Bringing Social Emotional Learning to Your Classroom

What is SEL?

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has been in the educational spotlight for the last few years.  The benefits of SEL for students make it more than just an educational trend. However, as a teacher, with a jam-packed schedule, you may be wondering how to connect SEL to academic learning. 

SEL is the process in which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.SEL Is broken down into 5 domains which include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. 

For more information on SEL and its benefits check out: https://www.electronic-therapy.com/blog/introduction-to-social-and-emotional-learning-sel/

Bringing SEL to School

You may be asking yourself “how am I supposed to add something that important to my classroom with all of the other requirements?” 

Even without a formal SEL curriculum and a dedicated time for SEL, you can easily infuse some core concepts into academic learning using these 3 tips: Focus on Feelings, Develop Empathy, SEL Journaling.  These tips can be adapted for any grade and fit nicely into already established lessons and activities. 

Focus on Feelings:

Helping students expand their feeling vocabulary is one of the most important aspects of SEL for both self-awareness and social awareness.   

  • Encourage students to identify and then define feeling words as they are used in stories, news articles, and other learning material.  This can be a great introduction to using a dictionary and/or thesaurus. 
  • Showcase a feeling chart in the classroom and encourage students to share how a particular activity, story, or lesson makes them feel. 
  • For older students, help expand feeling vocabulary.  
    • instead of sad, students could learn about feeling forlorn, desolate, or sullen. 
    • Having students look  within writing materials for more advanced synonyms and antonyms for common feeling words.  

Developing Empathy:

Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes to understand their perspective including thoughts and feelings is a crucial life skill.   Helping students to develop this skill can be as easy as raising their awareness of others using questions and assignments.  Some examples include:

  • Defining empathy.  Then having students compare and contrast empathy and sympathy. 
  • Infusing empathy into ELA lessons by: 
    • Guiding students to identify the feelings and thoughts of all of the main characters. 
    • Encouraging students to tell the story from the viewpoint of another character.  
  • Asking empathy-based questions in history and social students.  For example:
    • What a student their age would have experienced in a specific time period or during an event
    • What feelings would a main historical figure have experienced? 

SEL Journal Topics:

If you are like many other teachers across the country, you already may have your students regularly practice writing through ongoing journaling assignments.  Incorporating some SEL-focused journal topics is a great way to merge SEL education with academic learning to help students contemplate, learn, and benefit from SEL skills. 

Here are a few journal topics to get you and your students started:

  • Using a new feeling vocabulary word, journal on how that feeling can impact you throughout a typical day using specific examples.
  • Using a new feeling vocabulary word, journal on how that feeling can impact you throughout a typical day using specific example
  • Write about a time your values were at odds with your peers and how this impacted your choices.  
  • What do you do to motivate yourself when you are feeling unmotivated?
  • What is something you used to not like that you are now grateful for?
  • Tell about a time you showed compassion to someone. 

These are just a few of the many ways that you can begin to incorporate SEL skills into your classroom in a manageable and fun way while enhancing the lessons you are already teaching.  The great thing about SEL is that you can be as creative as you want to help your students develop these skills.