Social and emotional skills are foundational for kids to be successful in and out of the classroom. They involve everything: having a firm grasp of our values, recognizing our strengths and challenges, understanding social situations, developing strong relationships with others, managing our emotions, making responsible decisions, and so much more. Sometimes, as educator we might feel we don’t have time for teaching and practicing these skills in the classroom. Without a doubt, the expectations of educators are higher than ever and sometimes something has to give. With all of that said, social and emotional skills should not be lost. In fact, I would argue that we need to spend MORE of our time in schools highlighting and incorporating these skills throughout the day. When kids are socially and emotionally healthier, they do better academically, too.
One way to incorporate and discuss these skills while still working on other academic skills is through writing and journaling. With this, I’ve designed a Social Emotional Learning Journal with daily prompts throughout the year. That means I’ve already included 175 unique prompts organized by social-emotional skill. Everything is done for you for the whole year. It’s the perfect no-prep way to highlight SEL throughout the school year on a daily basis.
Here are some simple tips you can follow to help you teach social and emotional skills through writing:
1. Choose a Time Frame. You might choose to make Social Emotional Learning Journaling part of your morning meeting, advisory periods, or just a “do now” when kids walk in the classroom. Whatever you choose, stick with it! Remember that these skills are just as important as academic skills and they deserve time in your classroom.
2. Introduce Social-Emotional Skills. Let kids know what social and emotional skills are and why they are important. Explain that these are the skills that help us to be socially and emotionally healthy in our lives. The five main areas of SEL include: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and decision-making.
3. Have Students Design a Journal. For students to really “own” their journal, I always feel it’s helpful to have them design or color a front page. This helps them take ownership of their journal and sets theirs apart from others. You can choose to have students use a binder to hold their journal pages together or use a composition notebook. I really love to bind all the pages together so students have the real feel of a journal, but anything will do!
4. Highlight One Skill Per Week. Giving each week its own skill will give kids time to understand that skill, while giving you time to reinforce it when you see it in the classroom. Start with self-awareness by covering strengths, challenges, building confidence, and understanding feelings. For self-management, cover topics such as planning, self-control, organization, and managing emotions. Social awareness highlights skills involving social expectations, social cues, and empathy. For relationships, you might discuss friendships, how to communicate effectively, and working with others. Finally, for decision-making, spend time writing about responsibility, peer pressure, problem-solving, and ethical decisions.
5. Ask Daily Questions and Talk About It. If you ask students about strategies they might use to manage their emotions, give time for the whole class to discuss first before writing. This is an important step to provide some background knowledge before kids take time to think on their own. You can choose to skip this step, but keep in mind that some learners might not know what to write without discussing the topic with others first.
6. Give Time for Independent Writing. Students will need a few minutes to journal and write on their own. This allows them to stop and think about the question, coming up with their own individual thoughts and responses. Best of all, with a journal, you have a written record of all the skills kids are learning and writing about.
7. Incorporate Partner and Class Discussions. Spend a few minutes letting partners talk or discussing the topic as a whole class again. This gives kids the chance for shared learning from their peers.
8. Reinforce Skills Throughout the Week. The best way to generalize these skills is to encourage them throughout your daily lessons and activities. For example, if you are working on organization and see you a student tidying their binder, let them know! If you are highlighting social expectations, discuss the social expectations before a test or quiz you are about to take. Take every moment and make it count.
If you love these ideas for teaching social emotional skills with a journal, give the Social Emotional Learning Journal a try with your learners!
If you’re looking for more ideas for SEL, read up on more ways to incorporate social emotional learning in your classroom.