How to Incorporate Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom

how to incorporate social emotional learning in the classroom
Learning Strategies

How to Incorporate Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom

Schooling has always been about more than academics. Sure, reading, writing, and arithmetic will always be staples of the classroom environment, but there are other valuable skills inextricably tied to the educational experience. For students of all ages, but particularly elementary school-aged and younger, learning to interact with others from a place of understanding and emotional intelligence is key to success later in life. Most jobs require the ability to forge and maintain healthy professional relationships, but it all starts in the classroom and on the playground. This guide will show you how to incorporate social-emotional learning in the classroom through curriculum choices, teacher training, and more.

The Committee For Children defines social-emotional learning (SEL) as, “…the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.” While this definition is easy to understand, a whole school of thought is centered around it that takes things to a much deeper level. Here, we’ll discuss the fundamentals of SEL and some of the ways its teachings can be implemented in your class.

Fundamentals of SEL

The most common way of identifying and dividing up the fundamentals of SEL is the CASEL framework of five social-emotional competencies:


  • Understand your thoughts, values, and emotions and see how they influence your behavior in different situations. Connected to this is the ability to recognize areas of strength and weakness, all while maintaining a sense of purpose and confidence.
  • Among other things, self-awareness is key to identifying biases and prejudices during periods of self-examination.


  • Manage your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors when required to achieve desired results. Key to this are the abilities to manage stress, delay gratification, and feel a desire and ability to accomplish goals for the good of the self and the whole.
  • One benefit that typically comes with effective self-management is strong organizational skills.

Social Awareness

  • Understand different perspectives and show empathy toward others, particularly those who come from different backgrounds, contexts, and cultures. Some of the concepts included under this term include feeling compassion for others, recognizing social norms and how they should affect your actions as well as seeing the utility of various social resources.
  • One of the more interesting applications of this is noticing the influence of systems and organizations on behavior.

Relationship Skills

  • Being able to initiate, propagate, and support healthy relationships as well as understanding how to effectively navigate interactions with individuals from different backgrounds. Clear communication, active listening, collaborative working that prioritizes problem solving and effective conflict mediation, and the ability to seek and offer help when appropriate are all key relationship skills under the broader umbrella.
  • One thing that stood out to us is that this is the competency that leads individuals to stand up for others.

Responsible Decision-Making

  • Being able to make caring and helpful decisions that affect behavior and social interactions across a variety of situations. This is where the ability to think about ethical and safety considerations comes into play.
  • Interestingly, traits like curiosity and open-mindedness are tied into this part of the framework.

Incorporating SEL in the Classroom

Now that we know a little more about SEL, we can apply what we’ve learned to the classroom. There are typically three components to an SEL-focused classroom: explicit SEL instruction, SEL integration into academics, and a supportive classroom environment. Between these three, you should be able to successfully implement SEL concepts into your classroom. Let’s dive a little deeper into how to incorporate social-emotional learning in the classroom.

Explicit SEL Instruction

  • The easiest to understand of the bunch, this type of explicit instruction is key for laying the conceptual foundation and framework for the future application of SEL skills. Instruction should be appropriate for the students’ developmental stage and cultural setting.  Older students (middle and high schoolers) will not take well to direct instruction on anxiety, for example.  It is not that you cannot teach such concepts, but you will need to be more creative and flexible and weave discussions into other lessons.  Discussing how characters in a short story, book, or movie feel or why they behave in predictable or surprising ways can be a technique to broach these touchy topics.

SEL Integration Into Academics

  • Interspersing SEL-centric ideas and activities into academic learning can go a long way toward reinforcing the concepts discussed during explicit SEL instruction. For example, group activities are great at promoting communication skills and effective teamwork.  Be thoughtful about pairing students to provide a safe environment for those who may be reluctant to share and to prevent more outgoing students from dominating the activity.  Make sure that all students can participate in ways they can feel successful.

A Supportive Classroom Environment

  • In order to create a strong foundation for students to be comfortable taking risks while fully engaging with the material, pupils need to feel like they are being adequately supported through efforts like community-building with an emphasis on emotional safety and self-discipline.  Make sure it is ok for students to take risks and make mistakes.  Model this; make simple mistakes for your students when you write on the board and let them correct you. Teach them to do this respectfully and model how to react to making a mistake. Errors are opportunities to learn and grow!


We hope that after reading this blog you have a better understanding of how to incorporate social-emotional learning in the classroom and what social-emotional learning is. If you’re already a teacher, we strongly encourage you to continue your research into social-emotional learning and begin applying it in your class. If you’re an aspiring teacher, we wish you the best of luck with the MTEL.

That being said, sometimes you need more than luck, and that’s where our services come into play. The Educational Testing Institute (ETI) is the premier MTEL preparation service with a variety of options to suit everyone’s individual needs and an enviable pass rate for its students. Click here to reach out to ETI with any questions you might have, and we look forward to helping you achieve your educational dreams.

We have guaranteed MTEL success since 1999.

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