Social Studies classes provide students with powerful moments to combine academic learning with SEL skill development.
Below are specific, easily implementable strategies to incorporate SEL into historical study. Happy New School Year!

As a new school year opens, teachers are thoughtfully planning exciting new lessons, constructing engaging resources, and conceptualizing optimal classroom environments. The mindful inclusion of Social Emotional Learning skill development into curriculum provides students with transformative learning experiences that not only bring content to life in personal ways but also help cultivate skills that are essential for success in school, work, and life. 

Holistically, the SEL competencies (Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making) inform and inspire inclusive classroom spaces. The competencies provide a framework for relationship building, conflict resolution, behavior management, reflection, and accountability. Further, as districts incorporate SEL into learning plans and objectives, school culture is enhanced, discipline issues decrease, gains are made on standardized tests, and students report improved attitudes about self, others, and their school community.
(Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K. (2011). “The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions.” Child Development: 82 (1), 405-432.

Self Awareness

As students develop the SELF AWARENESS competency, they are able to connect feelings to behaviors and understand that actions have consequences. 

As students study and analyze the lives and experiences of historical figures, provide opportunities for students to identify how figures might have felt at significant moments.

John Lewis was the 23 year old Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when he addressed over 250,000 participants at the March on Washington. His controversial speech was edited before delivery because Lewis questioned John F. Kennedy’s commitment to civil rights. Ask students how Lewis might have felt before giving his speech.

When students are evaluating outcomes of significant historical decisions, provide opportunities for them to see how decision making is shaped by one’s personal experiences. Help students understand that decisions have specific outcomes and consequences. Pearson’s Project Imagine provides students with Decision Tree and Opinion Poll digital immersive activities that allow them to explore the detailed context of historical decisions and analyze the outcomes.

Explore the new Project Imagine US History or World History interactive modular programs.

Make historical study personal. Continually ask students to connect the material discussed in class to their own life and personal interests. Create closing activities or writing prompts that allow students to share how their own experiences relate to what they have learned. Historical study should include both cognitive and affective inquiry!

Self Management

As student develop the SELF MANAGEMENT competency, they are able to set and accomplish goals as well as engage tools to cultivate calmness. Students regulate their emotions, overcome challenges, and effectively take part in learning activities.

As part of your opening days’ classroom community building activities, ask students to reflect on their past experiences in social studies classes. What contributed to their academic success? What were the obstacles that made their learning journey difficult? What are their goals for the upcoming year?

Invite your former students to share their experiences with current students. Facilitate a panel discussion where former students share their insights and advice or create “buddies” so that current students can seek out support when needed.

In preparation for class discussion and presentations, provide students with space to receive input in small groups as well as tools and guidance to give structured feedback in a way that is constructive and supportive.

Survey your students! Ask them to give feedback on a lesson or assessment and provide them with opportunities to evaluate how the school year is progressing. Students need to see that their teachers are committed to learning and improvement. 

In preparation for class discussion and presentations, provide students with space to receive input in small groups.

Social Awareness

As students develop the SOCIAL AWARENESS competency, they are able to recognize and address issues of social justice. Students participate in community-based engagement learning and recognize how life experiences shape one’s decision making. Students understand the importance of embracing diversity and model empathetic thinking.  

Refresh your primary and secondary sources! Provide students with both windows (examinations of the unfamiliar) and mirrors (reflections of their own experiences) in the sources they analyze. Teaching Tolerance’s searchable library of its extensive “multi-genre, multimedia collection aligns with the Common Core’s recommendations for text complexity and the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards.”

Reframe the idea of “service learning” activities. Students should be given opportunities to participate in community-based engagement learning to create meaning in the curriculum and have space to reflect on how this work is beneficial for everyone involved.

High School students present their research of historical topics at a local elementary school.

Relationship Skills

As students develop the RELATIONSHIP SKILLS competency, they are able to work collaboratively, deal with challenges, address conflict, and understand allyship. 

Create opportunities for students to build content knowledge through collaboration and sharing. The National Council For The Social Studies and The Buck Institute provide helpful guidelines for incorporating powerful Project Based Learning in Social Studies classes.

Support students in allyship! GLSEN supports educators with toolkit resources to help students develop the skills and understanding necessary to be effective allies.

Responsible Decision Making

As students develop the RESPONSIBLE DECISION MAKING competency, they are able to participate in productive and respectful discourse and analyze the consequences of actions. 

Provide students with opportunities to explore decision-making outcomes and formulate evidence-based analyses of historic events. The Stanford History Group provides ready-made lesson tools and source material that guides students through primary source analysis and critical thinking about significant events. The SHG lesson plan resources on the Atomic Bomb presents students with multiple perspectives and a central historical question to consider. 


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Meg Honey

Meg Honey

Director of Professional Learning Content

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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