What Are They?

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional, Learning (CASEL), social-emotional learning (SEL) is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Social awareness and relationship skills are two of the five components that make up CASEL’s model of SEL.

Social awareness involves the ability to understand and empathize with others, particularly with people from different backgrounds than one’s own.

A history teacher cultivates students’ empathy by encouraging them to “put themselves in the shoes” of people on opposing sides of history to help them understand both how they came to their views in the first place and why certain decisions were made.

Skills that develop social awareness include:

  • Showing understanding and empathy for others
  • Identifying social cues (verbal, physical) to determine how others feel
  • Predicting and understanding others’ feelings and reactions
  • Practicing empathy, including perspective taking
  • Recognizing individual and group strengths and differences
  • Using reflective listening to understand and demonstrate respect for others
  • Recognizing and using family, school, and community resources
  • Demonstrating cultural humility
  • Awareness of inequities and privileges that affect individuals and groups

“Relationship skills” is the ability to build positive relationships, especially with diverse individuals and groups, using a variety of methods such as active listening, and communication and conflict resolution skills. These skills also include the ability to resist pressure and to seek out and offer help.

To encourage teamwork in lab groups at the beginning of the year, a chemistry teacher has students practice positive communication skills such as listening, conflict resolution, and cooperation.

Relationship skills include:

  • Cultivating connection and friendship
  • Developing positive relationships with diverse individuals and groups
  • Practicing listening and communication skills
  • Working cooperatively
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Offering and seeking help
  • Applying appropriate uses of humor
  • Approaching relationships with positive presuppositions
  • Managing and expressing emotions in relationships, respecting diverse viewpoints
  • Resisting inappropriate social pressures

Ultimately, social awareness and relationship skills are closely linked. For example, when students attempt to resolve a conflict between themselves (relationship skills), the process is made easier when both are able to empathize with each other (social awareness).

Why Are They Important?

Overall, research reveals time and again that students with social and emotional skills perform better academically, have stronger relationships with peers and teachers, experience greater well-being, and engage in less risky behavior. In addition, SEL skills positively impact education, employment, and mental health outcomes into adulthood.

More specifically, several components of social awareness and relationship skills show the following outcomes:

Empathy benefits students, both relationally and academically.

 

Cooperative learning begets cooperation.

  • One study found that students who participated in more cooperative learning exercises were more likely than their peers to say they liked cooperating with other students; whereas, students who said they liked competing were significantly more likely to act aggressively toward their peers and try to do them harm.
  • Students who engage in more frequent cooperative learning are more likely to report performing prosocial (kind, helpful) behavior toward their classmates.

 

Cross-group friendships among students can make the world a better place.

  • Students with friends from different racial groups may reduce prejudice, both immediately and in the long-term.
  • Positive interactions between diverse students may reduce anxiety and increase the willingness to empathize with each other.

 

Social learning practices are good for students.

  • When students learn social skills through pedagogical methods such as cooperative learning and joint decision-making of classroom rules, they are more successful academically, show greater engagement and enjoyment in learning, and have stronger interpersonal skills.

 

Teaching students to resolve their own conflicts works.

  • A review of the research found that conflict resolution and peer mediation programs may lead to fewer office referrals, decreased violence, and lower drop-out and suspension rates. Students who engage in these programs show greater academic achievement, a more positive perception of the school climate, increased social support, self-esteem, and well-being, and decreased victimization, anxiety, and depression.

Practices

Level
Duration
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Students identify the many ways that exist to express gratitude.
Middle School
≤ 1 hour
Students define gratitude and give an example of a time they felt grateful.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students draw and write about ways they have acted with kindness towards others.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students learn to say “thank you” in American Sign Language and brainstorm non-verbal ways to express gratitude.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students express gratitude through singing.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Use the Circle process to encourage students to safely and respectfully share their level of understanding on an academic topic.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Use the Circle process to build a sense of connection among students and staff by sharing moods, feelings, and moments of joy and pain.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 30 minutes
Students read a text slowly and reflect on its personal meaning for them.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Help students understand that mistakes are important for learning and growing our intelligence
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 15 minutes
A short but powerful number sense activity that shows students the visual nature of math, creativity in math, and that there are many different ways people see math.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Students reflect on how the Earthrise photograph offered humans a new way to see the Earth: without borders or boundaries.
Middle School, High School, College
Multiple Sessions
Students reflect on how the Earthrise photograph instills a sense of awe and wonder towards our planet.
Middle School, High School, College
Multiple Sessions
Students engage in prosocial (kind, helpful) actions for ten days and reflect on the impact of their actions on themselves and others.
Middle School, High School, College
Multiple Sessions
Students reflect on why another person acted kindly towards them, and practice gratitude both verbally & in writing.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students think about a time when they felt close to someone in order to foster a sense of belonging and well-being.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 15 minutes
In this circle activity, students practice mindful speaking and mindful listening.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 15 minutes
An opening math activity that provides students the opportunity to appreciate different ways of achieving the same answer.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 30 minutes
Students think about the factors that encourage and discourage people to act when they confront suffering or injustice.
High School, College
≤ 1 hour
Students define gratitude and name things they’re grateful for.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students reflect on acts of kindness and how they often require intention and effort on the part of the person who does them.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
A norm-setting activity to help create an environment for productive, positive, and equitable group work in math class
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Students interview an older person about gratitude, deepening their own understanding of gratitude.
Middle School
≤ 30 minutes
Students write a letter of thanks and deliver it in person.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 30 minutes
Students deepen their understanding of gratitude by “embodying” it.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students take a mindful walk in nature, noting what they are grateful for, and create a collaborative art piece of their experience.
Upper Elementary
≤ 1 hour
Students interpret and role-play a variety of quotes about gratitude.
Middle School
≤ 1 hour
Students express gratitude towards the many people whose efforts have brought them food.
Upper Elementary
Multiple Sessions
A game to develop students' memory and attention by remembering what you're supposed to do while doing a different motion.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
Acknowledge the faces of everyone in your classroom or meeting to deepen a sense of group connection.
High School, College, Adult
≤ 15 minutes
A game to build students’ focus and attention by practicing careful looking to find the object that another person is thinking of
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
Students hear and share inspiring stories compassionate risk-takers and then develop their own service project.
Middle School, High School, College, Adult
Multiple Sessions
Students get a secret kindness buddy to do a kind act for during the week.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
A magical game of tag that promotes inclusion and teamwork.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 15 minutes
Students establish and build friendships with classmates in a safe way.
Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
Students learn that when someone does something kind, it takes time and effort.
Middle School
≤ 1 hour
A game to develop student's memory and attention by remembering what each person has said and repeating it in the correct order
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
Students identify ways that they have acted with kindness towards others.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
A brief learning activity that demonstrates the many different ways people see math and builds students’ flexibility with numbers.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Create class community by brainstorming ways to stop put-downs.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
Build trust and understanding among students by exploring questions of wonder.
Middle School, High School
Multiple Sessions
Students discuss the SEL skills touched upon during the activity in which they have just participated.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
Students recognize the costs and benefits involved in a kind act. (Gratitude for Tweens and Teens Lesson 2)
Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
Students look for the good in others by acknowledging each other’s strengths. (Gratitude for Tweens and Teens Lesson 3)
Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
Use the Circle process to encourage self-care among staff and students in all dimensions.
Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 30 minutes
A game to develop students' memory and attention by remembering what motions accompany each phrase, and doing them correctly quickly
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
A list of strategies for making explicit connections to SEL skills throughout the day in order to reinforce students’ practice of skills
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 15 minutes
Students build trust and inclusion through a quick and fun game that reveals their commonalities.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
Strategies for parents and caregivers to help their children consider offering reparations as part of their apologies
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
Students learn how the positive emotions from gratitude create a cycle of giving.
Middle School
≤ 1 hour
A tool for fostering a supportive and equitable classroom and school environment and for promoting SEL.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College, Adult
Students define and practice “good sense,” or the will and know-how to do the right thing.
High School
Multiple Sessions
Students use dance to learn about the world and celebrate diversity.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 30 minutes
Students learn how kindness and gratitude strengthen friendships through Splat the Cat.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students identify what gets in the way of expressing gratitude.
Upper Elementary
≤ 1 hour
Students define gratitude and the many forms it takes.
Middle School
Multiple Sessions
Students examine how they face everyday moral dilemmas and consider who and what influences their reactions when conflicts arise.
Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 1 hour
Through stories, discussion, and creative presentations about true heroes, students foster their compassion for others and see brave community involvement as an admirable, heroic way of life.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
Multiple Sessions
A game to cultivate students’ focus and attention by knowing when it is their turn and the right thing to say
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
–Helen Keller