Integrating Social Emotional Learning in ESL classes

Integrating Social Emotional Learning in ESL classes

How can we integrate socio-emotional learning in ESL classes? Given the number of tests and curriculum-related constraints, we might not have enough time for SEL activities. 

However, social-emotional skills need our attention. 

There’s a great deal of evidence (see this, this, or this) showing us that integrating SEL in ESL classes has many benefits for our students. Better academic achievement, healthier students’ well-being, increased learners’ engagement – these are just some of the advantages of SEL integration.

So, how can we balance syllabus and socio-emotional learning? 

Here are three suggested strategies. None of them requires you to revolutionise what you’ve been doing with your students. And, hopefully, they’ll show you that integrating SEL in ESL classes might be easier than you think.

Integrating SEL in ESL classes through self-reflection 

One of the main components of SEL is self-awareness, defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as “the abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts.”

We can promote self-awareness by encouraging our learners to self-reflect on the things they do in class. 

There are various ways to do this:

  1. Simply ask your learners to think about and then share what they liked or disliked about a project, an activity, a task, or a lesson. Ask them to give reasons for their answers, too.
  2. Start using ‘emotion diaries’ where your students can record how they felt during the lesson. They can make their diary entries in the last five minutes of class.
  3. How about a learning diary? They can use a simple one to either record what they learned or what they can do now but couldn’t before the lesson, or both. 

These three don’t need to be language development activities, so you can shamelessly let the students share their thoughts in their first language. 

But, of course, you can also see this as an opportunity to integrate emotional intelligence into language learning by teaching useful “self-reflection” words and phrases.

Integrating SEL in ESL classes by assigning personalised roles in group work

“All right, kids, work with your group to create the poster. Ready? Go!”

Compare that to this:

“All right, kids, work with your group to create the poster. Nikos, the other day you said you love playing Scrabble, so you have a special role: you’ll be the ‘Spell Checker.’ Please help your groupmates and make sure all the words on the poster are spelt correctly. 

Maria, you have a special role, too: you’re the ‘English Motivator.’ Encourage your group to use English while you’re completing this project – just like you did in yesterday’s lesson.

Giorgos, your desk is always so tidy. So, my man, your role is to show your classmates how that is done. This will help everyone keep their workspace organised. You’re the ‘Organiser’!

Eleni, your classmates always love your drawings, so you’ll be the ‘Art Director.’ Help your groupmates create a poster that is as great as your creations.

Ready? Go!”

These instructions promote self-awareness, relationship skills, self-management, self-discipline, collaboration, and leadership skills.

There’s so much SEL in them. 

You could even improve this SEL-oriented approach to task instructions by asking the students to think (self-reflect?) about what they’re great at and then let them choose the role they’d like to have in the group.

Integrating SEL in ESL classes through authentic problem-solving projects

Another main component of SEL is responsible decision-making, which includes the ability to identify solutions for personal and social problems.

What social problems do your students see in their community? Would it be possible to engage them in a group project that requires them to solve that problem? 

For example, let’s say you’ve been working on a unit about the environment. Let’s also say your students often see too much litter in their neighbourhood. 

Could they work on a project to solve the issue?

I would argue they could. And this is another great way to integrate social and life skills in our classes.

Concluding thoughts on teaching life skills in ESL

Over ten years ago, best-selling author Seth Godin wrote a manifesto on education titled “Stop Stealing Dreams: What Is School For?” 

In it, Godin argues that the era of transferring information from teachers to students is over. Teaching and testing facts should not be the goal of education. Instead, schools should teach kids two things:

  1. Solve interesting problems
  2. Become leaders

In an interview, Godin also said this: 

“It used to be that the only person in the One Room School House who knew anything was the teacher. But now we've built this wire that goes right into every classroom in the world, with the best teacher in the world, teaching that thing. So, we don't need you, the teacher, to know the thing. We need you, the teacher, to understand pedagogy, to understand motivation, to understand connection. That's why you're here.

If you believe what Godin believes, then integrating SEL in ESL classes may not be just an option.

It may be a non-negotiable requirement.

About the author:

Fabio Cerpelloni is a non-native English teacher and a writer. His credentials include a Cambridge CELTA and a Delta, and he is currently working on his MA thesis in Language Education.

Beyond the classroom, Fabio is a freelance writer, author, blogger, and podcaster. Currently based in Cogliate, Italy, Fabio is also the author of the book 'Any Language You Want,' which is heading towards a second edition.

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