What is Social Emotional Learning?social emotional skills

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a process of acquiring the knowledge and skills to engage, interact, and build relationships with other people, and it is essential in order to thrive in school, at home, and at work.

Social emotional skills include:

  1. Communication: Includes verbal communication, or what you say and how you say it, and nonverbal communication, such as body posture, facial expression, and eye contact.
  2. Cooperation: Working together with others to accomplish a goal.
  3. EmpathyThe ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions.
  4. Emotion Regulation: The ability to identify your feelings and manage them appropriately.
  5. Impulse ControlThe ability to control your behaviors by considering short- and long-term consequences.
  6. Social Initiation: Making and keeping relationships by knowing when and how to work or play with others.

Read on to see why these skills are critical to success at all stages of life and view activities, lessons, and ideas for improving each of these skills.

Why are Social Emotional Skills Important?

Did you know that kindergarten students who show high social competence (or good social skills) are 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25?

In 2015, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published results from a fascinating long-term study measuring social competence for a group of 753 kindergartners and evaluated outcomes for these same students 20 years later.

What they found was startling:

“For every one-point increase on the 5-point scale in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she was:

  • Twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood; 
  • 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma; and 
  • 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25.”

And on the flip side, “for every one-point decrease in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she had:

  • 67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood; 
  • 82% higher rate of recent marijuana usage; and
  • 82% higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing.”

Social emotional skills will help students be better prepared for college and careers, and it’s clear that the earlier they are practiced and mastered, the more likely it is that students will be successful in both school and the workforce.

What are Social Emotional Skills


We need to be able to understand others, and help them understand us, so that we can get along. Both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication, as well as active listening, are essential to understanding. Verbal communication includes the words we choose to convey our message. Nonverbal communication includes tone of voice, body posture or body language,  and facial expressions.


Good cooperation skills help us keep relationships even through disagreements because they enable us to work toward solutions that are acceptable to all. Using communication skills to effectively negotiate your preferences while also knowing when to compromise makes it easier to get along with others.

Emotion Regulation:

Emotion regulation is the ability to identify your feelings and manage them appropriately. It’s important to identify whether a situation calls for a big or small emotions and manage your emotions accordingly.


Empathy is the ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions. It requires being able to identify words, actions, and facial expressions that are associated with different emotions. Perspective-taking skills, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, are also important to understanding how another person may feel in a given situation.

Impulse Control:

While emotion regulation involves managing emotions, impulse control is managing behavior and actions. Good impulse control means thinking ahead to possible positive and negative consequences of choices, as well how your behavior could impact short- and long-term goals.

Social Initiation:

Making and keeping personal relationships involves initiating conversations with strangers, acquaintances, and friends, as well as knowing when and how to work and play with others.

  • Find friends with similar interests
  • Determine who is available and best to work with in a situation
  • Identify how to best initiate working with a partner
  • Decide between initiating with a group, a single student, or playing by yourself
  • Be positive and appropriate when asking about an unfamiliar activity
  • Positively initiate with a group after being rejected
  • Interrupt and leave a conversation at the appropriate times
  • Ask to join a game already in progress
  • Be flexible when the rules of a game change
  • Initiate a conversation appropriately
  • Understand the importance of making and keeping friends

Teaching Resources for Social Emotional Learning

Through life experiences, interactions with family, friends, teachers, and coaches, you have been in a continuous feedback system that helps develop your social emotional skills. But aside from these everyday experiences, can social emotional learning be actively taught, and if so, what is the best way to learn? It’s best if the learning has some context and is related to real life experiences.

While your school or team may give you curriculum or teaching resources for academics, there’s so much more that goes into creating a successful classroom: behavior, student relationships, students’ self-esteem and confidence about school, classroom setup and decoration, and more.

It’s up to you to find high-quality teaching resources focused on creating a positive classroom environment that you don’t have to make yourself. But with so many different places to find resources – Pinterest, blogs, Teachers Pay Teachers – it can be hard to make a cohesive plan. That’s why we offer teaching resources, including including lessons and printables, classroom decorations, and behavior management tools, that can be used together or separately, all for free.

Our resources focus on building social and emotional skills through fun activities and experiences with memorable characters from Zoo Academy, Zoo U, Hall of Heroes, and Adventures Aboard the S.S. GRIN.

Social and Emotional Skills Activities

Download free lesson plans and printables to help improve social and emotional skills in the classroom and at home. These teaching resources include group and individual games, worksheets, and other fun handouts.

Classroom Decorations

These free downloadable posters will decorate your classroom and be great teaching resources, reinforcing social and emotional skills in your classroom and reminding students to practice their skills like emotion regulation, stop and think, empathy, and more.

Classroom Management Plan

This resource covers four important components of a successful, well-managed classroom: classroom setup and organization, establishing rules and procedures, creating a rewards and consequences system, and effective management throughout the year. Whether it’s the beginning of a new school year or you’re looking for some new ideas to improve behavior in your current classroom, you can use this plan and included free resources as a framework and tailor it to your needs.

Social Emotional Skills at Home

Parent and caregivers are a child’s first teacher, important long before their peers, and a crucial role model for the development of their social and emotional skills.

From a very early age, children observe interactions around them and mimic those interaction styles and attitudes for themselves. For example, if parents show respect to each other, the child expects people in the world to show respect to one another.


Quotes to Share with Students