Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Integrating Social-Emotional Learning and Literacy Instruction [K–2]

By Paula Dugger, M. Ed., Guest Blogger

As we observe children in our classrooms today, it is apparent that many lack appropriate social and emotional skills. As a result, the task of teaching proper skills to children often falls on the education community, especially classroom teachers. Many children come to school unable to share, listen, or participate in group activities.

Too often handheld devices, such as phones and iPads, are used as a quick fix to calm down children. Unfortunately, this doesn't contribute to social and emotional development. How can teachers and instructional coaches address this issue? Keep reading because today's blog post will take a look at integrating social-emotional learning through literacy instruction.

Social-emotional development for children includes the child's experiences, expressions, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others (Cohen et al., 2005). Literature can open the door to better understand these needed skills, especially when taught within familiar, real-life situations.

Personal Experience with Integrating SEL and Literacy Development

I vividly remember a day years ago when our family discovered our daughter (who was four years old at that time) had a potentially serious eye problem. Luckily, the diagnosis called for glasses. However, fear set in for my husband and me as we wondered how our daughter and others would react to her glasses. Would people make fun of her and would she feel self-conscious?

As a reading specialist who had hundreds of leveled books at my disposal, I thought maybe we could find a book to help us address any fears that she might have about wearing glasses. It took a bit of time, but I finally found a book ( Arthur’s Eyes by Marc Brown), and we used that story to help our family tackle an unexpected event as well as help a little girl feel comfortable about wearing glasses.

In fact, she thought the idea of wearing glasses was cool after reading and rereading this delightful story. Plus, it became a favorite book that she wanted to share with anyone who would listen, thus reinforcing her love of reading.

I often thought it would be great to have books on all sorts of topics to help with social and emotional issues written for beginning readers. It would be beneficial if kids could hear the stories read aloud and then enjoy reading them independently on their own.

Fast forward a few years and I was pleased to learn that Hameray put together a set of books addressing many topics relevant for social and emotional development. Titles include mostly narrative texts with social themes, but also a handful of nonfiction books with real-world facts. The guided reading level range is B through M, which is perfect for students who are learning how to read.

SEL Competencies and the Importance of Working with Literacy Coaches

For classroom teachers, literacy coaches can be a great asset when exploring how to use instructional practices and literacy to teach various SEL competencies. Literacy coaches, by design, help teachers think reflectively about the needs of their students, the curriculum, along with various instructional programs and practices that will improve student learning. They help teachers recognize what they know and can do, as well as assist them as they strengthen their ability to make more effective use of what they know and can do.

Often with the assistance of an instructional coach, teachers can discover a great lesson in a story like Meanies’ Night Out for teaching the social and emotional issues of making decisions. This delightful book from the Joy Cowley Collection features the Meanies. The Meanies are a group of characters who often make bad decisions resulting in doing mean things. This humorous story will naturally lead to a discussion on making good or bad decisions.

While reading the book, have students find evidence of bad decisions in this story. Then discuss how the Meanies could have made better decisions. You can also create a chart for the class to list good and bad decisions.

More Ideas for Social and Emotional Development

Extend the lesson throughout the day or week by reminding students that they must make good decisions. Teach them to recognize that every decision has an impact on themselves or someone else in a negative or positive way. Encourage them to think about how they feel when they make good decisions and how they feel when they make bad decisions.

A teacher might seek advice from a literacy coach to introduce questions, such as “Was that a good or bad decision?” Use this discussion to help young children think about how they react to people, places, and things. In today’s world, children need positive reinforcement for good decisions, as well as an understanding of how bad decisions can be often harmful to others. You can teach students to recognize their classmates for making good decisions.

For more ideas on incorporating specific social-emotional skills into literacy, please visit the following blog posts.

Paula is an educational consultant who has previously served as a Reading Recovery Teacher/Teacher Leader, first-grade teacher, Title I and high school reading teacher, and a Reading Coordinator. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy  more from Paula on our blog .