Social Skills in Natural Settings

Help kids generalize their social skills!

Do you know that your students need social skills training, but just aren’t sure where to start? I know that I really struggled with this issue! Multiple years ago, my special education teacher and I decided to co-teach a group. The support and accountability I received helped me overcome my fear and take the plunge into social skills. Currently, we teach four social skills groups each week and serve students with autism, behavioral issues, and ADHD. I am extremely proud of the curriculum that I’ve created for these groups, including Tilly and Frank and Social Skills Curriculum for a Year. I also, however, know that there are components of social skills trainings that I am missing.

Last May, I attended a training by Scott Bellini, PhD, author of (Amazon affiliate link) Building Social Relationships. The point that he made that really resonated with me was that we need to teach social skills in every environment that the child enters. This includes the classroom, the office, the bathroom, the playground, and the halls. He stated that interventions in the typical classroom were much more effective and provided more generalization than those done in pull-out only settings. This makes sense. I want to see more generalization. I am tired of just putting bandaids on issues that have occurred and then writing a social story to “fix” the issue. My lessons in Scenes at School take students into the natural environment. But I’m realizing that I need many more proactive lessons within the students’ natural environments.

Here are ideas for skills to teach in different environments:


  • Asking peers to join in on an activity
  • Asking questions to others
  • Joining in to activities with peers
  • Taking turns
  • Allow others to play
  • Politely ask others to stop or move


  • Initiating greetings
  • Understand non-verbal communication
  • Personal space


  • Demonstrating proper interaction timing
  • Taking multiple conversational turns
  • Ask for help and let others help
  • Politely ask others to stop or move
  • Speaking with an appropriate volume
  • Gaining attention appropriately


  • Understanding body language
  • Making appropriate comments
  • Personal space and distance
  • Privacy


  • Initiating greetings
  • Demonstrating proper interaction timing
  • Several appropriate conversational turns
  • Joining into conversations
  • Understanding tone of voice
  • Understanding facial expressions

This is not to say that I will no longer do pull-out social skills groups. I still see their value in providing instruction in a small and quiet setting, however, I will be adding (or maybe alternating?) the location of my instruction.

What do you think? What other skills would you (or do you) teach in the natural environment?

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  1. Great post! The area I see my students struggling in, particularly in middle and high school, is cooperative group work/projects. They either want to take over and control everything, or refuse to participate and working on their own.

    1. That is so tough! I don’t work in a middle/high school, so I’m not sure how easy or hard it is to merge in to class at that time. Thoughts?

      1. Oh my goodness yes! Our students at the JH and HS level can be the same way. We have a social skills group that meets every other week, and we do address cooperative learning at times by having them work in small groups (pairs or three) to discuss certain issues or research a topic related to our goals. I merge into the art classroom for some of my Life Skills students at times (along with attending vocational outings) to address various communication strategies and to get a new view on their abilities. However, it is difficult to partner across settings for all students that I feel would benefit from this. Great food for thought…

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