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!

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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