Social-Emotional Learning through Literature

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a methodology that can help children of all ages to better interpret emotions, fully engage with their feelings, and show empathy and compassion for others. Through emotion regulation and decision-making, SEL helps children to build meaningful relationships, reach their goals, and have more understanding of the world around them. 

Social-emotional learning is a key to becoming a great learner in early development. It’s the process of children uncovering their own emotions while simultaneously becoming aware of the emotions of others. Social-emotional learning helps develop empathy and compassion, helping them become better leaders and better humans. It is a critical point of personal growth that educators can amplify through lessons and conversations. 

The connection between literature and SEL does not get enough attention but is just as important as STEAM learning, dramatic play, and many other areas of early learning. Literature is a wonderful opportunity to help SEL shine, through studying, discussing, and engaging with each other. SEL fits seamlessly into any school curriculum and can be an innovative part of any classroom.  

What are the five types of social-emotional learning skills?  

There are five SEL competencies that are applicable to the classroom, home, and community. 

-Self-awareness – ability to identify emotions, develop a growth mindset, and recognize strengths and weaknesses.  

-Self-management – having ownership of regulating emotions, controlling compulsions and achieving goals.  

-Social awareness – the ability to see things from the perspective of others, appreciate people’s varying abilities, put an emphasis on diversity and show empathy.  

-Relationship skills – this includes but is not limited to communication skills, problem-solving, and resolving conflicts with others. 

-Responsible decision-making – thinking before making a choice and ensuring you are aware of the consequences. 

All five of these types of ideologies help students to live their best lives emotionally and teach them social skills that can support them throughout their years of schooling and onward.  

two children sitting with yellow smiley face balloons

What books can I use to form connections with SEL and literature in my classroom? 

Have You Filled a Bucket Today is an award-winning and heart-warming book that encourages positive behaviour as children see the importance of expressing kindness, appreciation, and love daily. This book highlights the effects of our actions and words on the well-being of others and ourselves. 

book cover of Have You Filled a Bucket by Carol McCloud

The Understanding Differences book set is a wonderful series about children of various abilities, such as children with wheelchairs, leg braces, and those who are deaf. Educating children on disabilities is crucial for inclusivity and embracing differences. 

The Focusing on Feelings book set helps children gain a better understanding and introduction to feelings that may be not so pleasant, such as loneliness and isolation. These four books include The Very Long Sleep, The Cloud, The Lost Stars, and Momo and Snap are NOT Friends. These books are gentle but effective in illustrating dark and sad emotions, helping children put a name to their feelings. 

The Emotions Book Set features four different emotions; angry, sad, happy, and scared. These books use big, full-colour photos and rhythming text to illustrate kid-friendly situations and feelings. 

The Way I Feel is a great book about how feelings are not necessarily good or bad; they just simply exist. Kids need words to name their feelings, just as they need words to name all things in their world. Strong, colourful, and expressive images that go along with simple verses help children connect the word and the emotion. Through this book, children will learn useful words and will have many chances to open conversations about what’s going on in their life.  

Dealing With Feelings… contains eight different emotion books: Happy, Jealous, Worried, Shy, Sad, Proud, Angry, and Caring. Each book in the Dealing with Feeling series looks at a different emotion commonly experienced by young children. The books help readers to identify their emotions and provide tips and advice on how best to express and deal with them.   

What products can I use to integrate SEL in the classroom? 

The Feelings Friend helps open a window into children’s emotions. It comes with an assortment of facial features in its front pouch. It can be used to connect facial expressions, comes with cards, and has a detailed usage guide included.    

The Self-Regulation Stones are designed to help children express their emotions when they can’t find the words to do so. Choosing an image that represents their emotions enables them to represent how they’re feeling, what triggered this feeling, and how it can be managed constructively. Recognizing an emotion and understanding it more fully will enable healthy self-regulation, supporting children’s development and engagement with others. It is very useful for mindfulness activities inside or outdoors. 

The Express Your Feelings Pocket Chart is a visual tool used to help identify & share emotions. Every day students enter the classroom feeling slightly different with different emotions. They may be excited to come to school, or they may have had a tough morning at home. This pocket chart allows students to identify their emotions and share them with their teacher in a safe way. They can also choose to flip over their craft stick for a more private experience. It helps children identify and express their daily emotions in a safe and productive way. 

Emotiblocks comes with a set of characters with interchangeable pieces which enable children to freely create likeable characters: there are over 100 possible combinations. This game comes with activity cards and is an entertaining tool to help children become familiar with the main emotions. 

Emotiblocks game for kids

How can I make SEL fun? 

There are lots of ways to have fun with SEL. When children are comfortably introduced to SEL in an entertaining way, they are more likely to indulge themselves in their learning. That’s what makes the Emotions Detective from Miniland such a great tool. Emotions Detective is a cooperative game with which participants will discover how to control their moods. It includes cards that on one side conceal an everyday action and on the other shows a scene that provokes anger or sadness. The little detectives will have to find out what it is all about to then come up with solutions that lead to a positive feeling.  

The Mindful Kids activity is a boxed card deck that includes 50 creative mindfulness games, visualizations, and exercises split into 5 categories that help children feel grounded, find calmness, improve focus, and practice love and kindness. It comes with tips on individual cards, easy-to-follow instructions, and 8-page instructional booklet show modifications that make these activities inclusive for children of all abilities. 

Making SEL a visual concept is made easy and fun with the Good Behaviour Buckets. Students learn how to fill their buckets with kindness, attentiveness, and other positive social-emotional skills with these Good Behavior Buckets. Positive behaviours land in the sunny orange bucket, while negative behaviours land in the stormy purple bucket. Stick the 30 pre-printed social-emotional behaviour stickers onto fun trackers (suns, hearts, and stars for good behaviours; clouds, lightning bolts, and raindrops for challenging ones) and start tracking! 

buckets for good behaviour with compliments for kids

The All About Me Feelings Activity Set is a fun game designed for social-emotional learning. Learn all-new social-emotional learning skills with these feelings-filled counters! It helps kids start talking about happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, and more! Counters are also good for sorting, matching, and counting fun.  

Discover and explore emotions in art class with the Mix and Match Emotion Stencils. Each ethnically diverse boy and girl represents a basic emotion. Start by tracing each of the stencils and discuss the emotions they represent. Students can create more subtle emotions by mixing elements. There are over 30 different combinations! 

Teach emotions recognition, dexterity, and coordination with the fun fishing game, Emotions Fishing. The magnetic fishing rods pick up the faces which have stainless steel parts that won’t rust in water or sand. It includes 18 different emotions pieces, 4 magnetic fishing rods, 6 of each emotional expression (happy, sad, angry, upset, worried and surprised) in 3 skin tones. 

small child playing a game of fish with faces instead of fish

How can I involve SEL in English discussions?  

Change the way you are asking questions. Instead of asking factual questions to determine whether the class was participating, ask more opinion-based questions encouraging your class to describe the emotion of the characters in your study. For example, instead of “what struggle does the main character face?” try “when the main character is struggling, how do they deal with it?” “How would this situation make you feel?” This prompts children to think critically and emotionally, helping to connect and uncover their own feelings.  

Encourage first impressions. When reading a story as a class, ask them about their expectations for the novel and then follow up afterward to see if their initial expectations were met. Ask about their emotional state while reading and encourage them to open up. This is a great exercise in comparing before and after emotions and showing the difference between initial impressions versus after. This exercise can help show students that it is important not to judge a book by its cover – in a literal sense – and to have more compassion.  

Positive affirmations and journaling. A terrific exercise in SEL, having students write a journal and asking them to write nice things about themselves and note how they are feeling each day can help students find a reflective hold on their emotions. This is a great way to familiarize themselves with their feelings and boost self-esteem. Writing positive affirmations for children encourages them to have a positive thinking process and constructive mindset. It can do wonders for children’s self-worth. Just like humans internalize negative messages, they can internalize positive messages for themselves too. Some good examples of positive affirmations include, “I am strong”, “I am important”, “mistakes don’t define me”, and “I am kind”.  

Promoting active listening. Social-emotional activities require cooperation and listening in group settings. Teach students to use the SLANT strategy; sit up straight, listen, ask and answer questions, nod your head, and track the speaker with your eyes. This helps engage children and provides tips and skills for listening and engaging in conversations that go beyond the classroom. 

Create a vision board. Art meets SEL with this fun and interactive activity. Cutting up pictures and magazines and turning them into a personalized board of goals, dreams, and favourite things into a clear picture of hopes for the future is a creative and enjoyable way to display aspirations. It helps kids figure out what they want to do, inspires them, and keeps them accountable for their goals. Did they strive to eat more fruit this week, or spend more time outside? The vision board is a perfect way to illustrate accomplishments and aim for the sky with weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.  

small girl making a scrapbook

What are some inspirational items I can add to my classroom to promote SEL? 

The Emoji Expressions Rug is great as children love to express their emotions through emojis. With Emoji Expressions in the classroom, you can encourage children to get in touch with their feelings and either share with others or discuss privately with you. 

Yoga Mats are great to store in the classroom for relaxation and de-stressing activities. These are lightweight and durable mat and provides a stable, non-slip surface. They also roll up for easy storage. 

The Grow For It! Mini Bulletin Board Set is a beautiful way to encourage students to blossom with a whole garden of encouraging phrases. Its unique metal flowers add the perfect finishing touch to and display. It comes with 8 inspiring signs, 2 blank signs, and 8 flowers.  

The best part of social-emotional learning is that it never gets old – not only can it be used in all stages of life, but it is also never too early to start the realization and practice of emotional regulation. It encourages children to develop as an individual, a learner, and as compassionate friends. It also can help the classroom become a more welcoming and enjoyable place filled with kindness.  Who knows – you might even watch your students begin their journey to becoming the best versions of themselves.  

young kids sitting on a swing

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