How to Incorporate Social-Emotional Learning Into Your Curriculum

Wish you could build more time for SEL into your focus on academics? Veteran teacher Heather shares her tips for adding this critical component to your instruction and classroom routines.

Updated on: January 14, 2020

Teacher addressing a group of young students

In the course of a typically jam-packed school schedule, social-emotional learning often gets overlooked. As data-driven and results-oriented educators, we are focusing much of our time and energy on making sure our plans align just so, to the Common Core and state standards. We are creating plans that include multi-modality instruction, and we are managing behavior at the same time. But, did you know it’s actually easy to focus on social-emotional intelligence while you’re juggling all of these tasks? It IS possible to ensure that you target this important component to development and learning!

But first - a little background.

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

By definition, social-emotional learning is a process in which children come to understand and manage their emotions. This type of learning allows them to set and achieve goals, show empathy for others, and establish and maintain positive relationships with peers. It also helps them make responsible decisions.

If you think about it, these mastering these “life skills” is just as important as mastering academic skills in class. Children in the early elementary grades can really benefit from help with their social and emotional intelligence!

Here are a few easy ways that you can incorporate this component to learning in your own classroom today.

Think About Partner Pairs

While it’s nice to allow students to select their own partners, it’s also important to put together some original pairs so that students have a chance to learn about one another, learn how to cooperate with others who are different than they are, and learn how they can help a partner who is struggling academically.

You can ensure that each student in your class has an opportunity to work on their empathy and self-regulation skills by keeping track of partner pairs on a tracking sheet.

To make things easier, assign partner pairs by the week, month, or even season! This way, it’s easy for students to remember who their partner is, and it truly gives them a chance to learn how to work and talk with someone who is different than they are. Make it a point to put students together who normally do not gravitate towards one another. Who knows? A beautiful friendship may form!

Journal, Journal, Journal

Journaling is a lost art. Writing in a journal is a great way to unlock emotions and tune into how you’re really feeling. Each morning, set up a simple prompt. Students can take a few minutes to respond to the prompt after they unpack and wait for instruction to begin. Prompts should be centered around feelings, self-perception, and successes to build confidence and help students get comfortable with their emotions. Great prompts include:

  • List 2 things you’re great at!
  • What makes you angry?
  • Share a time when you felt sad. How did you feel better?
  • What makes a great friend? Tell something you did to be a great friend.
  • Have you ever seen a classmate sad? How could you help them?
  • What would you do if you didn’t agree with a classmate?
  • Share a time you felt happy at home and at school.

Hold a Morning Meeting

Morning meetings are a great way to really hear what your students are saying or feeling. Being present in morning meeting also teaches students patience, respect, and tolerance when others are talking. It not only helps you understand your learners, but also helps students learn how to act toward a classmate. For example, if a student shares that they lost their pet, students may want to make that student a card, share a snack with them, or even ask them to play at recess. Being part of a regular group activity like morning meeting helps students learn how to empathize with others and it helps new friendships form.

Create More STEM Lessons

During science time, write as many STEM activities into your lesson plan as possible. STEM often requires teamwork, and teamwork requires students to hone their social-emotional intelligence skills. They practice taking turns, sharing their knowledge or expertise, using nice words, compromising, and feeling a sense of community with others who are different than they are!

Share Stories

If you have an extra five minutes at the end of a lesson, at the beginning of the day, or even while waiting for the bus, try sharing a short story that includes some character education. There is a wide range of age-appropriate literature on the market that shares a message about feelings, acceptance, confidence, and kindness.

You could even check in with your guidance counselor. They are a wealth of knowledge and may even have some books for you to borrow.

Help students to understand the message of the story by thinking aloud and commenting on characters, plot points, etc. while you read. They can listen to your perspective as to what’s going on in the story, and you can invite them to offer their own.

Social-emotional intelligence is very important. If your students can control their own emotions and the way they treat others, they will be better learners, better friends, and better individuals overall.

How do you include SEL in your curriculum? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Heather Aulisio is a third grade teacher in Pennsylvania. She has been a teacher for nearly 15 years and holds multiple degrees and certifications. A freelancer for The Mailbox and other education-related clients and publications, she enjoys writing in order to help and entertain fellow teachers. She currently resides with her husband, Bryan; son, Matthew; and two pugs, Lily and Leo.