Purple and Orange Thoughts: Part 1

This is my favorite tool I use every single day in groups. It teaches students how their behavior impacts me, their teacher, before generalizing the concept to their peers.  It’s also my reward system – which makes it easy to incorporate no matter what else we’re doing!

Here are the bare basics of how I use purple and orange thoughts:

  1. when a student does or says something expected, I put a purple thought (puff ball) in my brain (fishbowl)
  2. When they do something unexpected, I put an orange thought in my brain.
  3. At the end of the session we see whether there are more purple or orange thoughts
  4. If there are more purple thoughts, students get a stamp on their prize chart. If there are more orange thoughts, students do not a stamp on their prize chart

(The “expected” and “unexpected” concepts are from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking® curriculum. If this vocabulary is new to you, I recommend reading her book Think Social! ©)

Purple and orange thoughts are simple to implement, but they teach many big, important lessons about social behavior if the right language is used. In this three-part blog series, I will explain how I use purple and orange thoughts to:

  • teach the impact of expected and unexpected behaviors in real time
  • explain how to deal with orange thoughts
  • demonstrate the cumulative effect of individual behavior choices on the group

First, let’s talk about how this activity can be used to teach expected versus unexpected behavior in real time. When students are first learning how behavior affects other people, I consistently say why I am putting a purple or orange thought in the brain. For example, I’ll make eye contact and say, “Joey, that was off-topic,” as I put in an orange thought or say, “Thank you for keeping your fidget under the table, Leanna,” as I put in a purple thought.

After we’ve talked about which of their unexpected behaviors they struggle with repeatedly, I only need to make eye contact with the student.  For example, immediately following a student’s behavior (often being too silly or interrupting) I make eye contact with the student while placing an orange thought in the bowl. Thus, I can identify an unexpected behavior and demonstrate its impact on me without saying a word!  This process continues for the whole session, allowing us to complete a more structured activity while incorporating social communication targets.

I’ve used this system in push-in lessons, co-teaching sessions, and in the special needs classroom at my school.  It is slowly becoming a consistent method of teaching expected and unexpected across school environments – which is exactly what is needed to generalize social communication skills!

Stay tuned for my next post as I dig into teaching about unexpected behaviors in a productive, positive way.

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