Meeting the Social Emotional Needs of your Students through Literacy


(Part 1 of a 3-part series on social emotional learning.)


As an educator, one of our main goals is for our students to be happy, love school, and learn everyday.  Creating an engaging and fun learning environment is just one piece of that important puzzle.  As teachers, it is equally as important for us to support the social-emotional, as well as academic needs of our students.  We want to create learning experiences that help to support building life skills, managing emotions, and collaborating in an effective manner.  There are many ways that teachers can accomplish this, ranging from using a social emotional curriculum, engaging in community building activities, creating a positive classroom culture, and so forth.  While I enjoy applying all of these tactics, today I will discuss integrating social emotional learning into my literacy instruction.

Integrating Social Emotional Learning into Reading Workshop

Fiction units of study lend itself very nicely to social emotional learning.  During most fiction units, teachers educate their students on how to identify and describe characters, problems, and solutions.  Students spend a lot of time inferring character thinking, feeling, and motivation.  They put themselves in the character’s shoes and decide if they would have made similar or different decisions.  Students make connections to their own lives by asking themselves through reflection on how the character, setting, or plot relates to them.  We also teach our students to recognize and describe character change as well as infer the central message/lesson learned in a story.  

With all of this critical work that students need to consider and apply while reading fiction, why not, as the teacher, pick books with topics that might be relatable to our students? Why not pick books with characters who may face similar problems?  The possibilities are endless, but I truly appreciate reading books with the following topics: bullying, siblings, sharing/working together, friends, dealing with emotions, coping skills, trying new things, and so forth.  I love to engage my students in rich discussions around these issues.  I similarly enjoy placing my students into cooperative learning groups with one of these texts where I compel them to  complete a variety of tasks.  Either way, this is yet another opportunity for them to learn and practice important reading skills and strategies while at the same time learn crucial social and life skills.

There are a plethora of texts to use, but I find the following books to be excellent in supporting my students social emotional growth (all of the below texts are published by Scholastic, Inc.)

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Integrating Social Emotional Learning into Writing Workshop

Writing workshop is another excellent opportunity to expose your students to social emotional learning.  Specifically, those units that teach narrative writing aligns nicely to this type of work.  For example, during a realistic fiction writing unit, you may encourage your students to create characters that face problems that they need to overcome.  

Additionally, during a small moment or personal narrative unit (true stories about their lives), you may teach your students to write about a time they had a problem they needed to overcome.  Regardless, your students will need to think deeply and write about a problem and how it can be solved.  During both of these units, I encourage my students to write about age-appropriate, relatable problems.  Furthermore, I use the above list as mentor texts to support students in generating ideas and elaborating their writing.  


As teachers, it is our job to model and support social emotional skills.  This can be something as small as a smile at the door in the morning or as big as a full-blown social emotional curriculum. One way to meet the social emotional needs of your students is to integrate it into your literacy instruction: expose them to literature that addresses issues they might face in life, as well as encourage them to write about similar issues.