Introduced as "Cartoon Strip Conversations" by Carol Gray, creator of "Social Stories," cartoon strips are an effective way to support the instruction of appropriate interactions to children with language and social deficits, especially children with autism spectrum disorders.
Children with autism , or children with other social deficits due intellectual or physical challenges face difficulty with acquisition, performance and fluency in social skills. Cartoon Strip Social Interactions support all levels of challenge. For children who have difficulty with Acquisition, The cartoon strip offers very explicit, visual, step by step information on how to interact. For a child with difficulty with Performance, writing the interaction phrases in the bubbles creates practice that will enhance performance. Finally, for children who have not attained Fluency, the Cartoon strip will give them opportunities to build fluency and mentor children who are still acquiring the skills. In each case, cartoon strips provide opportunities to acquire and practice social interactions that meet them where they are at. This is differentiation at its best.
Using Cartoon Strip Interactions
Not everyone can draw, so I have created resources for you to use. The cartoon strips have four to six boxes, and have pictures of the people participating in the interactions. I am offering a range of interactions: requests, greetings, initiating social interactions, and negotiations. I also offer these across milieux: many children do not understand that we interact differently with an adult, especially an unfamiliar adult or an adult in authority, than we do with a peer in an informal social situation. These nuances need to be pointed out and students need to learn criteria to figure out the unwritten social conventions.
Introduce the concepts: What is a request, or an initiation? You need to teach and model these first. Have a typical student, an aide, or a high functioning student help you model:
- A request: "Could you help me find the library?"
- A Greeting: "Hi, I'm Amanda." Or, "Hello, Dr. Williams. It's nice to see you."
- An interaction initiation: "Hi, I'm Jerry. I don't think we've met before. What's your name?
- A Negotiation: "Can I have a turn? How about after five minutes? Can I set the alarm on my watch?
Model creating a strip: Walk through each step of creating your strip. Use an ELMO projector or an overhead. How will you start your interaction? What are some greetings you can use? Generate a number of different ideas, and write them on chart paper where you can refer to them again, later. The large "Post It Notes" from 3M are great because you can stack them and stick them around the room.
Write: Have students copy your interaction: You will have them decide on their own greetings, etc., after they have done one conversation together and practiced it.
Student Role Play: Lead your students through practicing the interaction you have created together: you might have them rehearse in pairs and then have a few groups perform for everyone: you can have all perform or a few depending on the size of your group. If you videotape the interaction, you can have students evaluate each other's performance.
Evaluate: Teaching your students to evaluate their own performance and the performance of their peers will help them generalize the same activity when they are in public. We typical folks do it all the time: "Did that go well with the boss? Maybe that joke about his tie was a little off color. Hmmmm . . . how's the resume?"
Coach and prompt the elements you want students to evaluate, such as:
- Eye contact: are they looking at the person they are addressing. Do that count to 5 or 6, or do they stare?
- Proximity: Did they stand a good distance for a friend, a stranger, or an adult?
- Voice and pitch: Was their voice loud enough? Did they sound friendly?
- Body Language: Did they have quiet hands and feet? Were their shoulders turned to the person they were addressing?
Teach Feedback Skills: Typical kids have trouble with this, since in general, teachers are not very good at giving or receiving constructive criticism. Feedback is the only way we learn from our performance. Give it kindly and generously, and expect your students to start doing it. Be sure to include Pats (good stuff,) and Pans (not so good stuff.) Ask students for 2 pats for every pan: i.e.: Pat: You had good eye contact and a good pitch. Pan: You didn't stand still.
Hopefully you will find these resources help your students as they I. Acquire new skills at making requests, initiation conversations and interaction, engage students in conversations, and become more social creatures in their own setting. 2. Learn to Perform the conversational strategies they have learned and 3. Gain Fluency as they build comfort and confidence in new social situations.