SEL 101

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A Guide To Social-Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning is becoming a regular part of a healthy school culture. According to the Education Week Research Center, almost 90% of school district leaders say they plan to invest in social-emotional learning products or have already done so. Social-emotional learning helps children of all ages and developmental abilities build critical skills that last a lifetime.

The term "social and emotional learning" rose from a Fetzer Institute meeting in 1994. Since then, researchers have found evidence that social-emotional learning enhances educational experiences, relationships and life in general. Now, educators realize there's a growing need to teach children social-emotional skills and foster the development of responsible 21st-century citizens.

If you're interested in bringing social-emotional learning to your school, organization or home, we hope to answer your questions. In this guide, we'll show you how social-emotional skills help children thrive in youth and adulthood, and how the curriculum is used to develop these skills.

What Is Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-emotional learning, also known as SEL, is a process of developing critical interpersonal skills such as communication, empathy and responsible decision-making. Through an SEL program, children learn how to understand and manage their emotions, think positively, set goals and interact with others. SEL programs help individuals succeed in school, work and relationships.

Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning Curriculums


SEL curriculums offer countless benefits to learners, teachers, parents and society as a whole. The benefits of SEL programs include the following.

  • Improves academic performance: Students who participate in an SEL program perform better academically than those who do not. According to a meta-analysis from 2011, SEL improved students' academic performance by 11 percentile points. SEL may improve academic scores because it teaches students to persist and overcome challenges.
  • Fosters positive attitudes and behaviors: SEL helps students develop positive attitudes about themselves, school and their peers. SEL students work on getting along with others and seeing different perspectives. They learn to practice empathy, resolve conflict and cooperate. All of this leads to better behavior in the classroom and beyond.
  • Decreases negative behaviors: SEL programs help students change negative thinking and related actions. When students can apply social-emotional skills, they can recognize and manage intense emotions. As a result, teachers, parents and other students can expect less aggressive and disruptive behavior in the classroom.
  • Improves emotional health: Students who participate in SEL programs are less likely to experience depression, anxiety and stress. When students have the social skills they need to feel comfortable communicating with others, they are less likely to withdraw socially and more apt to reach out to others when they need support.
  • Has a lasting impact: The benefits of an SEL curriculum stays with students for a long time. A meta-analysis from 2017 evaluated the long-term effects of SEL. It found that SEL students continued to demonstrate strong social-emotional skills and attitudes years after the interventions took place. SEL students were found to be less likely to use drugs or experience emotional distress than those who did not participate in SEL programs.
  • Offers a high return on investment: According to a Columbia University benefit-cost analysis, SEL programs are "economically justified" because they make lasting impacts that translate to money. For example, students who learn social-emotional skills are more likely to achieve positive goals and contribute to society. For every dollar invested in SEL, there is an $11 return, according to the analysis.

The 5 Core SEL Competencies

The five core competencies of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Here's why each one matters:

  • Self-awareness: Self-awareness is the ability to identify one's thoughts, emotions, strengths and weaknesses. When a person has an accurate self-perception, they can understand and change their behavior to grow and achieve their goals.
  • Self-management: Self-management is the ability to control one's thoughts, actions and emotions in a variety of situations. This skill enables individuals to handle conflict effectively, cope with stress and control impulses.
  • Social awareness: Social awareness is the ability to understand different perspectives and empathize with others. Socially aware individuals can appreciate diversity and treat everyone with respect.
  • Relationship skills:  Relationships skills allow individuals to build and maintain healthy, meaningful relationships. Relationships skills involve listening well, cooperating, communicating clearly, resolving conflict and appreciating teamwork.
  • Responsible decision-making: Responsible decision-making is the ability to make positive choices and evaluate the consequences of one's actions. Being able to make responsible decisions enhances the well-being of everyone involved.

Who Uses SEL and Why?


Traditionally, special education teachers would use SEL lessons weekly to teach a specific skill to a single student. Today, SEL is developing a growing role in whole-school education, communities and homes. For example, schools might use SEL lessons at a general education level to discuss topics like bullying or self-esteem. SEL is especially helpful in teaching young students important skills. Overall, here's who uses SEL and why:

  • Schools: Schools may implement SEL curriculums in the classroom from kindergarten through high school. SEL skills can be taught through direct instruction or incorporated into any academic curriculum. In school, SEL helps students build relationships with teachers and classmates. It helps create a supportive environment that welcomes growth, academic achievement and emotional safety.
  • Parents: Parents are key players in helping their children build SEL skills. They serve as role models of social-emotional skills and teach children through their behaviors and attitudes. They can help reinforce the skills children learn at school or home and help them master their abilities. Parents also act as SEL advocates, helping to bring social and emotional learning to schools and communities.
  • Communities: Community organizations, such as after-school program providers, help students practice SEL skills that they learn at home and during the day in school. After-school programs may offer ideal situations for children to practice skills such as cooperation, empathy and decision-making as they interact with children from diverse backgrounds.

Approaches of SEL

Teachers and parents can teach SEL skills using a range of approaches. SEL approaches may include:

  • Direct SEL skills instruction: Teachers and parents can use lessons and activities to teach SEL skills to students directly. For example, teachers might show students SEL videos and then assign engaging activities to reinforce what was learned.
  • Teaching methods: Teachers and parents can implement SEL in the way they teach and interact with children. For example, teachers might have students practice SEL skills through a cooperative learning approach. This approach enables students to practice skills such as teamwork, problem-solving and communication.
  • Integration of SEL with other academic areas: Teachers can foster the growth of social-emotional skills for all ages and levels by integrating SEL with other subjects such as art, math and science.
  • Organizational strategies: Teachers and parents can promote SEL on a whole-school level to encourage the development of engaging and supportive learning environments.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), an SEL approach typically incorporates four elements:

    • Sequenced: Activity coordination is designed to foster skill development.
    • Active: Active learning activities are meant to help children build and master new skills.
    • Focused: SEL focuses on developing social and personal skills.
    • Explicit: SEL is used to target specific emotional and social skills.

Types of SEL Materials Available

types of sel materials

There are a lot of SEL teaching tools available, but the main materials used in schools are generally:

  • Videos: Video modeling is one of the most effective methods for teaching SEL skills. Videos are engaging and hold a student's attention, whether they are in kindergarten, middle school, high school or special needs classes. Videos also show skills through examples and visually demonstrate the use of empathy and self-control. Many studies show that videos can be highly effective learning tools.
  • Games: Games make it fun to practice SEL skills. By playing interactive online games, students can reinforce what they learned from watching videos. Teachers can also use board games and card games to enhance video content and teach teamwork, cooperation and healthy competition.
  • Worksheets: Worksheets have long been useful teaching tools because they help students organize the knowledge they've acquired and the observations they've made. Worksheets also help teachers measure the outcome of lessons, and they can help students monitor their progress. SEL worksheets are designed to help students review what they learned during SEL lessons.
  • Books: Books use colorful pictures and words to reinforce SEL skills and help children develop other essential skills, such as reading and critical thinking. Books also help nurture imagination.
  • Posters: Posters help display SEL concepts visually and demonstrate instructions or processes. Students can quickly and easily refer to posters when they need to refresh their memories. A bright, helpful poster also enhances the classroom environment.

15 Important Skills Taught Through SEL Curriculums

An SEL curriculum students can use through childhood and beyond, such as:

  1. Emotional recognition: Emotional recognition helps learners identify and manage difficult emotions such as jealousy and frustration. When students know how to control overwhelming emotions, they can get through tough situations, make sensible choices, maintain relationships and enjoy greater well-being.
  2. Self-regulation: Students learn to stay calm through self-soothing and gain an awareness of their physical and mental states so they can apply calming techniques and resist impulsive behaviors. Self-regulation is a vital skill for clearing one's mind and handling changes.
  3. Behaviors: SEL teaches students how to replace negative communication habits and behaviors with positive ones. Behavior skills help students bond with others and form healthy relationships.
  4. Play skills: Students learn a variety of play skills, such as how to ask others to play, how to share and how to be a good sport. Play skills keep the atmosphere fun and encourage children to participate and make friends.
  5. School rules: School rules skills help children feel comfortable with classroom routines. Students also learn strategies for following directions and why it's important. These skills help create a learning-friendly environment and reduce disruptive behavior.
  6. Perspective-taking: Through SEL, students build empathy skills and learn how to understand other viewpoints. When children can understand how others feel, they can react to problems and misunderstandings with compassion and respect.
  7. Basic conversation skills: SEL teaches children how to start and end conversations smoothly. They learn when to stop talking and listen to the other person. Conversation skills help children connect with others.
  8. Conversation topics: Students learn how to maintain topics in conversation by asking questions and commenting. They also learn how to consider their conversation partner and tell when it's time to change the topic. Topic skills teach children to think before they speak.
  9. Advanced conversation skills: Advanced conversation skills teach students how to tell a narrative effectively. They also learn how to understand nonliteral language and detect humor and sarcasm. Advanced conversation skills help eliminate misunderstandings and conflict.
  10. Nonverbal communication: Nonverbal communication skills teach children the importance of personal space and active listening. Students also learn the value of making eye contact and understanding tone of voice and body language. These skills help students feel comfortable and connected.
  11. Situational awareness: Students learn to consider the needs and feelings of others in different situations. This includes learning how to read a room and how to be polite when sharing meals with others. Situational awareness skills enhance shared experiences and strengthen relationships.
  12. Problem-solving: Students learn the importance of compromising and how to use cognitive skills to analyze a problem and determine a logical solution. Problem-solving skills help children overcome challenges in school, relationships and life.
  13. Friendship: SEL lessons teach children how to seek friends and build relationships over time. They learn how to give and receive compliments, handle conflict and make fair decisions. Children can use friendship skills throughout their lives to form and maintain rewarding relationships.
  14. Self-esteem: Students learn how to break negative thinking cycles and set positive goals. They also learn how to handle rejection in a healthy way and how to respond to various forms of teasing and bullying. Children need self-esteem to get through difficult situations and reach their goals.
  15. Hygiene: SEL teaches children general hygiene practices and good manners. Students learn the importance of improving hygiene and how personal appearance makes an impact.
Interested in Starting an SEL Program for Your School or Class?

SEL is vital to the development of happy, healthy children. Social-emotional skills help children accomplish their goals, make and keep friends, and enjoy a life full of positivity and growth. If you're interested in implementing an SEL program in your classroom, school, organization or home, we're here to help at Everyday Speech.

Everyday Speech began with a passion for social-emotional learning and helping children connect with others. We offer a robust SEL curriculum designed to help children develop SEL skills and build upon those skills as they grow. Our video modeling lessons teach a range of social competencies and help students retain what they've learned. Our worksheets, activities and games reinforce the video content and give learners a chance to apply their newly learned skills. We've also designed our curriculum with teachers, speech-language pathologists and parents in mind and offer no-prep lesson plans to save you time and make teaching SEL as simple as possible. To learn more about our SEL curriculum, sign up for your free trial or request a quote today!