The Gift of Time: Embedding SEL Skills Practice Within the English Language Arts Class

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According to a 2017 study for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), teachers and administrators believe that teaching social-emotional skills is critical to help their students be successful academically and in life. Yet nearly three-quarters of principals (71 percent) say that teachers “not having enough time” is a big challenge in implementing the teaching of social and emotional skills (DePaoli, Atwell, & Bridgeland, 2017, 5). Time is a limited commodity, and teachers and schools must find creative and successful ways to maximize the precious time they have with their students.

Many teachers believe that they lack the necessary time to teach social-emotional learning (SEL) skills due to the pressure to teach core academics. However, SEL skills are academic skills and are often the prerequisite skills that allow students to achieve success in core subjects (Durlak, Dymnicki, Schellinger, Taylor, & Weissberg, 2011) Like any skill being taught in school, SEL skills should be explicitly taught and then practiced to achieve mastery.

While dedicated time to explicitly teach SEL skills is best practice, SEL skills can also be embedded within the literacy block, allowing students an authentic setting to practice these skills—thus helping teachers to work smarter and not harder. Embedding SEL lessons and practice within the literacy block is a natural fit. McTigue and Rimm-Kaufmann (2011) found the benefit of increased academic achievement in reading for students when SEL skills are also taught. In 2011, CASEL conducted a meta-analysis of 213 school-based SEL programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.

When teachers and administrators compare the academic standards within the literacy curriculum and the five core SEL competencies of cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control, several power standards emerge. Power standards are standards that are evident in both sets of standards. These power standards help provide authentic opportunities for teaching both literacy and SEL skills. Teachers are able to help their students examine the emotions and actions of characters within the books they are reading, which enables students to have a deeper understanding of the text as well as a better understanding of their own feelings and actions. The literacy workshop model is a great place to teach and practice empathy, turn-taking, active listening, and sharing when teaching students how to confer well in writing. Teachers who use “think-alouds” provide scaffolding for the text while modeling perseverance, grit, and a growth mindset.  

Literacy and prosocial skills are critical for success in school and beyond. Integrating social-emotional skills within the literacy block provides the gift of time for the teacher and gives students opportunities to develop communication and collaboration skills while simultaneously interacting with challenging text. By being purposeful with planning, teachers will be able to find the critical element of time and set their students up for greater success in school and beyond.


  • DePaoli, J. L., Atwell, M., & Bridgeland, J. (2017). Ready to lead: A national principal survey on how social and emotional learning can prepare children and transform schools. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises and Hart Research Associates for CASEL. 
  • Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.
  • McTigue, E., & Rimm-Kaufman, S. (2011). The Responsive Classroom approach and its implications for improving reading and writing. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 27, 5–24.