5 Ways to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom
5 Ways to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom
PUBLISHED: Friday, April 26, 2019 by Emily Mofield, Ed.D.

How can educators find the time to guide students’ social-emotional learning (SEL) in their busy daily schedules? It’s helpful to understand that all curriculum leads to opportunities to foster social-emotional skills. When we emphasize metacognition and reflection during the learning process, we can help develop positive social-emotional skills. These tips provide ideas for embedding SEL in the classroom. You may be doing some of these strategies already!

  1. After students complete an assignment or project, ask them to reflect on the obstacles they encountered, specifically the “hardest part.” They can discuss the various ways they could have approached the obstacle and what they decided to do and why. This type of reflection helps students understand that obstacles arise in all aspects of life, including school assignments, and it’s possible to move past them. Such reflection builds self-efficacy and resilience by helping students recognize problems and explore multiple ways to tackle them to keep going or readjust the plan altogether.
  2. When students are working in collaborative groups, provide explicit support to build positive cooperation. Guide students to develop group goals and pre-plan obstacles that might get in their way. You can also provide supports for appropriate interpersonal skills. Explain different examples of communication styles with students (assertive, aggressive, passive, and passive-aggressive) with sentence frames for positive assertive communication. For example, an appropriate assertive frame would be “I feel___ when___. Can we work together to____?”
  3. Explain the importance of being aware of our emotions and the importance of reflecting on what they are telling us. Anger tells us something valuable has been taken away, anxiety tells us to prepare for a threat or a challenge, frustration tells us that we need to consider other strategies because the current one is not working. When we are aware of our emotions, we can learn to process them rather than shove them aside. Reflecting on the emotion’s purpose can also develop self-awareness of how to move forward through difficulty. During a long-term assignment or project, students can reflect and identify emotions that they experienced during their progression. Provide frames such as “I felt___ because___,” and even expand with “This emotion was telling me___.” Reinforcing reflections about emotions can enhance emotional literacy. As the saying goes—if you can name it, you can tame it. Further reflection might include how the students appropriately dealt with any unpleasant emotions (took a break, regrouped, talked to someone, took a walk, created a plan, etc.).
  4. As students consider perspectives of others in content areas such as social studies and language arts, they can complete an empathy map. This model guides students to evaluate various viewpoints of others’ perspectives by noting what this group or person may feel, say, think, or do in a given situation. An activity such as this supported with textual evidence and inferences can build both critical thinking and empathy. These maps can also be used in design thinking as students develop solutions, products, and inventions for a specific problem or need.
  5. No matter what content you teach, we can always find models of those who persevere in the face of adversity. Whether it is an author, a scientist, or famous musician, students can reflect on their inspiration, how they responded to challenges, and how they persevered through difficulty. These examples provide contexts for students to see how effort over time leads to positive outcomes and that failure is a normal part of achieving success.


Ultimately, when we teach with challenging curriculum that requires students to work outside their comfort zone, this provides a context for students to feel the “discomfort” of applying effort. When students get to experience this discomfort, they learn to manage the emotions that come with perseverance, including the unpleasant ones. By supporting and guiding students through this process, we can offer opportunities to develop resilience and emotional strength.

Teaching Tenacity, Resilience, and a Drive for Excellence: Lessons for Social-Emotional Learning for Grades 4–8 by Emily Mofield, Ed.D., and Megan Parker Peters, Ph.D., highlights ideas for developing emotional regulation skills, perseverance, growth mindset, stress management, and other related social-emotional skills.

Learn more about Emily Mofield, Ed.D.