Using Book Builder to Develop and Write Social Stories
children with sad, happy and neutral faces
Written by Yvonne Domings

home page of Book Builder

Why should I use Book Builder?

Book Builder includes several features that will allow the author to enrich social stories by providing additional supports for understanding. Here are a few ideas:

  • The glossary feature of book builder allows the author to provide vocabulary support embedded in the text of the story. This 'just-in-time' support minimizes loss of focus and engagement and helps students apply the new vocabulary word in context immediately. In addition, the glossary allows the author to include text, images and audio.  By providing multiple means of representation of content, bookbuilder allows the author to reach more students with diverse learning needs. 
  • The Book Builder coaches can be scripted by the author to provide consistent 'just-in-time' support for readers when they are reading independently. Coaches can be used to provide different levels of supports. Additionally, parents and teachers who want to use the story in other settings can extend learning in a consistent way.
  • The Book Builder animated coaches use synthetic speech. Synthetic speech often has poor prosody and so would not be a good model for students who are echolalic or who have problems with prosody (common in students on the autism spectrum). As an option to synthetic speech, Book Builder allows the author to upload a picture and to record a human voice as a coach. The picture could be of a teacher, parent or favorite toy to enhance engagement. By including the option for human voice, the student is provided with a model of correct prosody.
  • A response area is also included in Book Builder for readers who are able to think reflectively and respond in writing. In this book, the response area can be used to take notes. Keep in mind that the book builder program will not save your notes. You will need to print the book out in order to save them.



three book builder coaches

The coaches

Book builder includes coaches that provide "just-in-time" supports to enrich a reader's experience. "Just-in-time" supports, as the name implies, allow the reader to click on a coach and get help "just in time."

In this book, the coaches are used to enhance your comprehension and to support understanding of the content. The first coach provides a question to prompt you to think about the content as you read; the second coach provides a hint as to how to answer the question; the third coach provides a model of how to answer the question.  Each coach cue becomes more extensive. If you need help with the question, go to Hali for a hint. If you still feel uncertain, go to Monty for a model answer. As an author, you can do this for your students.


woman reading to boy

What is a social story?

A social story is a story that helps teach social skills
to people who have difficulty understanding the emotions, behavior and thoughts of others.

They are often short stories that explain social situations that individuals find confusing or challenging. To do this, they use explicit teaching techniques. These techniques help to focus attention on key features such as social cues and simplify and scaffold understanding by eliminating extraneous information. In doing so, a social story helps to provide both insight into the reasoning behind a social situation as well as to outline methodical strategies or ways to respond appropriately.


two girls smiling and two girls with angry faces

Why do some people have difficulty developing social skills?

Notice at the bottom of the page, the book builder coaches are here. They have been scripted to help you with your understanding of the content. Click on Pedro to get a question for you to think about. Go to the other coaches if you need help answering the question. Hali provides a hint and then Monty provides a model response.

For most people, social skills are clues that help them to make predictions about another person's emotion, thoughts and behavior. Making accurate predictions about others helps socially-skilled people determine appropriate responses in social situations. For example, it is easy for most of us to see that the girls in the picture on the left are happy, whereas the same girls in the picture on the right are angry. The ability to read social cues is part of a larger set of skills called social skills.

The ability to read social cues relies on significant social knowledge that develops through socialization,which begins at birth. However, as in other skill areas, people differ in their ability to read social cues.

Some people do not learn these skills readily, despite being immersed in socially-rich environments. It is not known why this occurs, but it is suspected to be the result of a neurological or other organic barrier to learning. Other children, who are raised in environments of extreme social deprivation, lack the social experiences that are necessary to help them learn these skills because of environmental barriers to learning.

If a person has difficulty understanding and responding appropriately in social situations, these skills need to be explicitly taught. Explicit teaching of social skills is often the goal of a social story.

collage of 3 babies with sad, happy and neutral faces and happy and angry teens
How do social stories help to teach social skills?

Some students don't seem to be listening to their peers when the peers are clearly annoyed. Rather than assuming they are not listening, consider the possibility that they don't recognize the meaning of an angry face or gesture. A social story can support developing recognition skills. Social stories provides a realistic context through which to explicitly teach these skills.

Social stories highlight the critical features in specific social situations. Sometimes these critical features are facial expressions. Other times, the critical features are other social cues. Social cues provide information that help a person decide how to respond. Making the implicit meaning of these nonverbal or paralinguistic aspects of communication explicit, helps to enlighten people who have difficulty reading them.
Social stories also provide insight into another person's perspective and explain social expectations. They often do this by modeling a person's thoughts and decisions by thinking aloud.  In doing so, social stories provide a framework for understanding and acting appropriately in social situations. 


children getting on school bus

Are there other uses for social stories?

Many children lack the ability to imagine or predict what might happen in a given situation. This may be due to a lack of exposure to many experiences or simply the lack of experience with imaginative play. Either can result in limited background knowledge or the inability to see similarities to other 'safe' situations, thus preventing them from generalizing the experience. This inability to predict leads to anxiety and sometimes to unacceptable behavior as a result of fear.

Social stories can be authored to help a child predict what will happen by providing them with background knowledge. Book Builder can be used to customize social stories that fit individual situations that are causing anxiety or for situations that commonly cause anxiety in children.


cover of Jake Likes to Play Games

Things to remember when writing social stories:

  1. Social stories are used to help people develop the skills and understandings necessary to successfully navigate challenging social situations.
  2. Social stories are often written to address specific problems of an individual, but could also be use with a larger group.
  3. Use the specific problem you are trying to address to write a goal of instruction for the social story. Having a goal of instruction allows you to be strategic in attempting to achieve the goal.
  4. Develop a strategy for teaching the skill or understanding. Often, viewing the problem from the perspective of the person or people who lack the skills will be challenging. For people who developed these skills naturally, understanding is implicit. Teaching a skill that we find intuitive requires a good deal of thought to unpack the problem and explicitly highlight the features that are critical to understanding.
  5. Author the supports that enrich the readers' experience with the story, follow a consistent framework and provide just-in-time support for the reader.
  6. Lastly, revisit your goal. Remember why you are writing the story. Ask yourself whether or not your social story achieves the goal. Ask yourself whether each element within the story helps to promote and achieve the goal--directly and simply.

cover of Jake Likes to Play Games

As mentioned earlier, social stories are written with a specific structure and format that was first developed by Carol Gray in 1991. Carol Gray is the director of The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Gray Center's Social Stories™ 10.0 include ten New Defining Criteria & Guidelines. Those guidelines were used in the development of the model book Jake Likes to Play Games.

Where can I get help writing social stories?
The Gray Center: What are Social Stories? An Introduction to Social Stories
Region 2 Digital Lending Library: Digital sample social stories for download.