Social Skills

Using Pixar Shorts in Social Groups

This is a fabulous guest blog post by Lisa Erwin of My Speech Tools.

“All they do in speech is play games.” Have you heard that comment before? Well, sometimes we watch movies too!  Movie clips and short films are frequently used to supplement learning in the classroom, so why not in speech therapy?  It makes perfect sense. This is the culture our students are immersed in.

So why Pixar Short Films? First of all, they are SHORT! They typically run 3-4 minutes. They have a beginning, middle and end. They also have a conflict, are embedded with figurative language and hidden messages, and have an ending resolution. Many of them rely solely on non-verbal language.

As professionals, we know that social language weaknesses impact every aspect of a student’s day. From the time he wakes up and interacts with his parents and siblings, during the day at school, when he comes home and wants to play with neighborhood children down the street, and when it’s bedtime and you’re trying to get teeth brushed and get him to bed. Social language weaknesses are an ongoing challenge for students and their families.

I want to thank Shannon for this opportunity to share with you 3 social language skills I target using Pixar Short Films. I target these skills using Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking© concepts and vocabulary.

  1. Big Problem versus Little Problem

Students with social language weaknesses often over react or under react to situations. Their reactions do not match the “size of the problem.” In the Monster’s Inc. film “Mike’s New Car,” Mike shows up at Sully’s house to show off his new car. Sully climbs into the driver’s seat and starts pushing buttons. Mike loses his cool. He blows up at Sully while Sully sits there as calm as can be pushing all the buttons on the dashboard. Mike yells, slams doors and swings his arms around in a rage (that really is pretty funny). In the end, his tantrum results in a disastrous breakdown of his new car. On a scale from 1 to 5, How big is Mike’s problem? Did his reaction size match the size of the problem? Big problems call for a greater emotional response. Little problems, or “glitches,” call for a different kind of reaction and is much more quickly resolved. This is a great film to help students SEE how over-reacting to a situation can be detrimental.

  1. Flexible Thinking

“Mike’s New Car” can also be used to target Flexible Thinking, since Mike chooses to continue in his tantrum rather than solving his problem in a different way. But I like to use the Pixar Short Film “Ormie the Pig” for this skill. In summary, Ormie the Pig walks into the kitchen and smells fresh cookie in a cookie jar on top of the refrigerator. He wants those cookies! He tries several different ways to get the cookies down, including using a broom, climbing the side of the refrigerator with plungers, building a catapult, etc. He finally knocks the cookie jar down spilling the cookies. Unfortunately for Ormie, the cookie jar topples down and engulfs his head. Ormie IS a Flexible Thinker. Flexible thinking is about social problem-solving and finding different solutions to a single problem. Can you think of any other ways Ormie could have gotten those cookies without dropping the jar on his head?

  1. “Thinking of You” versus “Just ME”

This skill is by no means the last skills to address. In fact, It’s a foundational skill in the Social Thinking© Curriculum. For this skill, I use the Pixar Short Film “For the Birds.” A group of small blue birds are perched on a wire. A large awkward bird shows up and wants to join them. The little birds laugh, taunt and tease the big bird. The small birds reject him and shove him off the wire. In the end, however, it is the little birds who learn their lesson when they are flung from the wire leaving the big bird left all to himself with the last laugh. “Thinking of You” and “Just ME” thinking teaches perspective. It includes seeing another person’s point-of-view and understanding “why” someone acts the way they do. What was the big bird wanting? How did the little birds respond? Who showed “Thinking of You” actions and who showed “Just ME” actions? How do you think this made the big bird feel? What could the little birds have done differently to be “Thinking of You” friends?

There are many more Social Thinking© concepts that can be introduced and taught using Pixar Short films, such as: Expected vs. Unexpected Behaviors, Whole Body Listening, and Body in the Group.

I hope this post opens up new avenues to target social language skills for your students. These films are appropriate for all ages and can be adapted to fit your students’ needs.

Thank you for reading and have fun in learning!

Would you love to contribute your expertise on Speechy Musings? I’d love to have you and the SLP community needs as many voices as possible! To apply use the contact form on my site to email me! I can’t wait to hear from you!


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7 Comment

  1. Reply
    April 23, 2017 at 3:15 PM

    This is a great idea! My students would LOVE watching video clips!

    1. Reply
      April 23, 2017 at 6:16 PM

      Yes! My students think it is such a treat!

    2. Reply
      January 6, 2018 at 5:44 PM

      Outstanding! Already making a list of how I will use this in my small groups!!!!

  2. Reply
    April 24, 2017 at 7:57 AM

    Great post, I love using Pixar and other movie clips for social language too! The short “Piper” is my latest favorite 🙂

    1. Reply
      April 25, 2017 at 9:32 AM

      Me too! Love that one 🙂

  3. Reply
    March 7, 2018 at 12:06 AM

    I wish you provided more concrete examples, such as a step by step lesson plan, instead of just a few examples with no elaboration. This is the problem with many blogs I come across when working under time-constraints. I’ve always thought that video should be used more frequently than text in this day and age, but I’m lost on how to specifically use this medium in a group setting.

    1. Reply
      March 7, 2018 at 10:19 AM

      Hi Kirk! I’m sorry this post wasn’t helpful for you! It was a guest blog post, written by another SLP who took her time to share something that worked for her in therapy. I’m always open to feedback and ideas for future posts, so if you have specific questions about using video in speech and language therapy, feel free to email me. I obviously cannot edit or add to this post, however would be happy to email you more specific examples or share another post in the future that includes more of what you’re looking for! Thanks again for your feedback!

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below.