What Are Kernels?

Developed by Harvard University’s Ecological Approaches to Social Emotional Learning (EASEL) Laboratory, kernels are specific activities or strategies that are commonly used by research-based programs to support the growth and development of social and emotional skills and competencies.

Kernels have been developed for grades K-6 and include a variety of activity types and instructional methods, such as games, routines, and storytelling. Each kernel includes adaptations and extension activities, as well as grade level differentiations when applicable.

Drawing from EASEL’s content analysis of 25 leading SEL programs, kernels have been categorized into the following constructs: cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, character, and mindset.

 

Brain Power (Cognitive Skills)

The ability to direct thoughts and actions toward achieving goals.

Cognitive skills help students when they are faced with everyday tasks that require self-control, concentration, planning, problem solving, coordination, or conscious choices between different options. These skills include:

  • The ability to control impulses
  • Keep track of changing information over short periods of timeSustain attention and ignore distractions
  • Switch attention between tasks when needed

 

Feelings Power (Emotional Skills)

The ability to identify, express, and regulate emotions, as well as understand the emotions of others.

Emotional skills are critical to positive social interactions and building relationships with peers and adults. It is difficult for students to have positive relationships with others without the ability to recognize and regulate emotions and to understand others’ perspectives, needs, or feelings. These skills include:

  • Emotion knowledge and expression
  • Emotion and behavior regulation
  • Perspective-taking

 

People Power (Interpersonal Skills)

The ability to interpret others’ behavior, effectively navigate social situations, and interact positively with peers and adults.

Interpersonal skills help students work cooperatively on a team, solve social problems, and coexist peacefully with others. This is especially important in the classroom where students are learning and working with others, as well as for students’ ability to sustain positive relationships with others. These skills include:

  • The ability to understand social cues
  • Resolve conflicts with peers
  • Promote and carry out prosocial (kind, helpful) actions and behaviors

 

Citizen Power (Character)

A set of skills, values, and habits that help guide one’s actions.

Character skills guide the choices students make, directly impacting their school and home communities. These skills are essential to functioning in a democratic society, and include the following:

  • Making ethical judgements
  • Being tolerant and accepting of differences
  • Following through on responsibilities, civic engagement, and community appreciation, among others

 

Attitude Power (Mindset)

A set of attitudes and beliefs about oneself and others.

Mindset skills support students’ abilities to learn, grow, and overcome obstacles. These skills allow students to believe in their own ability to improve, and to persevere through challenging situations. Mindset skills include:

  • Expressing confidence in oneself and one’s ability to improve
  • Identifying positive traits in oneself and others
  • Approaching challenging situations with optimism and positivity

Why Are They Important?

Research shows that evidence-based kernels of practice—or low-lift, flexible, adaptable strategies—that can be easily integrated into every-day classroom routines could add value or be more efficient than a comprehensive SEL curriculum. Here’s why:

Kernels offer teachers choice and flexibility.

  • In contrast to more comprehensive programs or interventions, kernels provide a less intensive, flexible approach to SEL that enables providers to select only those strategies or activities that best fit the needs and goals of their specific students, thereby increasing initial uptake and sustainability over time.

 

Kernels are highly customizable.

  • Teachers and other staff can select and adapt specific kernels based on local needs, increasing the likelihood that SEL strategies are targeted to highly-salient skills/processes and integrated into the standard practices of the setting in a sustained manner.

 

Kernels are free and easy to use.

  • By avoiding the logistical burdens typically associated with more comprehensive interventions, kernels are particularly ideal for settings with limited resources or high teacher turnover and burn-out.
  • Kernels are intentionally designed to be low-cost and easy to use, requiring minimal time, resources, and training to implement.

 

Kernels can be used across a wide variety of educational contexts, adding to their impact and value.

  • Formal and informal, as well as at home and in community settings (e.g., summer camps, youth centers, etc.) can benefit from kernels.
  • A kernels approach enables communities to promote social and emotional development in a cohesive and complementary way across multiple settings, thereby maximizing exposure and impact.

 

Kernels help cultivate children’s social, emotional, and behavioral skills–all keys to their success.

Practices

Level
Duration
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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
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
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
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 game to develop students' self-control by doing the correct (silly) motion instead of the automatic one
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
A game to develop students' self-control by listening for a key phrase before doing an action
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
A game to develop students' memory and attention by keeping track of objects in order to tell which one is missing
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
A game to develop students' memory and attention by remembering a series of motions and doing them in the correct order
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
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
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. ”
–Vincent Van Gogh