What is Social and Emotional Learning?

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. SEL also focuses on open communication, social awareness, and empathy.

Check Out These SEL Resources!

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 SEL 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.

How is Social and Emotional Learning Explicitly Taught?

There are many Social and Emotional Learning programs out there for schools and districts to choose from. SEL is taught through classroom instruction, role playing, open circle discussions, and projects. 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. Being able to put themselves in the shoes of others 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.

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

1 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.

2 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.

3 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.

4 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.

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 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.

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