SOARR: A Metacognitive Problem Solving Strategy

We have all had opportunities where we have entered novel situations and had to use flexible thinking and problem-solving skills to figure out what to do.   Knowing what we are supposed to do in any situation depends on the context as we come into an environment or situation, consciously think about what is going on, and intuitively adapt.  We have contextual awareness.  Students and children who lack contextual awareness are unable to read social cues when they are happening, which can make it difficult to remain mentally flexible, regulate emotions, control impulses, plan, and problem solve.   

With the lifting of pandemic restrictions and the start of summer vacation, our children have increased opportunities to engage in social interactions by participating in both familiar and novel social situations. Perhaps your child will be attending summer camp, or attending a family reunion in a banquet hall, or joining a new social group that will be meeting face-to-face.  How can we help our children navigate the complex expectations that go along with novel circumstances while building problem-solving skills that they can generalize to other situations?

Unfortunately, we can’t teach intuition or spontaneity, but we can teach compensation strategies that help our children become better observers of social information.  If we can teach them to notice, to analyze, and to perceive what others expect from us and respond appropriately, they can develop skills that will last a lifetime.

One strategy that can be used to help your child solve the problem of what to do in an unfamiliar situation is called SOARR.  SOARR stands for Specify, Observe, Analyze, Respond, Reflect. Each word is associated with a set of questions for your child to answer to help him understand what will happen in the new situation, as shown in the chart below:

SOARR is a metacognitive strategy because it encourages the child to not only think about his thinking, but also what others are thinking.  It guides children through a problem-solving process that helps the child identify, respond, and reflect on situations.  SOARR is a versatile strategy that can be used either before or after an activity to help support a child in thinking through the appropriate responses in a particular situation. When used before an activity, the adult coaches the child through envisioning what he might observe, analyzing the most appropriate response, and committing to respond in the most socially acceptable manner.  When used after an activity, the adult coaches the child through understanding what he perceived happened, analyzing the most appropriate response, and then coaching him to reflect on what he learned and what he will do next time if a different outcome is desired. 

Here’s an example of how to use the SOARR strategy: If your family is going to the wedding of a family member, sit down with your child and discuss what to expect. Write down your child’s answers to the SOARR questions so that they can be reviewed again, if needed, before going to the event.  Once you are at the event, you can discuss what was expected, and how it compares to what is actually happening. The observe, analyze, and respond parts of the strategy can be re-visited and reviewed, and the reflection piece can be discussed at the end of the visit, with a focus on learning new skills that can be applied in the future.

SOARR is a great strategy to teach your child because it provides opportunities to think about new situations in advance of experiencing them.  It teaches your child to look for context cues, which is a valuable skill that will come in handy as he navigates situations independently. You can download the SOARR strategy card and use as needed.  Though the directions for learners on the template indicates how to use SOARR when you have a problem on the job, at home, or in the community, the directions can be adapted to use in any environment where a child is expected to notice, analyze, and perceive what others expect and respond appropriately.

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