Purple and Orange Thoughts: Part 2

Welcome back! Today I’m elaborating on the purple and orange thoughts system by diving  into how to deal with orange thoughts. As a quick refresher, I put purple thoughts in my “brain” each time a student does something expected and orange thoughts for unexpected behaviors. The “expected” and “unexpected” concepts are from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking® curriculum.

We start each session with an empty brain bowl, which is both symbolic and practical. Once the session has begun, I add thoughts to my brain but never take thoughts out. This is difficult for students who only want purple thoughts in the brain, but even my most rigid students have adapted (most days) to the disappointment. It may take them a few tearful sessions, but they eventually accept I don’t completely forget their behavior. Although apologies give me more purple thoughts, it doesn’t fully erase the orange thought.


One important technical note: the cotton balls represent my thoughts, not theirs. Often they will say, “I want a purple thought,” and I will counter with, “No, you gave me an orange thought when you __________.” Depending on the student I don’t always push this language, but with other students it is critical to their learning.


The brain bowl is also an opportunity to practice recognizing small problems. If a student is upset there is one orange thought in a sea of purple, I can point to the bowl and show them how overall I have mostly purple thoughts. Thus their behavior was truly a small problem. However, I rarely do the reverse (identifying a big problem), because an orange bowl usually speaks for itself.


Finally, I am usually able to credit my students with enough expected behaviors to make the brain full of mostly purple thoughts by the end. Things like, “You’re trying!” or “You’re using your words!” or “Thanks for telling me how you feel,” can be used over and over again if need be! I usually only let orange thoughts reign when a student understands the system and needs the point to be driven home.


Stay tuned for my next post as I explain how I use purple and orange thoughts to demonstrate the cumulative effect students’ behavior have on me and the group.


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