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Your learners don’t come to your classroom with perfect math, language arts, science and social studies skills. They also don’t automatically know how to cope with emotions and stress, view different perspectives with empathy and solve problems socially. How can you help them manage day-to-day life in healthy ways? How can their time in school help them become adults who are ready for jobs in a 21st-century world? Learners can do this by developing their social and emotional skills.
What are social and emotional skills?
Social and emotional skills help children and teens manage their behavior and emotions. These types of skills are just as important as academic skills in helping prepare learners for life beyond school. That’s because they help your learners develop empathy, adapt to new environments and make positive choices — all areas they need for leading well-rounded lives. Not only do social and emotional skills help learners individually, but they also help create a more compassionate community.
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, social and emotional learning (SEL) covers five areas:
- Social awareness
- Relationship skills
- Responsible decision-making
As a learner develops self-awareness skills, they begin to understand their own emotions, thoughts, values, strengths and limitations. They then start to see connections between these areas and their behavior. As their self-awareness grows, their self-confidence also increases in a healthy way.
Self-management is based on a child or teen managing their emotions, thoughts and behaviors depending on the situation. Learners should practice setting and working toward goals, finding ways to manage stress and working to stay motivated.
Responsible decision-making skills
Responsible decision-making requires learners to weigh the consequences and benefits. These skills also include making ethical choices that are grounded in safety. This set of skills could relate to personal or social situations.
Social awareness skills
When students work on building their social awareness skills, they learn how to empathize with people from different cultures and backgrounds and understand their perspectives. They also explore social norms for behavior, as well as types of support available inside or outside of their school.
Relationship skills help learners create positive relationships with a variety of people and groups. To develop these skills, learners should practice how to listen, communicate, work with others, solve problems and support their peers.
Your role as an educator in learners’ social and emotional development
Students need to learn social and emotional skills formally through instruction and informally as they interact with adults and peers day to day. As an educator, you think about and practice these skills yourself so you can model them for your learners.
As you teach your academic subject, find ways to make connections to social and emotional intelligence power skills. You may also want to include structured lessons that focus on a particular skill. As you spend time — whether a few moments or a series of lessons — on social and emotional skills, you’ll see your learners transform. It will help them set goals, collaborate in positive ways and make better decisions within your classroom and the school. Engagement will also increase and your classroom culture will be more trusting and productive.
Explore how to use SEL to benefit learners and retain your teachers
Check out our SEL strategies that can help you create a more positive and equitable school and district culture.
Strategies and activities to promote social and emotional skills
So how can you promote social and emotional development in your classroom? The following strategies and activities span grade levels. You can start teaching these skills in elementary and continue developing social and emotional skills for high school students. Learners need to continue practicing at each level in school along with their academic subjects. Add scaffolding where needed depending on the age of your learners, their SEL needs and their backgrounds.
1. Recognizing emotions
No matter what age group you teach, it’s important to help them recognize their emotions. Let your learners know that it’s okay to experience different types of feelings. Start by labeling your own emotions to give learners a clear example. Then acknowledge learners’ feelings as they occur and validate their right to experience a range of emotions.
If you teach younger learners, post a chart displaying the names of emotions or include images of facial expressions so that the children in your classroom can identify them. If you teach older learners, consider setting aside five minutes once a day or once a week for them to write in a journal and describe their current emotions. Over time they’ll be able to recognize emotions themselves and manage those feelings.
2. Expressing gratitude
Helping learners express gratitude is another activity that teaches self-awareness in a positive way. One day a week, set aside time for focusing on gratitude. Start by expressing what you are grateful for, even if it’s something small like listening to your favorite song on the drive to work. You can also share what you are grateful for related to learners or the school environment.
As an activity, have learners finish a sentence stem or a simple graphic organizer to explain what they are grateful for that week, that day or at that moment. Learners can also create a collage that portrays what they are thankful for. Expressing gratitude may be a process for some learners, so be prepared to offer ideas that they can select.
3. Checking off tasks
As adults, many of us use checklists, and they’re a great way for learners to practice self-management skills, too. If you teach younger learners, create a checklist for them that they can mark off as they complete activities for the day. If you teach older learners, encourage them to create their own checklist with tasks for their classes. Or they can create one for the week with the most important tasks.
Hāpara Student Dashboard is a tool that allows learners to view and manage all of the upcoming activities they need to accomplish for their classes. They can view activities for both Hāpara Workspace and Google Classroom and filter their view by recent or overdue assignments. They can then use this information to easily create their own checklist and organize their time.
4. Rewarding positive behavior or completion of goals
Another way to teach self-management is by helping learners set behavior or academic goals and suggest rewards for meeting those goals. Learners can then keep track of their progress toward their goals, either daily or throughout the week. They can do this with a rubric or a rating scale. Then if learners meet their goals, they’ll earn a reward, such as playing a game or lunch with the teacher.
Responsible decision-making activities
5. Researching a person from history
Ask learners to research a person from history who made a responsible decision when faced with a tough choice. What was the intention behind the person’s positive choices or actions? Learners will investigate what led to the responsible decision and the result. Hāpara Workspace allows you to create an inquiry-based project that is personalized and interactive. Plus, you can differentiate instruction for groups.
You could also flip the activity around and ask learners to research a person from history who made an irresponsible choice. Learners can ponder what the person should have done instead and how that would have changed history.
6. Exploring solutions
With this activity, learners will brainstorm different solutions to a real-life issue or task. For example, ask the class or groups to discuss a digital citizenship-related topic, such as what to do if a stranger sends them a message on social media. Hāpara Card Talks are a great way to start meaningful conversations with learners and practice responsible decision-making skills.
Social awareness activities
7. Role-playing to learn empathy and new perspectives
How do teachers develop social skills in students? One way is to use role-playing to help learners understand different perspectives. Add scenarios on cards or present them digitally. Then have learners role-play characters with different behaviors and needs based on the scenarios. The goal is to spark discussions about empathy and teach learners not to jump to conclusions about their peers or community members.
8. Thinking aloud about how a character or a real person might have felt
Another way to teach social awareness is to ask learners to think about how a character in a story felt at a specific moment. You can include this activity if you teach a subject other than language arts as well. For example, in science, you could ask learners to contemplate how a scientist felt when making a scientific decision or discovery. Or they could discuss how a historical person may have felt during an event.
Relationship skills strategies
9. Actively listening
Harvard Graduate School of Education has excellent strategies for practicing relationship skills in the classroom. Their Listening Deeply strategy for secondary grades helps actively listen “to make the speaker feel heard and without the need to reciprocate the conversation, but rather, to better understand and communicate with the speaker.”
The strategy includes a series of short lessons that take learners through the process of listening without interrupting and thinking about what it feels like to listen and be heard.
10. Engaging in peer mediation
This PBS peer mediation strategy includes two lessons for high school learners. In these lessons, one of the main goals is to understand that “conflict presents a unique opportunity to grow, change and communicate.” Students also learn the steps of peer mediation as a structured way to solve problems.
Allowing your learners to practice social and emotional skills is essential for a well-rounded classroom experience. At any age, your learners should practice these skills so they can manage stress, regulate emotions, achieve their goals and develop empathy. How will you build your students’ social and emotional skills?