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Social Thinking Articles

Where Do I Start with Social Thinking?

Michelle Garcia Winner and Deborah Meringolo

Social Thinking Article
People love Social Thinking. Parents, therapists, educators, school counselors, psychologists, and social workers regularly send us emails about the difference our methodology makes in helping children, teens, and adults learn more about social awareness, social problem solving, and their social emotional selves.

We also get another kind of email on a regular basis: where do I start using Social Thinking materials? Here’s a typical example of one such email, and our response to the SLP who sent it. We hope it offers some guidance on using and implementing Social Thinking in your own home, school, or community setting.


Good Day, Michelle!
I am an enthusiastic believer in, and supporter of, your Social Thinking philosophy and materials but...I’m having a hard time knowing where to begin and how to coordinate materials when conducting 30 minute per week Social Thinking groups in my elementary school. My student groupings (numbers and grade levels) can change year to year as the school dictates. Currently I have one group of three: two "gifted" third graders and one fifth grader, and another group of four: three fourth graders and one third grader.

I have these Social Thinking books:


  • Thinking about You Thinking about Me
  • Think Social! A Social Thinking Curriculum for School-Age Students
  • Social Behavior Mapping
  • Thinksheets for Teaching Social Thinking and Related Skills
  • You are a Social Detective!
  • Superflex… A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum
  • The Incredible Flexible You Vol. 1 curriculum (for two first graders I have)

Can you please offer guidance as to where I should begin and how I can develop a cohesive program beneficial for my students? Thank you in advance!


Dear Brenda,
Thank you for your email and your interest in Social Thinking. Sounds like you are ready to go with your first graders, using The Incredible Flexible You*. It’s the place to begin introducing Social Thinking Vocabulary and concepts to kids ages 4-7 and lays the groundwork in their thinking to move on to other materials over time. It also sounds like you have a great assortment of our tools for different ages.

As you begin treatment for your students you’ll want to consider how different students need different types of Social Thinking teachings. A great place to learn about this is reading the free article posted on our website: “The Social Thinking- Social Communication Profile: Levels of the Social Mind.” The article will give you an overall perspective and framework from which you can better assess what materials to use and how to proceed with them.

Also, as you move forward in your planning it’s important to recognize that Social Thinking is not for “everyone.” It’s a differentiated methodology designed for use with students who have solid learning and language skills (minimum verbal IQ of 70). Social Thinking is taught through language, so you’ll want to be sure your students have solid language skills, basic joint attention skills, and the ability to understand that we all have thoughts about each other all the time.

Your question about your groups and where to begin with them is an excellent one. Our social thinking is not “one thing” that we can isolate and teach. It’s a combination of thoughts, feelings, ideas and actions working in tandem with each other in unique ways for each social situation we encounter. As we age, social expectations change and our social skills need to mature and change with them. Your third to fifth graders are never too old to learn some of the core Social Thinking Vocabulary and concepts related to how they work and learn in a group:

  • We all have thoughts about each other when we are sharing space
  • Those thoughts impact our feelings and our behaviors
  • Body/brain in the group
  • Thinking with your eyes
  • Expected/unexpected behaviors
  • Listening with all of me (whole body listening)

When you do this, you will be helping your kids establish a basic working knowledge of pivotal social emotional concepts, and giving them vocabulary you and they can use to communicate together. This will support what you ultimately choose to cover next. Please don’t make assumptions about your students’ social understanding. Even our brightest, high IQ students can have marked social challenges that interfere with learning and being in a group.

It will be helpful to you, as a teacher and leader, to read Thinking About YOU Thinking About ME (called the “bible” of Social Thinking) and share this core information with your students. The early chapters about the Four Steps of Communication are real eye-openers about how much we communicate without language! From there you can move to the activities about working as part of a group in our curriculum book, Think Social. We can talk and teach about Social Thinking but it’s through practice, practice, and more practice that we help our kids really integrate this teaching into their daily lives. The lessons in Think Social will help you do this.

As you work through some of these concepts with kids begin using the book You are a Social Detective with them also. This will help frame the vocabulary in a way that’s interesting to the group while at the same time connecting to the materials in Think Social. Social Detective is important. It will help you raise your students’ social awareness as they learn to be detectives to look for clues and cues around them. It also introduces the core idea that what you do/say or don't do/say impacts others, which is what Social Behavior Mapping is all about. Social Detective basically lays the foundation for using Social Behavior Mapping. After you have introduced and worked through the concepts in Detective you will be able to tailor what you want to specifically address through Social Behavior Mapping with your students.

In using Social Detective you will be introducing strategies to your kids— ways that support their efforts to keep their body/brain in the group, figure out how to make a smart guess versus a wacky guess, think with their eyes, and acquire other social skills to support their listening and thinking. Teaching strategies to your kids is critical. Social concepts are abstract and often hold little meaning by themselves to our students with social challenges. Just talking about them with students doesn’t go very far. But when we provide them with the opportunity to learn and then access a strategy that works we build their social thinking and social skills and really cement in their minds why social thinking is important. One of the overriding principles of Social Thinking is helping individuals learn to think socially, which helps them change their thinking and related behaviors as the situation warrants. This is at the core of what we do and the materials we create to help our students think socially with us and ultimately on their own.

The concept and strategy work you have done up to this point will then lay the groundwork for introducing your kids to Superflex, our engaging superhero Social Thinking curriculum for third to fifth graders. It’s tempting to jump right into Superflex because it’s so appealing to kids (and adults!). But please make sure you take ample time to teach core Social Thinking concepts before introducing kids to Superflex (at the very minimum through the teachings in You are a Social Detective). Superflex is about using our social thinking and social awareness to learn to self–regulate and develop our social problem solving skills. When we each focus on summoning our own Superflex, we are working to access our best selves. This curriculum helps you support your kids' ability to recognize what gets in their way or takes them off course (represented by the Unthinkables) when they are having difficulties sharing space with others. For example, when George is unable to join a group because the group is playing a game he doesn't want to play, George might have Rock Brain interfering. He is having a hard time with flexible thinking. Or when Misty has an overblown reaction to a small problem, Glassman might be impacting her. Superflex will help you help your kids identify what Unthinkable gets in their way.

From there you can give them strategies for defeating their Unthinkables and move onto teaching them about the very cool Five-Step Power Plan as a working plan to identify and choose strategies with more independence (introduced in our book, Social Town Citizens Discover 82 New Unthinkables for Superflex to Outsmart.) Superflex seems “simple” but it’s more complex than it appears on the surface. It’s not meant to teach kids about “behaving” or self-regulating behavior. It’s about teaching students to look within and think about what’s happening to themselves and those around them, and then use their social thinking abilities to problem solve the situation. If you are teaching Superflex or planning to, please make sure you read the related free articles posted on our website:

• “Where to Start When Using Our Child-Centered Products: Social Detective and Superflex”
• “10 DOs and DON’Ts for Teaching Superflex”
• “DOs and DON’Ts for Working with Students in Social Thinking Groups”

We also have an array of Superflex-related visual and learning tools including posters, cards, and games that support teaching the curriculum. It’s always helpful to extend learning through other modes of instruction. Superflex: My Hero Inside is our latest addition: a music CD with 13 songs that help kids learn more about their superhero and using strategies to defeat their Unthinkables.

Finally, we are excited about a new book we’re releasing in first quarter 2016 called Social Thinking and Me. This two-book set is written to introduce core Social Thinking concepts to kids in upper elementary grades through text, illustrations and thinksheets. Keep your eye on our free monthly newsletter for more about this upcoming release. Sign up at www.socialthinking.com.

Social Thinking is a life-long learning process and in teaching it we are building knowledge and understanding in our students over time and through the different materials we offer. Our conferences offer our very latest thinking, ideas and strategies – well before they make it into our printed materials. We also regularly offer updates to our thinking and methodology in our free newsletter along with instructive articles that will help you better help your students. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter to stay informed!


* As of Spring 2016, this product’s name is We Thinkers: Volume 1 Social Explorers

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