Social-emotional learning is quickly becoming one of the most important and difficult subjects in modern education. This isn’t all that surprising when you consider why. Whether your students hope to become doctors, engineers, or rockstars, they will inevitably find themselves working alongside other people. Qualities like self-management, empathy, and social awareness are a crucial part of any professional environment. But this also leaves us with a difficult question, “How do you teach social-emotional learning?

According to a recent Edutopia article, most teachers feel unprepared and unequipped to assist students with their emotional development. Unlike math or science, social-emotional learning isn’t something you can explain through spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations. It takes a degree of flexibility and creativity to lead young thinkers through the maze of human emotion. Thankfully, we do have one tool at our disposal for teaching students concepts like empathy, self-awareness, and relationship skills. We have stories.

A New Set of Eyes  

Have you ever read a book featuring someone of a different race? What about a different religion? Have you ever followed a story where the protagonist spoke a different language, or belonged to a different culture? You might not have realized it at the time, but you were engaging in social-emotional learning. As Kathryn-Fishman Weaver writes,

Books become transformative when they shift our perspectives, alter our worldviews, and deepen our relationships with others. Let’s implement practices that make reading from many different experiences, worldviews, and cultures part of the social fabric of our schools.

Having a diverse library in your classroom provides students with positive representation. It can also teach them to empathize with people from different backgrounds. Reading dialogue can convey interpersonal skills and witnessing healthy friendships between characters will encourage them to build relationships with others, even if they happen to come from different cultures.

What’s on Your Bookshelf?

Here are just a few useful genres for teaching SEL through stories:

  • Books Featuring Children with Disabilities: It can be hard for children to understand people with disabilities, and in a stage of life as awkward as adolescence, nobody wants to feel different. That’s why it’s so important for students with conditions like dyslexia and autism to feel welcomed in your classroom. Students need to know that just because they’re different it doesn’t make them stupid, and it doesn’t mean they can’t make extraordinary achievements!            
  • Books Featuring Characters of Different Races: Everyone deserves to see themselves as a hero, and no student should be left thinking they are a side-character in someone else’s story. Books like Island of the Blue Dolphins, Bud, Not Buddy, and A Single Shard are must-haves for any classroom.     
  • Comic Books: That’s right! Don’t let the bright colors and superheroes fool you. Aside from promoting interest in reading and classroom vocabulary, comic books can also help students process difficult emotions. Be sure to check out titles like The Arrival, Nimona, and Ms. Marvel!      
  • Books by Your Own Students: Don’t forget, everyone has their own story to tell. In the Blue Apple project, Moments to Remember, students visit a retirement home and listen as a senior friend recounts the story of their life. Afterwards, the students will take these recorded events and turn them into a real book! By connecting one generation to the next, your classroom will learn more about the trials their ancestors had to overcome and apply their wisdom to their own lives.
Ready, Set, Read!

As students read more broadly and talk about books more intentionally, we’re able to share more diverse voices and experiences. This, in turn, teaches our classrooms the value of social and self-awareness, the necessity of relationships, and the importance of responsible decision-making. We can bring social-emotional learning to our students in ways which teach young people that many experiences matter, their feelings matter, and most importantly, they matter.

What about you? How are you teaching SEL through stories?

*Editor’s Note: Today’s image is brought to you by Nimona. Find your copy today!