Using Video Modeling to Teach Social Skills: A Q&A with Jennifer Schmidt

Jennifer Schmidt

Intervention Specialist | Special Education Adjunct Professor

Beavercreek City Schools | Antioch University Midwest & Wright State University

1. Do you have a certain program that you follow for social skills? Or do you teach the skills as they are needed in the classroom?

I follow the curriculum I developed for students with autism. This model utilizes high-level curriculum, peer mentors and authentic practice to help these students generalize the social skills they need for success and fulfillment in life. More information can be found in my book, Why didn’t they just say that? This curriculum provides the framework for what I teach, but I also supplement these lessons based on IEP goals and any actual social struggles that arise throughout the year.

2. How often do you use video clips or movies in your lessons?

That depends on the students I’m teaching from year to year, but I try to use one or two a week throughout my class. When they walk in and a video is pulled up, I’ve got their interest and then it’s a great, concrete way for them to see the skill that I’m trying to teach. Now, if you’re just getting started with video modeling, that is not something you have to do by any means, but that’s just what I’m currently doing.

3. Do you get parents’ permission when you use video modeling in school?

Absolutely! That is really vital and something we do across our whole district”¦ and then we know if parents are comfortable with it.

4. Do you have any recommendations about the length of the clip to use for social skills training?

In order to maximize instruction time, I try to use shorter clips, around 2-5 minutes, if I am teaching a certain skill. If I do a film study and show the entire film, I show 20 minutes of the film each day for my students with more significant needs and 40 minutes for my students in Communication Class/PEERspective. I usually do 1 film study each semester as a review. It allows me to integrate social skills vocabulary, reading non-verbals and perspective taking review into a fun format that grabs the students’ attention. (As a frame of reference, at my school we have 50-minute periods.)

5. Have you seen any difference in success with using a movie for video modeling or one that includes the student?

I think this depends on the student. Some students are really interested in movies or TV shows, so for these students that format is more effective. I personally like to use a mixture of both to keep the lessons interesting and to keep the students engaged. I will say that most students really do enjoy seeing themselves on video, so student created videos are always good, but I think you should use a mixture of both for maximum results.

6. Do you have any recommendations for good elementary clips for teaching social skills?

I love using Inside Out—that’s one of my favorite films to use—and I really like Finding Dory. I also think there are some really great lessons to be told in the Toy Story series about feeling threatened or transition, and I think that’s a film that elementary students enjoy.

In other words, start by watching a film and thinking about what specific social skills you want to teach…I almost guarantee there are clips in there that you can use. But again, animated films are really popular for elementary students, and of course, you can use them for middle and high schoolers as well.

7. The students I have worked with seem to really enjoy seeing themselves in videos. Please tell us about that.

That is such a good point. That’s why a lot of times drama and role-play are really effective when you’re trying to teach social skills. But sometimes the concept is kind of lost after you do the skit, so by video recording the students—the person who asked this question is exactly right—the concept will stick because they absolutely love to see themselves.

Now it’s so much easier to share your own videos than it used to be. And you can use them to show growth as well. For example, I will video record the students in the first quarter doing a skit or acting something out or even giving a presentation and then record them the fourth quarter. Watching each of these allows me to show them the growth that they’ve made throughout the year. This can be really powerful because when the social skills start to generalize, it’s hard for students to remember how much they struggled with this skill previously.

So, data collection and showing growth are another way to use video. But yes, as soon as you put it on the screen, you’ve got everyone’s attention. They’re usually laughing at themselves and enjoying watching themselves with their friends. I think it’s a great way to not only get that involvement, but also to let them watch themselves do the appropriate social skill and remind them how far they’ve come.

8. Is there some sort of online resource library to find good video clips? Maybe on social media? I don’t have a lot of free time to watch movies/TV so I often have a hard time finding good clips to use!

I have been having a lot of luck searching YouTube. Now that my school uses Chromebooks I’ve found it even easier to input these clips into Google Slides. I have listed the steps below for you. It’s easier than you think and once you start using the clips, your students will start to make recommendations for you to use in your classroom.

  1. Open a Google Slides presentation.
  2. Go to Insert on your toolbar.
  3. Go to Video.
  4. YouTube will automatically come up. Search here or in a separate tab.
  5. Type a movie, TV show or what skill you want to find (Example: “Hitch dancing”)
  6. Insert the clip into your slide and watch it. You can go back and edit it later if it’s longer than you’d like or you can just take note of where to start and stop the video.

*When following the steps above you cannot watch the clip until it is in “Slides” so it may be easier to open another tab, search YouTube, and then go back and insert the clip once you’ve found the one you are certain you’d like to use.

9. Do you preview the entire clip without stopping for conversation first, then watch again?

I have done this a variety of ways depending on what the objective of the lesson is. For example, sometimes I’ll show a clip and then when I stop it have the students journal about it or talk in small groups about what they saw. Other times, I will explain what I want them to look for. For example, I recently did a short lesson about intonation using the State Farm commercials. I told the students to pay close attention to how the intonation changed the meaning, then after watching the clip we discussed it and watched it again. If you are not familiar with this commercial series it has people saying the exact same words but their intonation and facial expressions convey different meanings (based on their different experiences). So the young lady getting her first car as a gift is saying, “This can’t be happening!” while a young man who just had his car vandalized is saying “This can’t be happening!”

10. It would have been great to start the year with some successful video models—or is this a strategy that I can implement at any time?

You can implement this anytime! It is one of the most effective tools I have used, especially for students with autism. The book Show Me, by Carol Dittoe and Heather Bridgman, is a great step-by-step guide to implementing video modeling.

11. What are some strategies for buy-in from the general education teachers to use key terms for the student?

This is such a great point. We really need to be using similar vocabulary across the student’s day in order to help our students master it. In my district we are doing social-emotional mapping for the entire district, including the general classrooms. If that isn’t feasible, I would say, make it as easy as possible for them to integrate the vocabulary. Perhaps you could create posters each month with one term and share it with them, encouraging them to use similar vocabulary and hang up the pre-made poster? I know if it was already created for me, I would be more apt to use it!

12. What feedback have you received from parents about your film/movie choices? For example, I teach elementary and I don’t think I could use Hitch or Titanic.

I would follow the rules set by your district regarding what is appropriate for the students to view. I have never had a parent complain about any of the film choices, but in my district I am able to show PG-13 movies at the high school level. I have had several parents reach out to tell me that their child came home telling about a lesson involving video modeling and they were excited to see their child engaged and learning.

13. How do you get the students to generalize and maintain the newly acquired behaviors?

I think the most important things that you can do as far as social skill acquisition is have the students practice and then try it in an authentic setting. For example, practicing dancing before prom, but then actually going to prom and doing that skill (among others) in an authentic setting.

There’s definitely research behind the fact that we have to practice skills in authentic settings, and the more practice we have, the easier that skill is and the easier it will be to generalize to other settings. So I would say that’s probably one of the most important means of social skill generalization—the authentic practice.

And, you know, little day-to-day experiences are helpful. I have my afternoon students deliver mail. And so I will have already taught about how to introduce yourself in a lesson, perhaps using video modeling, as I mentioned with the Zootopia clip. But then I’m going to have them actually go out and practice introducing themselves to different staff members when they are delivering mail.

You don’t necessarily have to go off campus to practice the skills, but you do have to practice the skills outside the classroom if you want the skills to generalize.

14. You have mentioned PEER buddy program! How have you gone about creating that and implementing that system using video model?

Peers are super helpful when using video modeling, especially if the students are creating the videos themselves. The peers are able to act out appropriate social skills and then our students can watch and learn (and then watch again when they see the video). That is one of the things I love about this strategy because often our students, especially those with autism, have missed the opportunity to observe their peers finding social success. This activity gives them the opportunity to learn from empathetic, kind and supportive peers. Once a student can see themselves being socially successful, they can replicate these skills and they start to generalize the skills to other environments.

15. Love the idea of the PEERspective class. Is this with both neurotypical and diverse classmates?

Thank you, it has been a wonderful thing for our students at Beavercreek High School and it’s fun to see the class start to be implemented in other high school and now middle school settings. I started this class with my friend and now-retired Speech and Language Pathologist, Cindy Brinson, over 12 years ago and many other districts in Ohio and beyond have started it in their district with similar success. Half the class is made up of neurotypical students whom I call “peer coaches,” who I have trained in the summer (in both the characteristics of autism and their role as a peer coach). The other half of the class is what I call “targeted students.” These students have autism (mild) or social anxiety or are highly gifted. Both the peer coaches and the targeted students take Communication Class/PEERspective the entire year for an elective credit and a grade. The peer coaches understand that while they are taking the class and learning the curriculum, they are also there to help coach their friends and model appropriate social skills and communication.

16. Do you have a list of all the videos you mentioned in your webinar and what you use them for?

Skill Acquisition

Hitch (high school example)
Zootopia (middle school example)

Vocab/Lesson Reinforcement

Titanic (high school example)
Finding Dory (elementary and middle school example)

Social Mistakes

Angry Birds (middle school example)
The Office (high school example)

Social Thinking

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (high school example)
Inside Out (elementary and middle school example)

Student Created

Body Basics (middle school example)
Test Taking Anxiety (high school example)

17. Can I watch the recording of the webinar you did on video modeling?

Absolutely! You can watch the recorded webinar here.

About the Author

Jennifer Schmidt has spent 23 years as a general education teacher, autism consultant, and special educator. She is currently a high school teacher, a college instructor, and an experienced national and international presenter. Jennifer recently published her first book on the use of peer modeling and other evidence-based practices to teach social skills to students with autism. Jennifer earned a Master of Education degree in Special Education from Wright State University.