Our brains love storytelling! Children—and adults—use stories to make sense of the world and it’s how we’ve taught passed on social skills and values to children for millennia. You can use read-alouds in your home or classroom to teach social-emotional learning (SEL) by creating a routine, choosing rich stories, and allowing for natural discussion.
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1. Develop a routine
A story routine can take many forms. Perhaps it’s a bedtime story, Sunday story discussion, morning circle, SEL-lesson time, or something else. The more regular the activity, the easier it will be for children to dive in as they know what to expect and aren’t busy trying to figure out how to act.
2. Choose rich stories
Famous stories are not always great stories! Be careful that the stories you choose convey values and ideas you agree with, or, with older children, be prepared to discuss why you disagree (that can be a great conversation). Of course, we can’t help but recommend the social-emotional stories that we wrote, but, there are many great books and stories out there. Here is list of picture books and here is a list focused on diversity.
3. Open the discussion, but don’t force it
Stories have their own power to teach and having listeners fully engaged is how that happens. Conscious reflection can deepen the impact, develop better comprehension and improve critical-thinking skills. An obvious time to ask questions about the story is afterward. But, be careful: “What did you think?” can be a dud of an opening question. Think of questions that encourage deeper thinking or gently probe vague answers. At the same time, if your child or students are not interested in your discussion prompts, don’t force it.
You don’t have to wait until the end of a story to discuss it. Empowering Education’s Munchy and Jumpy stories have discussion questions both throughout and at the end. We also have suggestions for movement activities to help squirmy readers stay engaged.
Pick and choose when to ask questions during a read-aloud. If you find your listeners aren’t able to answer questions at the end of the story, next time add more questions during the story. Choose your interruptions thoughtfully. If kids are not engrossed, the story won’t be as powerful.
Have fun reading and reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any great SEL book suggestions. We’re always on the lookout.
Noah Teitelbaum is an advocate for social-emotional learning programs and a leader in social emotional curriculum design. He is the Executive Director of Empowering Education, which provides a K-8 SEL program that is mindfulness-based, trauma-informed, and used both in-person and online.