Evidence-based strategies for social skills

Evidence-based strategies are those that have been evaluated by researchers within school settings, and found to be effective.

Teach social skills

To teach a student a social skill, explain exactly what they should do. For example, if they are learning to meet someone, teach them communication skills such as what to say and do (for example, “Hello, my name is James”). Instructions that are not concrete and specific may be difficult for a student to follow (for example, “be nice”). 

Some students may pick up these social skills when instructions are directed to a group (for example, “When we want to have a turn, we ask ‘Can I please have a turn?’”), while others may need individualised and explicit prompts (for example, “Look at Ruan, and ask him ‘Can I please have a turn?’”). Where possible, look for opportunities to provide these prompts discreetly ( without drawing the attention of other students).

Encourage peer interaction

Pointing out common interests among students can encourage friendships. For example, suggest students talk about soccer or music at recess time.

Set clear social expectations

Students who find social skills challenging may be left out by other students. Clear expectations for the class about how to treat each other may help. Consider establishing a clear system to manage any exclusion, teasing or bullying. Find more helpful resources on the anti-bullying page.


It may help to read stories that show or talk about how to act in different social situations. This may be particularly useful for helping a student acquire an understanding of social expectations or norms. Access our school stories.

Teach and model social skills

Consider demonstrating social skills that are important at school, or have another student demonstrate. It may be helpful to use video modelling that shows a social skill, and to point out the skill to the student. 

Another option is giving a student a picture card showing a social skill just before an opportunity to use that skill. This strategy may be particularly important for students who are having difficulties interpreting or understanding social situations, or who learn best with additional support.

Practise social skills

It can be helpful to create opportunities for students to work together and practise social skills. Be deliberate. For example, organise games in which students need to cooperate. Have students act out short dramas about social situations. 

Ask students to practise a specific social situation or skill during playtime. Encourage a student to copy another student’s social behaviour.

Multiple opportunities to practise in different settings may be particularly important for students on the autism spectrum or with intellectual disability.

Encourage and acknowledge effort

Students may respond well to effective feedback which is explicit and actionable when practising or using a positive social skill. For example, “I like the way you asked Katie if you could have a turn with the glue.Katie is just finishing her turn, so while you are waiting, you can be patient by finishing cutting this part out.”