5 clips for teaching social skills and reading facial expressions

Many autistic children have difficulty with their social thinking. That is, knowing what others are feeling and thinking, interpreting facial expressions and reading social situations. Many kids books and movie clips are great for teaching social skills. Here are 5 clips with question prompts for teaching different aspects of social skills and reading facial expressions.

Shrek – reading facial expressions

The opening scene of Shrek is a great clip for looking at facial expressions and reading emotions.

To determine what someone is feeling (what emotion they are expressing), we can look at 5 clues.

  1. Look at their eyes – where are they looking? Our eyes often look at what we are thinking about, so this gives a clue around other people’s thoughts.
  2. Look at their facial expression. What is their mouth doing? How are their eyebrows? These facial elements give us clues around the emotions being expressed. Are the eyebrows raised (surprise), or drawn together (grumpy or angry)? Is their mouth turned up (happy) or down (sad), open or closed, teeth showing or not?
  3. Look at their body. Are they closed in on themselves, maybe giving themselves a hug or sunken into their shoulders (sad, unsure, shy)? Or are they open, arms out or in the air (could be happy or being angry, but generally a big emotion)? Is their body pointed towards the group (interested in others) or pointed away from the group?
  4. Listen to what they are saying – does what they are saying give clues about what they are thinking or feeling?
  5. Look at the surroundings. What’s happening around them? Where are they? Is it night, day, at home, out and about? What clues from the surrounding environment can give you clues around what might be happening and the context/background?

If you need help with words to identify the feelings, try using a feelings wheel:


Minuscule segments are interesting clips to watch for social thinking. There aren’t any words, so it can be more challenging to interpret the situations. However, you can use clues of other sounds, some facial clues, and situational awareness.

Try asking questions as you pause the video like:

  • What do you think the insect is thinking now?
  • What do you think is going to happen next?
  • What do you think they are feeling now?

Inside out – expressing feelings

The movie Inside Out is all about feelings. Pausing the above clip before it zooms into the brain control centre gives you a chance to go through the social clues above before getting a hint/answer.

  • Look at the surroundings – where are they and what are they doing?
  • Look at their body – how is is moving or placed?
  • Look at their facial features of eyes/eyebrows and mouth – what clues does this give you?
  • Look at their eyes – what are they looking at?

I want a dog – becoming a social detective

Being able to make Smart Guesses about what’s happening in a social situation is an important skill.

You might read though a picture book and ask questions about the characters like

  • Where are they?
  • Who is there?
  • What is happening?
  • What might they be thinking and feeling? (Go back to the initial 5 clues about thoughts and feelings)
  • What might be the expected plan?

We need to look for these social clues to make smart and not wacky guesses about social situations. This can then help us to fit in, to understand expected behaviours, and to then act in ways that are expected, not unexpected.

Bad Seed – exploring emotions

The Bad Seed might be a hand-drawn cartoon book, but the facial expressions are exaggerated so make it simpler to determine emotions.

Look at the full page picture and ask questions from the top 5 clues like:

  1. Look at the seed’s facial expression. What is their mouth doing? How are their eyebrows? Can you make your face look the same way? What emotion might that be?
  2. Look at their body. Can you make your body do that too? What emotion does that make you feel?
  3. Look at the surroundings. What’s happening around them? What clues from the surrounding environment can give you clues around what might be happening and the context/background? How do you think the characters around the bad seed are feeling?

Social Skills – reading facial expressions to know what emotion is that?

Lots of kids picture books, cartoon movies, and photo cards of scenes are great resources for teaching social skills. Becoming a social detective, discovering what people might be thinking and feeling, and learning what expected behaviours are, is an important part of being social.

You can combine these Social Detective Clue Hunting skills with the 10 key concepts of Social Thinking to become social experts!

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