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What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

The definition of social emotional learning or SEL for short, is the teaching and development of the skills needed to manage big feelings, form relationships, gain self-awareness, solve problems, make responsible choices, and set goals.

A more definitive social emotional learning definition emphasizes learning skills like open communication, social awareness, and empathy.

In understanding the significance of SEL in education, it's important to first address any confusion students might have about the term itself. They may wonder, "What is social emotional learning, and why is it important?" For teachers, their questions might center around ‘What does SEL mean in the classroom? and Why is SEL important in schools?’

There can be a variety of SEL meanings but they all refer to the process through which individuals acquire and 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.

Importance of SEL in Education

What is SEL in education? In the world of education, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has emerged as a critical component for students' holistic development. SEL encompasses various social tools that are essential for success in school, work, and life. One effective method for teaching social emotional learning skills and concepts is through the use of social stories, which are narratives that depict social situations and can help students understand and navigate their emotions and interactions with others. Social emotional learning (SEL) in schools is crucial for students' academic and emotional development. It helps them develop self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These skills not only benefit students but also educators, as they create a more positive and productive learning environment.

Core Competencies and Teaching Methods of SEL

Classroom Strategies for SEL

Incorporating SEL into everyday classroom settings can be done through various methods and activities. SEL Read Alouds, where teachers read books that highlight SEL themes, can stimulate discussions and promote empathy. SEL Activities, such as role-playing scenarios or group projects, can help students practice interpersonal skills in a supportive environment.

Social Stories in Education

Social stories are particularly effective for teaching SEL concepts to students of all ages. For young children, social stories can help them understand basic social cues and emotions. For teens, social stories can address more complex social situations and peer interactions. These stories can be powerful tools for promoting social emotional learning in the classroom.

Specific SEL Programs and Content

Classroom strategies for SEL include activities like SEL Read Alouds, where teachers read books that highlight SEL themes, stimulating discussions and promoting empathy among students. Other strategies include Social and emotional learning activities, such as role-playing scenarios or group projects, which help students practice interpersonal skills in a supportive environment.

Anti-Bullying Programs

Anti-Bullying Programs are a crucial aspect of SEL. They provide teachers with guides and activities to address bullying behavior and promote a positive school culture. For more resources, check out Storyboard That's free anti bullying activities and games for the classroom.

Peer Pressure and Decision Making

Peer Pressure and Decision Making are also important areas where SEL can make a difference. By providing students with strategies for dealing with peer pressure and improving decision-making skills, educators can empower them to make positive choices. Check out these resources on peer pressure refusal skills and decision-making skills from Storyboard That.

Daily Living Skills and Transitions

Daily Living Skills and Transitions are areas where SEL can support students. Social stories can help students manage transitions and unexpected events, as well as develop daily living skills. For more resources on transitions and daily living skills, visit Storyboard That.

Relationships and Social Situations

Relationships and Social Situations can be challenging for students, but SEL can help. By providing guidance on healthy relationships and social situations, educators can help students navigate these aspects of life more effectively. For more resources, check out Storyboard That's articles on social situations and healthy relationships.

Educational Materials and Resources for SEL

Social Stories Worksheets

Worksheets specifically designed for creating and discussing social stories can be found on Storyboard That. These worksheets are a great resource for educators looking to integrate SEL into their classrooms. Check them out our SEL worksheets and easily implement them into your classroom today!

Social Stories Library

The Social Stories Library on Storyboard That provides a comprehensive collection of social stories designed to teach SEL skills. This library is accessible to educators and students, making it easy to integrate SEL into various educational settings. For more information, visit the Social Stories Library page.

Benefits of SEL

Research has shown that SEL contributes to academic success and emotional well-being. Students who participate in SEL programs demonstrate improved academic performance, behavior, and attitudes toward school. SEL also has long-term benefits, including improved relationships, higher educational attainment, and better mental health outcomes.

Academic and Emotional Gains

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) provides substantial academic and emotional benefits to students. Academically, SEL has been shown to improve student performance, including higher grades and better test scores. When students learn to manage their emotions, develop positive relationships, and make responsible decisions, they are better equipped to focus on their studies and engage more fully in the learning process. Emotionally, SEL helps students develop critical skills such as self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy. These skills enable students to understand and manage their own emotions, leading to reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, SEL fosters a supportive classroom environment where students feel safe and valued, promoting a sense of belonging and well-being that is essential for academic success.

Long-Term Impact of SEL

The benefits of SEL extend far beyond the classroom and have a lasting impact on students' personal and professional lives. Research shows that students who participate in SEL programs are more likely to exhibit positive social behaviors, maintain healthy relationships, and demonstrate higher levels of emotional intelligence. These skills are crucial for success in the workplace, where teamwork, communication, and problem-solving are highly valued. Additionally, SEL contributes to better mental health outcomes, as individuals who are adept at managing their emotions and stress are less likely to experience mental health issues later in life. The long-term impact of SEL also includes increased resilience, as students learn to navigate challenges and setbacks with greater confidence and adaptability. By fostering these essential skills, SEL not only prepares students for immediate academic success but also equips them with the tools they need to thrive throughout their lives.

Social Emotional Learning at Different Grade Levels

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) for kids generally focuses on emotional identification, regulation, empathy development, social skills, self-awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills. These aspects help children develop into empathetic, self-aware, and socially competent individuals.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) activities for preschoolers focus on developing important skills such as emotion recognition, empathy, cooperation, and self-regulation. Examples include emotion recognition games, puppet play, breathing exercises, friendship activities, and SEL books and songs. These activities help preschoolers develop essential social and emotional skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) activities for elementary students are designed to foster emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills from a young age. Examples include Emotion Charades, Feelings Journals, Empathy Maps, SEL Read Alouds, Mindfulness Activities, Collaborative Projects, Role-Playing Scenarios, and Gratitude Journals.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) activities for middle school students are designed to help them navigate this crucial period of development. Examples include Emotion Check-ins, Conflict Resolution Role-Plays, Mindfulness Exercises, Service Learning Projects, Peer Mentoring Programs, SEL Journaling, Team-Building Activities, and SEL Workshops.

Future of SEL

Innovations in SEL

As technology and educational practices evolve, so too will the field of SEL. Innovations in SEL may include the use of virtual reality or artificial intelligence to enhance SEL instruction. Additionally, SEL is expanding beyond traditional educational frameworks to encompass lifelong learning, with a focus on developing interpersonal skills for success in the workplace and beyond.

Expanding the Scope of SEL

In conclusion, SEL is a vital component of education that promotes students' academic, emotional, and social development. By incorporating SEL into classrooms through methods like social stories and activities, educators can help students develop the social tools they need to succeed in school and beyond.

Check Out These SEL Resources!

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) encompasses five fundamental components that equip individuals with essential life skills. The 5 components of SEL are integral to fostering emotional intelligence, healthy relationships, and personal well-being. SEL programs and practices aim to nurture these competencies, enabling individuals to navigate life's challenges with resilience and empathy.

5 Core Competencies of Social and Emotional Learning


Self-awareness is the ability to recognize one’s own feelings, strengths, weaknesses, and stressors. It is also when one is able to ask oneself, why do I feel this way? What is my purpose? How can I change my behavior?


Self-management is the ability to control one’s own actions. Some examples of this are self motivation, exercising self control, setting goals for oneself, and recognizing when one needs a break, time alone, or to take a deep breath.

Social Awareness

Social awareness is the ability to understand things from other people’s point of view and feel empathy for others. It is also the ability to show respect for others and appreciate and embrace diversity.

Relationship Skills

Relationship skills are the ability to form and maintain meaningful and healthy relationships with other individuals. They can be romantic, professional, or teammates, or friendships. Important components of healthy relationships of any kind include open communication, listening, trust, collaboration, compromise, and problem solving. It is also crucial for children to understand what an UNhealthy relationship looks like.

Responsible Decision Making

Responsible decision making is the ability to make constructive and well thought out decisions about one’s own behavior and social interactions. Some aspects of this include considering cause and effect, evaluation of the situation and the decision, potential outcomes, impact on others, and self-reflection.

Examples of SEL Components

For additional information on the areas of competence, be sure to check out CASEL!

Why do Students Need Social and Emotional Learning?

There are many reasons why SEL is important to a child’s development and growth as a human being. The first reason is academic performance. Children work hard to focus on schoolwork, and it is important that they are comfortable, happy, and emotionally well rounded in order to perform to the best of their ability. Emotionally stable children have less behavioral issues and are able to better stay on track academically. The second reason why students need SEL is general quality of life and well being. When students are explicitly taught social and emotional skills, they grow to be adults who are able to manage life’s challenges and stressful situations. The final reason why SEL is so important at a young age is future careers and success in the workforce. Adults face challenges all of the time at work, and being able to manage problems and conflict is a skill that all adults need to have; learning this at a young age is crucial. Empathetic, self-aware, and communicative children grow to be empathetic, self-aware, and communicative adults.

Students also need social and emotional learning examples to help them learn to deal with the different types of problems and challenges that they could potentially face at some point during their childhood. Oftentimes we expect children to naturally know how to handle themselves in certain situations when in truth, they really need to be shown the way. Some examples of such situations are bullying, racism, exclusion, teasing, abuse of any kind, inappropriate relationships, cyber-bullying, social media behavior, and internet safety.

Students with a history of SEL integration in their education tend to exhibit improved emotional resilience, stronger interpersonal relationships, and a greater capacity for accountable decision-making, contributing to their overall well-being and success in both school and life.

How is Social and Emotional Learning Explicitly Taught?

Examples of SEL in the classroom can range from daily check-ins where students discuss their emotions to structured activities that teach conflict resolution and empathy, all of which contribute to creating a more emotionally supportive and inclusive learning environment. There are many SEL programs out there for schools and districts to choose from. Exploring social emotional learning topics in the classroom can help students develop a deeper understanding of their own emotions and how to navigate relationships with others. Social emotional learning examples can be demonstrated through classroom instruction, role playing, open circle discussions, and projects which provide students with practical opportunities to develop essential skills like self-awareness, empathy, communication, and teamwork. Incorporating examples of social emotional learning into the curriculum allows students to acquire essential life skills, such as emotional regulation and effective communication, that are vital for personal and academic success.

Teachers may begin the year with some goal-setting, self-motivating exercises, and growth mindset activities. This base helps students to feel more comfortable in their learning environment, thus making academics more of a focus. Much of SEL is taught through "what if" scenarios and role-playing. Teaching SEL relationship skills in the classroom equips students to put themselves in the shoes of others and is a very powerful skill to have and helps students learn empathy and communication skills. Students often are asked to have open conversations at home with family members about what they have learned; self reflection is also a big component of SEL. Social emotional examples, such as practicing active listening and addressing conflicts constructively, serve as valuable illustrations of how these skills can be applied in real-life situations. Emotional scenarios examples, such as expressing frustration in a healthy manner or offering support to a friend in need, will help students build their emotional intelligence.

Examples of Social Emotional Learning Activities

  • SEL Opening Activities with Emotion Charades: Emotion Charades is a dynamic way for middle school students to practice emotional recognition and expression, fostering their social and emotional skills. This activity can be seamlessly integrated into class meetings, where students take turns acting out emotions while their peers guess, promoting empathy and enhancing their understanding of social and emotional skills.

  • Gratitude Journals for Children and Adults: Introduce gratitude journals as emotional learning activities for both children and adults in the classroom. In class meetings, ask your students to share one thing they've written in their journals, teaching students the importance of practicing gratitude and self-awareness.

  • Empathy Role-Playing and Cooperative Projects: Combine empathy role-playing with collaborative projects as social emotional learning activities. Middle school students can work in groups to create scenarios that emphasize social emotional skills, and ask students to showcase empathy, problem-solving, and responsible decision-making through their role-play.

  • Mindfulness Brain Breaks: Incorporate mindfulness exercises into your daily routine as brain breaks, which are a great way for students to learn emotional skills, practice self-awareness, and manage their emotions effectively.

  • SEL Discussion Circles and Conflict Resolution Workshops: Conduct regular SEL discussion circles during class meetings, where students discuss their feelings, experiences, and challenges, and teach students conflict resolution strategies to resolve conflicts effectively.

  • Random Acts of Kindness as Social Emotional Learning Activities: Promote random acts of kindness within the classroom, and encourage students to share their experiences in class meetings. This activity teaches students about social and emotional skills, emphasizing the positive impact of kindness on relationships.

  • Character Education Through Read Alouds: Utilize read-alouds to introduce character education lessons that focus on important social and emotional skills. This is a great way for middle school students to learn about values and ethical principles through engaging storytelling.

Use Storyboard That for Social and Emotional Learning

Sometimes kids have a difficult time talking about social situations and uncomfortable topics in front of their peers, and sometimes they just don’t know how to say what they want to say. Writing down their thoughts and illustrating feelings are helpful ways for kids to get out what they are thinking. Storyboard That is an excellent platform that allows students to express themselves and their emotions through illustrations and words, when it can so often be a challenge for so many. It allows teachers to differentiate assignments and give students the opportunity to choose a layout that works best for them, while also keeping their thoughts private if that is what they desire.

Storyboards are an excellent way to organize and present information at the same time, and it gives students the opportunity to be creative and have lots of fun expressing themselves. With the many different types of storyboards available, teachers are able to provide a variety of options based on individual needs, strengths, and learning styles. Teachers can also take advantage of pre-made lesson plans and resources for health and wellness and special education, and can tailor as desired.

Example Activities for Students

Making Responsible Decisions

After a discussion/lesson about responsible decision making, teachers could have the students do the following:

  1. Think of a time when you had to make a difficult decision.
  2. Create a 3 cell storyboard with description cells.
  3. Describe and illustrate the thought process of making that decision, and the conclusion.
  4. If desired, include a cell that illustrates another possible outcome if you had made a different decision.

These storyboards should be kept private in order to allow students to dig deep and be honest with their self reflection.

Navigating Relationships

After a discussion/lesson about relationships, teachers could have students do the following:

  1. Think of a time when you had a challenging situation with someone you have any kind of relationship with.
  2. Create a 3 cell storyboard with description cells.
  3. Describe and illustrate the challenging situation and how it worked out. Use dialogue.

These storyboards should be kept private in order to allow students to dig deep and be honest with their self reflection.

Pre-Made SEL Resources

Since every single activity can be tailored for different situations and students, teachers can take advantage of pre-made resources to incorporate Storyboard That into their SEL curriculum. Below are several resources we recommend for a variety of different age groups. Many of these resources will help teachers provide scenarios for students to illustrate as a form of practice and reinforcement.

Related Activities

How to Use Literature and Storytelling to Teach Social and Emotional Learning Concepts


Select a Book or Story That Addresses the Desired SEL Concept

Choose a story that has characters or situations that model or demonstrate the social and emotional learning concept you want to teach. For example, if you want to teach empathy, choose a story that has characters who exhibit empathetic behavior.


Preview and Plan

Preview the story and plan how you will use it to teach the SEL concept. Consider what questions or discussion prompts you will use to engage students with the story and to connect the story to the SEL concept.


Read the Story Aloud

Read the story aloud to your students, asking them to listen for or pay attention to the SEL concept you are focusing on.


Discuss the Story

Engage students in a discussion about the story and the SEL concept it highlights. Ask open-ended questions that encourage students to share their thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the story. Encourage students to make connections between the story and their own lives.


Model the SEL Concept

Model the SEL concept for students by using examples from the story and from your own life. Demonstrate how to exhibit the desired behavior or how to apply the concept in a real-world situation.


Practice the SEL Concept

Provide opportunities for students to practice the SEL concept through role-play, group work, or other activities. Encourage students to support and encourage one another as they practice.


Reflect and Debrief

Allow time for students to reflect on their experience learning the SEL concept and how they can apply it in their own lives. Debrief with the class about what they learned and how they plan to use the SEL concept in the future.


Follow-Up and Reinforce

Follow up with students to reinforce the SEL concept in future lessons and activities. Encourage students to continue practicing the concept in their everyday lives.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Emotional Learning

What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL for short, is the teaching and development of the skills needed to manage big feelings, form relationships, gain self-awareness, solve problems, make responsible choices, and set goals. It focuses on open communication, social awareness, and empathy.

Why is SEL important for students?

SEL is important for students because it helps them to develop important life skills, such as managing their emotions, building positive relationships, and making responsible decisions. These skills are critical for success both in school and in life.

How can teachers incorporate SEL into their curriculum?

Teachers can incorporate SEL into their curriculum by using storyboards as a tool to facilitate discussions and role-playing activities related to SEL. Storyboard That, for example, provides a platform for creating and sharing storyboards that can be used to explore emotions, relationships, decision-making, and more. Teachers can use the storyboard creator to guide students through dialogue exercises, practice conflict resolution strategies, and develop character profiles that promote self-awareness and social awareness. Storyboards are a creative and engaging way to promote social and emotional learning in the classroom.

What is an example of SEL learning?

An example of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a classroom exercise where students engage in a group discussion about a character's emotions and actions in a story. This activity helps them develop skills related to empathy, perspective-taking, and understanding different viewpoints, all of which are key components of SEL. It also encourages students to express their own feelings and thoughts in a safe and supportive environment, promoting emotional awareness and social interaction.

How can SEL be used in the classroom?

There are many ways SEL can be used in the classroom. Here are some examples:

  1. Morning Meetings
  2. Classroom Norms and Agreements
  3. Conflict Resolution
  4. Emotion Regulation Activities
  5. Collaborative Learning
  6. Reflection and Goal-Setting

How do you demonstrate social emotional learning?

As a teacher or facilitator, you can demonstrate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) through your actions, communication, and teaching methods. Here are ways to model and demonstrate SEL in your role:

  1. Cultivate Positive Relationships
  2. Self-Awareness
  3. Emotion Regulation
  4. Responsibility and Decision-Making
  5. Teach and Reinforce SEL Concepts
  6. Create a Positive Classroom Culture Encourage Empathy Promote Inclusivity

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