Social-Emotional Learning

21st-Century Social-Emotional Learning Lesson Plans [Examples & Tools]

Kai Frazier
November 3, 2022

In a hyper-connected world, having well-developed social-emotional skills are more critical than ever. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a form of emotional intelligence that helps kids improve their relationship skills, become more aware of others' emotions, and learn to manage their own emotions. That's why educators are being more intentional about incorporating social-emotional learning lesson plans into their curriculum. 

Thankfully, educators have access to a wide variety of tech tools for teachers that can make social-emotional learning in the classroom easier. For example, virtual reality can turn a stale lecture into an immersive experience. A digital makerspace can allow students to be more hands-on with their learning. The metaverse can produce real-life interactions with other students from around the world. 

A lot has been written about the role of social-emotional learning in school, and what it means for our children's future. But it can be hard to understand how this fits into the broader context of education. What is social-emotional learning? Why is it so important? And how does social-emotional learning relate to 21st century skills?

This post will address these questions and offer some examples of social-emotional learning lesson plans to provide teachers with additional resources. We'll also touch on how Kai XR's virtual field trips and digital makerspace are the perfect way to supplement social-emotional learning lesson plans! 

Keep reading! 

What is Social-Emotional Learning & Why Is It Important? 

There has been some debate on the definition and purpose of social-emotional learning. Some people think it's all about helping students learn to "complete tasks" and "follow directions." Others argue that it gives students a safe place to process complex feelings. And still, others wonder if SEL is just about "coping strategies for increased stress management."

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is defined as "the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy toward others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions." 

CASEL has developed a framework for educators to utilize when teaching social-emotional learning lessons. The framework fosters knowledge, skills, and attitudes across five social and emotional competence areas. It also establishes equitable learning environments across four key settings that support social, emotional and academic development. 

These four environments include: 

  1. Classrooms
  2. Schools
  3. Families & Caregivers
  4. Communities

It's these four environments that are responsible for developing the following fives areas of social and emotional competence: 

  1. Self-awareness - Self-aware students understand their own emotions and can name feelings. They also understand how their feelings affect other people.
  2. Self-management - Self-managing students use strategies to control their behaviors and impulses. They can handle difficult situations without getting overwhelmed or upset.
  3. Responsible decision-making - Students who can make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across various situations. They consider ethical standards and safety. 
  4. Relationship skills - Students with strong relationship skills can communicate clearly with others, cooperate with them and resolve conflicts peacefully.
  5. Social awareness - Students who are socially aware understand the perspectives of others and how their actions affect others. They know how to work cooperatively with others toward common goals.

So why are these areas of competency so important? But first, let's take a closer look at the benefits of social-emotional learning! 

Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning 

We spend a lot of time training students to be successful academic learners. However, society often neglects the importance of developing social and emotional skills in our students. These skills include making positive decisions, building positive relationships with others, communicating effectively, and resolving conflicts.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) can benefit children greatly, especially as they move into their teen years and adulthood. SEL addresses a social skills gap in education. The gap arises when behavioral and academic needs of the youth fall further behind their emotional needs. As a result, they are not getting the social skills taught in class or at home. This can make it difficult for students to be successful in school and life.

 When measuring the impact of SEL in education, the research speaks for itself. According to CASEL, when SEL is implemented in schools, the following outcomes are predicted:

  • 27% more students would improve their academic performance by the end of the program
  • 24% more students would have improved social behaviors and lower levels of distress 

One of the biggest challenges today is helping students develop 21st-century skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration. In addition, they can help teach career and technical education (CTE) skills like employability skills, technical proficiency, teamwork, and communication skills. The good news is that social-emotional learning helps kids develop both areas!

21st-century learning skills are a framework that helps students develop life and career skills, learning and innovation skills, and information, media, and technology skills. SEL can help prepare young students to tackle these more challenging skill sets with determination and lower stress levels. By learning how to stay positive when a project doesn't turn out as expected, they can understand the highs and lows of innovation. When they know how to build positive relationships, they can learn to leverage their connections to forge a career path. These two learning frameworks work seamlessly together to prepare students for college and careers. 

Career and technical education (CTE) skills are the technical skills needed to succeed in a wide range of careers. Courses focusing on developing CTE skills allow students to explore different careers and gain the skills required to enter the workforce. For example, think about the patience someone needs to operate a CNC machine cutting an intricate piece of sheet metal. They need to focus for a long time and notice if the machine starts to go off course. This kind of patience and attention to detail is something that kids can learn through SEL. 

SEL also has a wide-ranging impact on society at large. One of the primary goals of SEL is to address various forms of inequity and empower students and educators to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities. Helping students develop self-awareness and social awareness can help them make better choices about how they interact with the world around them. Responsible decision-making is critical in building a society dedicated to equity and inclusion. 

Examples of Social-Emotional Learning 

So what exactly does social-emotional learning look like in the classroom? The truth is, it can vary greatly! While all five components of social-emotional skills are essential, certain areas are more beneficial than others throughout each student's K-12 journey. 

Examples of Social-Emotional Learning In Elementary School

Social-emotional learning in elementary school is when students can begin to develop self-awareness and relationship-building skills. While many young children spend time in daycare or preschool, elementary school is the first time students start to build long-term relationships with their peers. What better time to teach them how to understand their emotions and others? 

The following are examples of SEL in elementary school:

  • Having a positive self-image, including a sense of competence, autonomy, relatedness, and purpose
  • Making responsible decisions based on one's values and goals
  • Recognizing one's own emotions and the emotions of others
  • Responding constructively to anger, frustration, or disappointment
  • Showing empathy towards others by accepting differences among people and treating others with respect
  • Being able to resolve conflicts peacefully

Kai XR helps elementary school educators explore SEL through virtual field trips. The immersive nature of a virtual reality field trip keeps young minds engaged and excited about the lesson. Our Laundry Day Around the World field trip is a perfect example of how educational VR can supplement your lesson. The short lesson spotlights how societies worldwide all have something in common: laundry day! Stories like this help young learners understand how people of different backgrounds can still live parallel lives. 

Examples of Social-Emotional Learning in Middle School

Middle school is a challenging time for students. They are transitioning from elementary to high school, and often struggle with their confidence as they encounter new challenges in academics and socialization. SEL lessons can help middle school students develop coping skills that will help them succeed throughout their academic careers. 

Social-emotional learning is not just about teaching kids how to get along with others; it's also about teaching them how to understand themselves better. This can be especially important for middle school students who are naturally going through many physical and emotional changes.

Social-emotional learning for middle school students should build upon the skills they already learned in elementary school. Some examples of SEL in middle school are: 

  • Learning how to communicate anger and frustrations in a constructive way 
  • Utilizing calming strategies when stressed or upset
  • Identifying and de-escalating bullying or teasing in the classroom
  • Understanding stereotypes and how they could negatively impact their classmates 

One of the best ways to help middle school students develop a sense of social awareness and responsible decision-making is by sharing exemplary stories from history. Through Kai XR's Explore, students can learn more about American Civil Rights activist Ruby Bridges. Her story is the perfect example of how one person, even six years old, can positively impact the world around her. Students will understand how discrimination and segregation shaped the American education system, and how Ruby, and other activists like her, pushed for equality and civil rights. 

Examples of Social-Emotional Learning in High School

Even in high school, social-emotional learning is integral to preparing students for life after graduation. High school students must improve their self-management skills to juggle their school subjects and work outside school. They must also lean into their self-awareness as they narrow their career path options. SEL is the perfect way to develop those skills further and prepare them for the real world. 

Here are some examples of how social-emotional learning lessons can be integrated into high school classrooms:

  • Students learn techniques for reducing stress and developing healthy ways of coping.
  • Students learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully by identifying emotions associated with conflict, finding solutions that work for everyone involved, and communicating clearly about what they want from each other. 
  • Students demonstrate strategies for collaborating with peers to support and move group efforts forward. 

High school students are well-developed enough to understand the complexities of personal relationships, differences of opinion, and global events. A Kai XR lesson centered around My Brother's Keeper is a great way to open a discussion on how those three concepts may work together. The story about two brothers fighting on opposite sides of the Civil War helps students understand different perspectives and how they impact relationships. 

Elements of Social Emotional Learning Lesson Plan

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a relatively new and increasingly popular focus in the classroom. But what are the best ways to teach these skills? And how can teachers incorporate them into their lesson plans? These days, teachers have many tools to teach SEL, including virtual reality, games, and more. 

Let's take a look at the top three recommended tools: 

  1. Social-emotional learning videos
  2. Social-emotional learning games
  3. Social-emotional learning questions

Social-Emotional Learning Videos

One of the easiest ways to develop social-emotional learning is through the use of videos. Education through videos, especially in a virtual reality setting, is a great way to keep students engaged and focused on the lesson. They can also make it easier for students to broaden their worldview by gaining exposure to cultures and communities around the globe. 

Social-emotional learning videos promote: 

  • Engaged learning - Virtual reality helps students fully immerse themselves in the content and become active participants in the lesson.
  • Visualization - An immersive video can help students observe concepts first-hand that would be impossible to achieve through a textbook.
  • Accessibility - Students with various learning styles can enjoy lessons through video. In addition, it exposes them to the technologies they may not have access to otherwise. 
  • Conversation - Students who are highly engaged in the lesson will find themselves in an active discussion. This helps students gain exposure to and learn from their classmates' perspectives. 

At Kai XR, we recognize the power of learning through immersive videos. It's why we were founded in the first place! We turn video content into interactive virtual field trips. Through experiential learning, students are exposed to new experiences that help them think critically about the world around them. It's the perfect application for social-emotional learning! 

Social-Emotional Learning Games

Social-emotional learning (SEL) games are a fun way to help kids develop essential social and emotional skills. These games teach kids how to manage emotions, build self-esteem, and interact positively with others.

Kids learn best through play, so SEL games can be a fun way to help them develop these skills.

Some of the benefits of social-emotional learning games include the following: 

  • The hands-on nature improves student engagement and retention
  • It provides a chance to practice new skills in a safe environment
  • It takes the stress out of learning with play 

Social-emotional learning games help students to develop skills like empathy, emotional self-awareness, communication, and collaboration. These essential life skills can be used in the classroom and beyond. They are also helpful in building relationships with peers and teachers, which is vital for students who may be struggling socially or emotionally.

Social-emotional learning games can also help students to improve their mental health by reducing stress levels, anxiety, and depression. In addition, games can help students cope with bullying or loss while giving them a sense of control over their emotions.

Did you know we also offer social-emotional learning online games for free when you're subscribed to our explore platform? Games like Hide and Seek, Rain or Shine, and Explore Super Mario are great ways to incorporate fun into your lessons! 

Social-Emotional Learning Questions

Tools like videos and games are not as effective without questions that can help students understand their social-emotional learning lessons. Therefore, social-emotional learning questions are one of the essential elements of your lesson plans for social-emotional learning! 

Social-emotional learning questions should:

  • Deepen relationships 
  • Help understand others' perspectives
  • Develop self-awareness
  • Manage emotions

Social-emotional questions can be asked at the beginning of each class or after a lesson. Educators can use them as a warm-up activity or to get students thinking about the content they're about to study. Each question should have a purpose in mind, so they are not just questions for the sake of it.

These are some sample questions that you can use as a starting point:

  • Who is someone you look up to, and why?
  • When do you feel proud of yourself? 
  • When have you changed your mind after hearing someone else's perspective?
  • What is your life are you most grateful for? 
  • What are some things about yourself that you would like to improve?
  • What is your favorite thing about yourself?
  • What makes you happiest?
  • How do you calm yourself down when you are upset? 

Many of Kai XR's virtual field trips are paired with a teacher resource that outlines engaging questions to ask before and after the lesson! 

Take Your Social-Emotional Lessons To the Next Level

Social-emotional learning is an essential part of the future of education. By incorporating social-emotional learning into your classroom, you can help students: 

  • Improve their critical thinking
  • Regulate their emotions
  • Improve self-confidence
  • Strengthen relationship-building skills
  • Improve resilience 
  • Make better decisions

If you're ready to take your SEL lessons to the next level, Kai XR can provide all the educational resources you need. From virtual games to immersive videos, Kai XR's virtual experiences are the perfect tool for SEL activities. In addition, our lessons offer a safe and inclusive space for students to explore their emotions and express themselves. 

To learn more about how our technology can support your child or classroom, explore our packages or schedule a demo

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In memory of my sunshine, Ky(ra) G. Frazier. Love you to the moon and back.