The Best Way to Teach Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) with Picture Books
By Mary Montero
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In today’s ever-changing landscape of education, fostering Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is essential to prepare students for life beyond the classroom. Teaching students critical SEL skills is something I’ve become particularly passionate about over the last several years. I’ve worked in Responsive Classroom schools my entire career, which does much to promote social-emotional growth in students, but I wanted to take it further. I wanted to implement specific lessons that would resonate with kids and have a lasting impact on their mental health. So, I set out to create a full year of lessons focused on critical character-building skills using one of my favorite things ever – picture books! Now that we’ve created over a dozen picture book companions to teach social and emotional skills and have seen the impact on students, I’ll never go back! Here’s how I promote social and emotional learning (SEL) with picture books.
What is Moving Mountains with Picture Books?
We designed Moving Mountains with Picture Books to serve as a picture book companion curriculum that enhances students’ social and emotional skills. The lessons have been developed to foster your students’ character development through a variety of learning activities. I have spent countless hours researching the perfect picture book to teach each skill, and they are all engaging, captivating, and relatable stories for your students. The goal is to provide connection and relatability for your students with each picture book. We want them to remember the characters, challenges, and lessons for years to come.
Our Moving Mountains SEL curriculum offers a variety of themes aligned with personal growth skills. This social and emotional learning (SEL) with picture books curriculum provides a substantial amount of content you can use throughout the school year. The goal of creating these resources was to empower teachers with high-quality supplemental lessons that enhance critical interpersonal skills while creating a classroom community that promotes self-growth.
The vision for this curriculum is for students to develop self-awareness about their roles in the classroom community and beyond. The selected books are geared towards a broad age and grade range, though we specifically designed these lessons for students in grades 2-5. The lessons relate directly to each book, making them unique and extremely engaging for students.
What is Included?
Each picture book companion is specifically designed and geared toward the theme of the week. The components consistently included in each companion are:
2-3 SEL Class Goals- You can post these in your classroom so students can see them.
5 Days of Complete Lesson Plans for SEL Integration with Printables! – A variety of lessons are included, so you can use them all, or if you’re working with limited time, you can pick and choose which ones work best for you!
Before, During, and After Reading Discussion Prompts- Not only does each picture book companion include discussion prompts, but we have also included sticky note templates and printables to help you easily locate pages corresponding to individual prompts.
Morning Meeting Greeting Cards- A greeting for every morning meeting! Each card includes a fun and engaging prompt that encourages student introspection and interaction.
5 Peaks and Pits Scenario Cards- The Peaks and Pits Scenario Cards present students with five scenarios that directly relate to the theme of the week. The accompanying questions prompt students to apply the lessons they learned to hypothetical situations. What would be a “PITS” response, and how could they respond better in a “PEAKS” response?
Extension Activity Suggestions- Each week includes 3-4 extension activities. These short lesson plan ideas are ideal for cross-curricular activities!
Companion Book Suggestions- If you want to expand your student’s learning throughout the week or school year, you will love our book suggestions! This curated list contains books that correlate with the theme and that were carefully selected.
Slide Decks for Selected Activities (see preview)- The digital slide decks make it easy to facilitate classroom discussions by posting prompts on your classroom projector.
What is SEL?
Although we don’t use the term SEL/Social Emotional Learning in the resource, these social and emotional learning (SEL) with picture books lessons were specifically designed to teach students critical SEL skills, supporting their mental health. Social Emotional Learning is a framework that helps children acquire and apply knowledge to better understand and manage their emotions. SEL is an important part of elementary education because it allows students to develop the skills they need to navigate life situations successfully. The CASEL wheel, used for Social Emotional Learning, has five categories. The five categories are self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. We focused on skills within these categories when we designed Moving Mountains resources.
Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning
Social-emotional learning has many benefits, and I’ve seen a tremendous transformation in my classroom when I place an emphasis on social-emotional learning. Here are just a few:
- Self-Awareness: SEL helps children understand and recognize their own emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. This self-awareness forms the foundation for emotional intelligence, fostering a deeper understanding of themselves.
- Improved Social Skills: SEL teaches children valuable interpersonal skills such as communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution. This translates into healthier relationships with peers, family, and authority figures.
- Better Decision-Making: SEL equips children with the ability to make thoughtful and responsible decisions. Children learn to consider the consequences of their actions, which is crucial for academic and personal success.
- Increased Empathy: Through SEL, children develop empathy and an understanding of others’ perspectives and feelings. Not only does this enhance their social interactions, but it also contributes to a more compassionate and inclusive community.
- Stress Management: SEL provides children with tools to cope with stress and adversity. Learning emotional regulation and stress-management techniques helps students navigate everyday challenges more effectively.
- Academic Success: Research indicates that students engaged in SEL programs often exhibit improved academic performance. The skills acquired, such as focused attention and perseverance, contribute to a positive learning environment.
- Positive Behavior: SEL encourages the development of responsible and respectful behavior. Children learn to handle conflicts constructively and engage in prosocial behavior, creating a more positive and supportive classroom atmosphere.
- Long-Term Well-Being: The social and emotional skills acquired through SEL are not only beneficial during childhood but also contribute to long-term mental health and well-being. Children equipped with these skills are better prepared to face life’s challenges.
- Cultivation of a Growth Mindset: SEL fosters a growth mindset so children see challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement. This mindset encourages resilience and a willingness to embrace new challenges.
- Prevention of Mental Health Issues: SEL programs have been linked to a reduction in behavioral problems and an increased likelihood of preventing mental health issues. By addressing emotional well-being early on, SEL contributes to the overall mental health of children.
Benefits of Teaching Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) with Picture Books
Picture books are the gateway to meaningful learning and deeper conversations. Children are drawn to high-quality, engaging picture books with relatable characters and situations. Picture books might also present students with situations and places they have never experienced or seen before. Both types of books draw children in, encouraging them to place themselves in the characters’ shoes and allowing them to feel emotionally connected to the situation and ensuing emotions in the story. Since children learn best through modeling, we have carefully selected picture books in which characters demonstrate and apply the SEL skills we’d want our students to learn.
Grab a book and our accompanying social and emotional learning (SEL) with picture books lesson, and help your students develop social-emotional skills that will allow them to thrive in the classroom community and throughout their lives!
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.