SEL (Social and Emotional Learning)

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a framework used to guide the process of helping children and youth develop critical skills for life – how to get along with others, handle challenges, and behave ethically. Programs that foster SEL help children recognize feelings and think about how feelings influence behavior. Specifically, programs that foster SEL help children to recognize and manage emotions, think about their feelings and how one should act, regulate behavior based on thoughtful decision making, and acquire important social skills for developing healthy relationships in life.1 In a recent evidence-based review, strong support for the use of social emotional learning programming at the universal level to improve social emotional functioning and reduce problem behaviors was found.2


Five core SEL skills are developed including: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. For more information, refer to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) at Currently, all 50 states have preschool SEL standards and many states have SEL integrated in their academic standards.3,4

Things you can do starting NOW:

  • Select BOOKS that promote SEL by helping students learn about and process feelings and life events (sometimes referred to bibliotherapy). Select books that focus on characters who experience different feelings and talk about it afterwards. Pose questions to foster reflection on how to verbalize and manage emotions such as, "What do you think he was feelings?"; "What do you think she should do?". Suggested reading lists: Younger children; for middle school students, see Carnegie Library's bibliotherapy list at
  • Teach a feeling vocabulary using a variety of embedded strategies throughout the day using games, craft activities, songs and storybooks that focus on feelings. Check out Pinterest 'Let's Talk About Feelings' for ideas
  • Embed feeling activities into language arts, art and handwriting instruction. Use coloring and handwriting sheets developed for Every Moment Counts – see Mental Health Literacy and Mental Health Awareness Day Materials
  • Use color to help students learn about emotions. Teach feeling words and a range of intensity using a color wheel. See do2learn's website and resources at
  • Observe children's facial expression, body language, and tone of voice in order to help label their feelings based on your observations (e.g. "You seem a bit discouraged", "You look excited about going to recess").
  • Teach students about their feelings and how to regulate their emotional state using The Zones of Regulation (Kuypers, 2011). Lessons and learning activities are designed to help students recognize their Zone (moods/alertness) and use strategies (sensory supports, calming techniques) to regulate their Zone in order to help them learn and interact effectively with others. This curriculum can be used by an interdisciplinary team. See

Other suggestions:

1 Elias, M. J., et al. (1997). Promoting social and emotional learning: Guidelines for educators. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum.
2 Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82 (1), 405–432. doi:10.1111/j.1467- 8624.2010.01564.x
3 Durlak, J. A., Domitrovich, C. E., Weissberg, R. P., & Gullotta, T. P. (Eds.) (2015). Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice. Guilford Press. See
4 Zinsser, K. M., Weissberg, R. P., & Dusenbury, L. (2013). Aligning preschool through high school social and emotional learning standards: A critical and doable next step. Retrieved from