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Teaching Social Skills

Steps for Teaching Social Skills

1. Activate Background Knowledge

  • What is the skill? What does it look like and sound like? How do we define it? 
  • Discuss the skill with students and allow them time to turn/talk about what it means for them. 
  • Identify the importance of the skill and the rationale for teaching it. 

2. Direct Teaching

  • Identify the concrete, discrete steps of the skill. 
  • Directly teach the steps of the skill. 

3. Model the Steps

  • Modeling can be defined as telling paired with sharing. 
  • Illustrate the steps of the skill using examples and non-examples. 
  • End with the "right way" to use the skills. 

4. Practice the Skill

  • Allow students time to practice the skill. 
  • Check their accuracy with the skill and provide feedback to improve their performance. Always provide another practice opportunity if they perform the skill incorrectly. 
  • Typically, students practice the skill in a safe, controlled setting until they are accurate with the skill. Then, they can perform/practice the skill in the natural setting. 
  • Students can role-play the skill and list the steps of the skill as they use them. 

5. Transfer and Generalize the Skills

  • Precorrect, prompt, and reinforce the skills at every reasonable opportunity.
  • Provide behavior-specific praise in order to provide feedback to students and to strengthen the skill.
  • Use misbehavior or misuse of a skill as a teaching opportunity, not just an opportunity to punish. 
  • Maintain a high ratio of positive to negative feedback (e.g., at least 4:1).

Correcting Use of Skills

For minor, infrequent behavior: 

  1. Identify the misbehavior.
  2. Identify the correct behavior. 
  3. Ask the student to perform the behavior. Model the behavior if the student does not know the correct behavior. 
  4. Praise the student for the correct behavior. 
  5. Move on with day. 

For more frequent or more severe behavior:

  1. Identify the misbehavior.
  2. Identify the correct behavior. 
  3. Prove more extensive teaching and modeling of the behavior using examples and non-examples.
  4. Provide time for student to practice the behavior.
  5. Within the natural setting, prompt the expected behavior and praise the student after the correct behavior is performed. 


Gresham, F. M. (2002). Teaching social skills to high-risk children and youth: preventive and remedial strategies. In M. R. Shinn, H. M. Walker, & G. Stoner (Eds.), Interventions for academic and behavior problems II: Preventive and remedial approaches (pp. 403-432). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists. 

Gresham, F. M., Van, M. B., & Cook, C. R. (2006). Social skills training for teaching replacement behaviors: Remediating acquisition deficits in at-risk students. Behavior Disorders, 31(4), 363-377.