Teach social problem-solving

Early years

Resources are provided with this practice



Social problem-solving is a skill that develops during the early years of school. It is the process and strategies used to…

  • analyse
  • understand
  • respond to

…everyday problems, decision making, and conflicts.

Social problem-solving is often developed through interactions with others. Some students, including those on the autism spectrum, may benefit from systematic instruction in helpful strategies for social problem solving.

Instruction helps students to understand:

  • what a social problem is 
  • the process to follow when a social problem occurs
  • the strategies they could use to solve a social problem.   

This practice will help students to

attempt to solve social problems as they occur

become independent

stay calm

This practice will help teachers to

support students to solve their social problems

positively manage their classroom

How the practice works

Apply this practice with your students

The tabs below provide information to support your implementation of this practice. The sequence aligns with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership's High-Quality Professional Learning Cycle. You can find out more about high quality professional learning in the Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders.

A. Plan

Throughout all stages of this practice, you may need to seek advice from specialist colleagues or support staff such as guidance officers, school psychologists, speech language pathologists and occupational therapists. 

Be proactive and plan to use strategies to support learning and social demands and put these strategies in place to reduce the likelihood of problems occurring in the first place.

Use your observations to develop a clear and comprehensive understanding of the problem(s) that your student is experiencing. When necessary, seek external specialist assessment and opinion. You can then:

  • understand possible triggers 
  • be alert to any potentially challenging situations throughout the day. 

Identify the specific strategy to teach students how to find a solution. 

Plan to explicitly and systematically teach the social problem-solving process to students: 

  • as a whole class
  • in small groups
  • individually
  • a mix of above.

Identify appropriate storybooks and visual supports that you can incorporate in your explicit teaching to enhance student understanding. 

Incorporate engaging and motivating:

  • role-play/rehearsal
  • puppet play (check the students aren’t frightened of puppets)
  • social stories
  • visual prompts .

Plan how you will:

  • embed problem solving scenarios 
  • model the problem solving process 
  • positively encourage, support, and reinforce students to use the process to solve real-life social problems 
  • share the social problem solving process with families. 

Communicating with families will encourage generalisation of the associated strategy at home. 

Identify and develop the visual supports required to explicitly and systematically teach a social problem solving process and keep these handy.

Turtle Technique – 4 Steps problem-solving process

It works better if:

  • the social problem solving strategy has a small number of set steps
  • teachers model these steps
  • students are encouraged to use to the strategy to solve their social problems whenever they occur
  • visual supports are used to enhance student understanding of the strategy

It doesn’t work if:

  • the student is expected to solve a social problem when distressed or overloaded 
  • the student hasn’t understood the problem solving strategy (so it will need re-teaching) 
  • the problem solving strategy has too many steps 

Teach social problem solving - Practice brief

Example visual support: Who is first?


Example visual support: Whose way?

Example visual support: How to choose

Example visual support: Majority rules

IMG_Turn-taking_multiple children

Example visual support: Turn taking by multiple children


Example visual support: Your turn, My Turn

Example visual support: You go, I go

IMG_social problem-solving_1-take turns

Example visual support: Take turns


Example visual support: Playing together

Example visual support: Playing 'round the world

Example visual support: Playing handball

B. Set goals

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Session title

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C. Apply the practice

Step 1. Teach social problem-solving

Explicitly and systematically teach a social problem-solving strategy using 
visual supports.

Step2. Practice relaxation

Ensure that class practises relaxation skills.

Step 3. Embed and respond

Be alert to any situations throughout the day that may result in social difficulties.

Model using the strategy to solve social problems.

Support student use of the strategy in relation to their encountered social problems: 

  • Remain calm – personally model the skills involved.
  • Reduce ‘talk’ and use visual cues.
  • Deal with social difficulties in a consistent manner.

Acknowledge and positively reinforce all attempts by student to use problem-solving skills.

Step 4. Review

Wait till student is calm and receptive before providing feedback.

Step 5. Record 

Record student outcomes in order to track progress.

Note program outcomes.

D. Reflect and refine

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Reflect on your student goals

Please enter student goals in B. Set Goals

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Reflect on your teacher goals

Please enter teacher goals in B. Set Goals

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E. Share

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Completed At: <% current_outcome.completed_date %>

Your student goals and reflections

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Your teacher goals and reflections

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Further reading

Materials informing practice

Autism Live: Teaching Problem Solvinghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLu5iSTtREU

Autism Support Network: Supporting problem-solving skillshttp://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/supporting-problem-solving-skills

Maryland Family Network: Tucker the Turtle: Anger Management for the Preschool Set.

Pam Dyson: Tucker the Turtlehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb4xSg_I4Kw

Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention: Turtle Techniquehttp://bit.ly/2tHaATR (get the downloadable version from this site)

Similar practices

This practice is from the core research project