifying emotions in others - Is the student able to perceive and
identify emotions by reading the person’s body language and/or or
tone of voice? Able to label emotions that others are experiencing
such as by sensing when another person is angry by the tone of
Identifying own emotions – Is the student able to describe personal
feelings? Label feelings? Discuss emotions (i.e., saying I feel
Understanding the triggers – Is the student able to identify things that
can trigger emotions in oneself and in others (i.e., I feel angry when
someone takes my things without asking or someone suddenly
touches me)?
Expressing emotions appropriately – Is the student able to express
emotions in appropriate ways? Identify and understand another
person's perceptions, ideas and feelings, and convey that
understanding through an appropriate response? (For example,
initially when the student became angry, he would hit the person
causing the anger. However, after he received specific instruction on
how to effectively deal with his emotion, he would then (1) Stop; (2)
Take a deep breath; (3) Relax; and (4) Deal with the issue when
Dealing with situations – Is the student able to make decisions about
situations in effective ways? (For example, when uncertain about
how to deal with a situation, the student needs to stay relaxed and
find his teacher or a friend to help him think of an effective solution.)
Bloom and Bhargava (2004b)
Topic Management – Is the student able to initiate topics? Maintain,
elaborate, and extend topics appropriately? End the topic
appropriately? Change topics appropriately?
Content – Is the content appropriate and relevant to the situation?
Does the student converse with others to get to know more about
them or only talk about him/herself? Is there an understanding of
social boundaries, or does the student frequently discuss
inappropriate things?
Turn-taking skills – Is the student able to take turns as a listener?
Clarification Requests – Does the student ask for explanations of
information when it is unclear?
Freeman and Dake (1997)
Social etiquette
Social Courtesies - Does the student use social courtesies
appropriately (i.e., Please, Thank you, and Excuse me)?
Situation specific – Does the student use appropriate language
according to time? Place? Person? Are behaviours appropriate to a
specific situation (i.e., a restaurant)? Does the student know which
behaviors are private, such as scratching, twitching, rocking and
(Bishop, 1996)
Playground – Does the student know where and which games to
play outside the school? How to use playground equipment? Does
the student play with others or alone?
Games – Does the student know how and when to play the game?
Necessary equipment? Game rules? Where and with whom to play
the game? How to share?
(Bloom & Bhargava, 2004a)
Does the student know how to approach peers? How to make
friends? Keep friends? Be a good friend? Change friends?
(Sacks & Wolffe, 2000)
Types - Does the student understand different types of relationships
(i.e., family, friendships, or employer/employee)? Display
appropriate levels of affection according to the relationship with the
other person?
Dating – Does the student know how to choose a date? Where to
go? What to talk about? Appropriate public dating behaviours?
Sexuality – What are socially acceptable appropriate and
inappropriate public sexual behaviours? Has the student been
provided with information in an understandable manner about sex,
sexual relationships, reproduction and birth control, menstruation,
managing periods, sexually-transmitted diseases, and sexual abuse?
(Bishop, 1996; Wolffe, Thomas & Sacks, 2000)
Is the student familiar with the different parts of a telephone? How to
make a phone call? How to answer the telephone and take
messages? Whom to contact in case of an emergency? How to
carry on a phone conversation with friends?
Leisure time
Within school - Does the student know available leisure activities for
free time? Where games and equipment are located or stored? How
to use the items appropriately and independently? Does the student
need to have organized activities for leisure time?
Outside of school - Does the student have hobbies or creative
interests at home? Know where to get information about potential
leisure activities (i.e. local library, associations for vision impairment,
local colleges)? Know what details to ask for when contacting
recreational centers (i.e. guide rails in bowling alleys, audio
descriptions for sporting and cultural events)?
Is the student able to tell his/her destination to the bus or taxi driver?
Able to ask the driver to indicate when they arrive at the destination?
Does the student know how to ask for assistance? Directions?
Know how to pay for the bus or taxi?
Is the student able to access the environment independently? Able to
ask friends or acquaintances to use ‘sighted guide’ technique
correctly and appropriately?
Talking about
the vision
Is the student able to inform others about the vision impairment? Its
impact? Modifications others may need to make for assistance?
Is the student comfortable in answering questions from peers such
as What can you see? or What’s it like to not be able to see?
Does the student tell the teacher when he/she is disturbed by
classroom learning distractions such as a glare on the blackboard or
an inability to read overhead transparencies?
Cafeteria Skills
Can the student identify situations that can cause a conflict? Does
the student know with whom to discuss conflicts? Can the student
provide the relevant information about the conflict-causing situation
(i.e. Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?)? Think of solutions
and identify the best one? Have the skills to resolve the conflict?
Know how to prevent the situation from arising again?
(Bloom & Bhargava, 2004 b)
Within school – Does the student know or can he/she ask for
assistance with:
 Locating the cafeteria? Locating the line? Asking what is
available? Making an order? Paying for food? Balancing a tray
while walking with a cane?
 Finding a table to sit? Locating food on the plate? Using
condiments? Drinking from cup or glass?
 Using appropriate eating etiquette?
Outside of school - Does the student know or can s/he ask for
assistance with:
 Reading what’s on the menu? Making an order? Paying for their
food? Balancing a tray (if at a food court) while walking with a
 Finding a table to sit? Locating food on their plate? Using
condiments? Drinking from cup/glass? Serve self from serving
bowl or platter?
 Use appropriate eating etiquette?
(Kelley & Smith, 2000)
B. Teaching Social Skills
Once you have identified the social skills that will benefit the student, you can
employ the steps identified in this instructional sequence as a guide to facilitate
Step 1: Provide a rationale – Help the student understand “what” the skill
is and “why” it is useful. You might invite an adult who is legally blind or has
low vision to act as a role model by discussing and demonstrating effective
social skills and answering student questions (Sacks & Silberman, 2000).
Step 2: Provide modeling – Give verbal descriptions of the people
involved in the situation, their actions and reactions. Encourage the student to
consider social cues. For example, a wealth of information can be gained
about how someone is feeling by listening to the variations in voice volume,
pitch and rhythm. Through having such a dialogue, the student is not only
listening and/or viewing the content, but also responding to questions, sharing
observations, expressing ideas and opinions. Encouraging reflection is the
key ingredient for transforming an experience into a genuine learning
experience, as such dialogue will promote deeper understanding (Markus,
Howard & King, 1993).
Step 3: Provide guided practice – Provide the student with opportunities
to practice or rehearse skills in arranged situations that simulate the actual
situation. Provide the student with multiple opportunities to practice the skill
in small, structured groups with same-age peers in a comfortable, fun, and
supportive environment. Initially you may have the student with vision
impairment practising these skills with an adult and then proceed to practising
with peers. Through role playing and videoing practice scenarios you can
provide positive and constructive feedback to shape the student’s behaviour.
Sacks and Silberman (2000) point out that you can also encourage “sighted
peers to help the student with the vision impairment engage in social
experiences throughout the day” (p 637).
Step 4: Teach self-regulation – Self-regulation is the ability to evaluate
one’s own behaviour and emotions in terms of their appropriateness so as to
regulate them accordingly. Self-regulation includes skills such as monitoring,
evaluating, managing, and reinforcing oneself. Self-monitoring involves
conducting an assessment of one’s own behaviour as appropriate or
inappropriate (Conroy & Sellers, 2001). Children with vision impairments
often have difficulty interpreting body language and monitoring their own
behaviour in social situations (Erwin, 1993). Initially you may need to prompt
them to heighten awareness of their own behaviour. It is important to
encourage the student to self-evaluate skill performance and think of
strategies for doing things differently. This process helps the student with the
promotion of skill maintenance and growth through self-monitoring.
Strategies such as audio taping, video taping, role-playing social situations
and using individualised stories can promote thinking, self-evaluation and
planning by the student (Bloom & Bhargava, 2004; Sacks & Silberman, 2000).
Step 5: Promote generalisation – Generalisation is a form of a critical
yardstick by which the effectiveness of the skills and strategies can be
informally gauged in terms of how well students can adapt the skills taught
into their everyday life settings. Generalisation programming should be
considered from the start and become a part of the social skills instruction
program. It will be important to provide opportunities for the student to use
newly acquired social skills in a variety of settings, and with different people.
Assistance from parents is also invaluable to ensure generalisation, as they
can set up and/or observe home- and community-based events in which the
student is expected to use these skills.
Kelelis, Sacks and Wolffe (2000) have suggested that “…there are no easy
‘how to’ lessons that teach social skills. Yet there are moments each day
when parents and teachers can respond to situations in ways that help
children with visual impairments learn social skills” (p. 20).