Purple and Orange Thoughts: Part 3

Welcome to the third and final post on my purple and orange thoughts system.  To review,  I put purple thoughts  (puff balls) in my brain (small, clear fish bowl) each time a student does something expected and orange thoughts (puff balls) for unexpected behaviors.  The “expected” and “unexpected” concepts are from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking® curriculum.  This system allows me to give real-time feedback on social behaviors and teaches students the cumulative effect of their behavior choices. 


At the end of each session, we look at my brain and I ask, “How do I feel?”  If there are mostly purple thoughts in the brain, they say, “You’re happy!” and they get a stamp for their prize box charts. This is also a wonderful opportunity to teach vocabulary and synonyms, so I vary up what I say such as “proud,” “thrilled,” or “excited.” 


If there are mostly orange thoughts, I lift up the bowl and ask, “How do I feel?”  The kids usually say I’m “sad” or “angry,” which gives me another opportunity to use words like “frustrated” and “disappointed.”  Then we review their unexpected behaviors that made me feel that way and we talk about what expected behaviors would be more appropriate next time.  The students do not get stamps on their prize charts, which usually motivates them to do better the next session. 


When it’s difficult to guess whether there are more purple or orange thoughts, it’s necessary to dump the thoughts out, count them, and determine which color has the most.   (This is also good for working on the concepts “more” and “less.”) We then talk about why it was a mixed day.  If there are the same number of purple as orange thoughts, I get to decide how I’m feeling, explain why, and they may or may not get a stamp on their prize charts. 


One last note: I do not have a different brain for each student.  I only have one brain, and it is affected by the whole group’s behavior.  Most of the time this works out well, with students motivating each other or pointing out, “When you __________, Mrs. Nichols has an orange thought!”  I’m also able to point out a lot of positives to overcome one group member’s poor performance.  However, if there is a student who consistently does unexpected behaviors, which keep the group from getting stamps, I will come up with a separate behavior chart for him/her while the rest of the group uses the brain bowl. 


I sincerely hope this helps you demonstrate the effects of expected and unexpected behaviors in a simple, consistent way for your social groups – it has certainly revolutionized mine!  Check back soon for a shareable infographic about why speech-language pathologists are qualified to teach “social skills!” 


Author Info

Danielle Nichols

A speech-language pathologist in Centennial, Colorado dedicated to helping kids and adolescents improve their social communication skills.

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