Every teacher I’ve known wants their students to grow as people, as well as to learn the specific curriculum. Throughout any lesson, we are prompting, reminding, modeling and praising students to utilize a wide range of social and emotional skills. Some of us regularly help students to listen, or to take a moment to calm down, or to remember their goals, or to help keep the room a clean and safe place for all to learn. Imagine the impact you will have on your students if for an entire year you prioritized one of those social and emotional skills, and instead of randomly remembering to make it a priority, you built that skill into your lesson planning. By the end of the year your students would have practiced that skill hundreds of times in the midst of the required curriculum.
That’s the premise of my new book, Improve Every Lesson Plan with SEL: do what we already do to build our students’ social and emotional skills, but now intentionally and consistently. The book is filled with examples and stories and scripts to integrate SEL into the everyday process of teaching. Along the way, we will connect over and over again to why most of us wanted to work with young people: not because we want to lecture and test them, but because we want to make a difference in their lives. So let’s assert that aspiration, in this case through our lesson planning with SEL in mind.
Here’s an example of how to do it. I’ll focus on the SEL skill of students helping each other learn:
• As the students walk in the room (or enter the virtual classroom), I’ll say (and the exact wording can be adapted to varied ages), “Glad to see everyone. While walking to your seat, think about one time you really helped someone else learn in this class. As you get your materials out I’ll ask a few of you to share with me your story.”
• I am beginning the part of the lesson when I introduce a new concept: “Let’s pause. We talked earlier about your memories of being helpful to others in class. During this part of the lesson, when I am explaining the lesson to everyone, there’s something I want you to do. I am going to stop my lecture after a few minutes and ask you to turn and talk with your partner―and all you have to do during that time is share one idea you are thinking about with your partner. And then we can hear a few of those great ideas, and all of our brains will learn together.”
• As the class is closing: “Let’s have 10 seconds of silence. Consider this: what was one thing someone else in the class said, or asked, or did that helped you learn.”
In each of the above activities, I am doing more than prompting them to be helpful. I am also coaching them to exercise their memories, to identify details, and to summarize. Those are hugely important activities that promote their academic success!! Because learning in classrooms is a social activity, done within a group of peers, leveraging their ability to listen and talk to each other is a power I should not ignore. And the more I keep emphasizing their capacity to help each other as learners, I begin to notice and praise more and more often when they do so, and I am also noticing all the little moments during my lesson when they can help each other learn.
So here’s the only significant extra task you have to do to get started on improving every lesson plan with SEL: the next time you write a lesson plan, put a little star at all the times during that lesson when you can explicitly prompt the students to use that one social and emotional skill you are prioritizing. You will open a door to SEL and academic improvements that you will want to walk through again and again.
Jeffrey Benson is an internationally known author of a variety of publications and articles geared toward educators, administrators, and even parents of students. He articulates missions, plans, and strategies for schools to be inclusive for all students. He is the author of Improve Every Lesson Plan with SEL and Teaching the Whole Teen: Everyday practices that Promote Success and Resilience in School and Life. Learn more about Jeffrey and how to work with him at https://jeffreybenson.org/