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Teaching Strategies to Support Social Emotional Learning

Janelle Cox

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process by which students manage emotions, set goals, feel and show empathy for others, and create positive relationships that bring about responsible decisions. SEL is now playing a critical role in today’s education system. Most students come from diverse social and economic backgrounds, and are multicultural and multilingual. Social emotional learning helps students develop life skills that go beyond academics. It provides a positive learning atmosphere, forged by positive teaching strategies, which can help to enhance a student’s success not only in school, but it in life.

Here we’ll take a closer look at why social emotional learning is important, and give you a few teaching strategies you can use to support social-emotional learning in your classroom.

Teaching Strategies: Benefits of Social Emotional Learning

According to the Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning Research and Practiceby various authors, social emotional learning improves achievement, increases empathy and kindness, improves students’ attitude toward academics, and reduces depression and stress. When students develop what experts call the “Five key skills” of SEL (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making), they will be more successful in school and in daily life. The social-emotional confidence that they will develop can increase the likelihood that they will graduate from high school, go on to college, and have a career. There’s also a greater chance of better mental health, more positive relationships, and a decrease in criminal behavior.

Teaching Strategies to Promote SEL

Building social emotional learning (SEL) skills in the classroom involves teaching and modeling skills as well as providing students the opportunity to practice and apply these skills. Here are a few teaching strategies you can try in the classroom.

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Check In with a Morning Meeting

Self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship skills are three core competencies of SEL. Having a morning meeting to “Check in” with how students are feeling is a great way to help students develop these skills. They will develop self-confidence to speak in front of their peers, and use social awareness to empathize with others or with those who are from diverse backgrounds. They will develop their relationship skills, another key skill of SEL, by communicating, listening, and cooperating with others. Simply starting the day with a morning meeting and making these personal connections with students will support social and emotional learning in the classroom.

Have Students Work in Groups

Group work utilizes all five key components of social emotional learning. Working with peers, students must recognize their own behavior and strengths, they must have impulse control, and have the ability to behave in different situations. Students must have self-awareness within a group setting and have respect for others. Group work means working within a team setting, having the ability to communicate, negotiate, and seek help when needed. Students must produce responsible decision making and be able to solve problems, analyze situations, and reflect upon them. Overall, working in groups helps to build community within the classroom and allows students to learn to make their own choices.

Nurture Classroom Kindness

As mentioned earlier, SEL increases social behaviors like kindness. With social awareness being one of the core values in SEL, students learn the ability to respect others, empathize with them, as well as be kind. One way to nurture a classroom culture of kindness is to have students “Fill their bucket” with kindness. You’ve probably heard this saying before, it refers to being happy and doing good things for others. When you fill someone’s bucket, you’re doing something kind for someone. Challenge students to fill a friend’s bucket every day by writing messages of kindness on notecards and placing them into a bucket in the classroom. Each day at your morning meeting, share some of the messages of kindness. This is as great way to build students’ self-confidence, social awareness, and relationship skills.

Foster a Growth Mindset

The words that children choose to speak to themselves will determine their mindset. For example, a fixed-minded student may say, “I’m not good at science.” A growth-minded student may say, “I’m not good at science just yet.” Being self-aware is another important component of SEL. Having the ability to identify their thoughts and emotions and gain an accurate self-perception, as well as asses their strengths and limitations, will all influence their behavior. One of the best ways to help students build a growth mindset is to have them set goals. Once they’ve set a goal, they can make a list of the steps they are going to take to make their goal happen. Help students understand that the words they use to talk to themselves influence their decision making. By helping students understand this concept, you are helping them to cultivate their abilities both inside and outside of the classroom. Through practice and repetition, students can foster a growth mindset that will help them to reach their full potential.

Use Role Playing to Develop Empathy

The ability to empathize with others is part of having social awareness, which is a key value in SEL. Sometimes in order for children to really gain a firm understanding of how others feel, they need to be put into someone else’s shoes. The more they put themselves in someone else’s shoes, they more they will develop empathy and understanding for others. One way that students can do this is to role play different situations with their classmates. Have students partner up with a classmate and take turns reading role-playing cards. One student reads the card, while the other acts out and answers it. For example, the card may say “You see a friend picking on another friend for getting new glasses,” or, “During a test you see that someone is copying you.” Role-playing these different situations will help students have a better understanding of others.

As you can see, you can easily integrate the five key values of SEL into your daily lessons. These are just a few of the teaching strategies that you can use in your classroom to reinforce social emotional learning. The earlier you integrate SEL into the classroom, the better.

What teaching strategies do you use to support social emotional learning in your classroom?


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a master’s of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the elementary education expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educatorsor contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.

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