Getting the “Story” of a Situation - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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Getting the “Story” of a Situation

by Sean Sweeney May 12, 2015 5 min read

In working with SLPs, teachers, other professionals and graduate students around the myriad ways I find Story Grammar Marker® useful in intervention, I often emphasize how narrative is at the crux of language functioning and social cognition. This post will explore this idea with an eye toward the concept of situational awareness, an area we can look at as critical for many of our students with social learning challenges--an appropriate topic for May as it is Better Speech and Hearing Month!

In their article, Social Learning and Social Functioning: Social Thinking's Cascade of Social Functioning, Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke describe how awareness of situations serves as the foundation of interactions. Social functioning can then be considered a "cascade" of additional skills such as self-awareness within a situation (and understanding of one's own possible role in the ongoing situation) and abstracting and interpreting the ongoing language and actions of others:

Social Attention requires us to consider the situation and what you know or don't know about the people in the situation. By observing, possibly listening to what people are saying as well as considering past experiences in similar situations with same or different people, helps one consider these people's thoughts, motives, intentions, beliefs, etc. Using this information we can begin to form our own basic interpretations of people in these situations (Winner & Crooke, 2013).

For many of our students who “don’t get what is going on,” a basic building block in situational awareness, then, is the “story” of the situation. Who is involved and who are they Character Icon(characters)?

When and where is it happening (setting- also considering what is to happen before and happening (Setting Icon setting- also considering what is to happen before and after the situation at hand) and how does this contribute to a possible Kick-Off Icon kickoff or initiating event? How are the people involved then Action Bead reacting to the situation and the kickoff?

As I note that many of the students I work with struggle with aspects of the “story” of a situation, I find that SGM can be an extremely helpful tool in establishing this building block. I often combine this with executive function specialists and SLPs Sarah Ward’s and Kristen Jacobsen’s strategy that encourages students to STOP and think about the Space, Time, Objects, and People relevant to the situation (Ward & Jacobsen, 2014). The two strategies go hand in hand!

As a precursor and ongoing support in discussing personally relevant situations that my students are encountering, I find applications and resources based in video modeling to be a great tool. For students new to SGM, this allows me to establish the basic icons and begin modeling the temporal and causal connections between them. The story elements serve as a scaffold as we work with the situations presented in video.

One of my favorite tools in this regard, because the material is so situationally based, are the videos from Social Skill Builder. These have been available for some time as CD-ROM applications, but the easiest way to access them currently is through the Social Skill Builder app for iPad (currently priced at $9.99- a Lite Version at $2.99 contains less content). The apps contain modules such as Preschool Playtime, My School Day and My Community, each containing many videos that lend themselves to quick narrative/situational analysis activities.

For example, as shown in the screenshot below, this video shows a class leaving their classroom when the teacher needs to ask a neighboring colleague a question:


The video is followed by a question--with multiple choice answers, several of which are correct, which I love for flexible thinking and “noticing” various aspects of the situation. My kids love completing these activities as a “Social Detective Game Show” within group. Before or after we respond to the question, we use Braidy, The Storybraid or SGM as a scaffold to analyze the situation we saw, like so:

Character Icon Character(s): Kids and Teacher

Setting Icon Setting: Hallway, on way to ____ (good point to make an inference of P.E., lunch or recess)

Kick-Off Icon Kickoff: The teacher needs to ask another teacher a question

Action Icon Reaction: The kids wait quietly

As we review the elements of the situation, we emphasize temporal conjunctions such as when and causals such as so. The videos are often presented in pairs, one depicting a scenario where the Reaction is not so “expected.”

Videos related to other settings in the school include situations such as:

Character Icon Character(s): Kids

Setting Icon Setting: Playground at recess time

Kick-Off Icon Kickoff: The kids are playing 4-Square, but one kid gets "out"

Action Icon Reaction: He accepts this and moves off to the side of the game

These skills can then be extended to describe, preview and review real-life situations such as:

Character Icon Character(s): You and your class

Setting Icon Setting: The meeting area, morning meeting

Kick-Off Icon Kickoff: A fireman visited and talked about his job

Action Icon Reaction: You asked a great "world wondering" question about how fire hydrants work!

Screen Shot

With many of my younger student groups, I find terrific engagement in the process of watching and discussing kids doing completely mundane things like walking down the hall! In the process, we can really focus on using our “Social Detective Tools” such as eyes, ears, and brain as we consider the situation.

For a resource more specifically tied to the Social Thinking methodology, don’t miss the Social Detective app ($24.99 for iPad) based on content developed in a collaboration between the folks at Social Skill Builder and Social Thinking. In this app, a student or group works toward earning detective equipment--a coat, hat, and magnifying glass--by reviewing pictured and video situations and identifying expected and unexpected behaviors, linking these to “good and uncomfortable thoughts” in others, practicing using the detective tools of eyes, ears, and brain, and making “smart guesses” about the scenes. The app is a terrific tool because it is grounded in the context of the popular (among educators and kids) You Are A Social Detective: Explaining Social Thinking to Kids comic book, and the always-useful Social Thinking vocabulary is woven through the app. The app also has great features allowing you to save student or group progress so that you can pick up where you left off. Naturally, as described above, SGM or Braidy work as complementary tools; once the student can describe the “story” of the situation, they are more likely to be able to respond accurately to the “detective” questions. Additionally, the questions about others’ thoughts allow you to use the “feelings” icon and tell the story in different ways according to character perspectives. I have for many years used the CD-ROM product on which this app is based, and it looks as if plans will include releasing an advanced app--this one is designated for beginners--to explore more advanced techniques such as Social Behavior Mapping.

For older students and to work more on noting skills that are used/not used, perhaps creating a “kickoff,” some additional products I recommend include:

Disclosure: Author was provided a free copy of the Social Detective app by Social Skill Builder (but has long been a fan of this product)!

Stayed tuned for our next blog about the SGM® Situation Model!

Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and as a clinical supervisor at Boston University. He consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (, looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at

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