: Reading strategies to support social and emotional learning Use these strategies to systematically teach SEL through books.

Reading strategies to support social and emotional learning

Use these strategies to systematically teach SEL through books.

by Town End Research School
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There is promising evidence that teaching reading comprehension strategies help children learn to read. This blog introduces reading strategies that help develop social and emotional learning (SEL). First, why not look back at part one of this series about the importance of a shared language for SEL and part two about how we can use books to develop SEL.

Good readers bring their background knowledge and prior personal experiences to any text they read, enabling them to make strong links:

• with their values and life experiences (text to self)
• to other texts, genres and authors (text to text)
• to facts, different disciplines and the world (text to world)

Thus, children with broader background knowledge can better relate and therefore comprehend what they are reading. Making connections during reading causes thinking, which enhances engagement and pupils’ reading experience as a whole. Using some simple techniques to forge connections through an SEL lens is a compelling way to support children in making sense of themselves, others, and comprehending the world around them.

Writer in Role

In Wonder by R.J. Palacio Via experiences friendship issues.​‘I pretended not to be at all upset while we talked, though I could feel my face getting hot, my smile being fake.’ Writer in Role is a powerful technique that encourages children to get beneath the skin of a character to better empathise with their situation. Pupils naturally make connections with their own lived experiences to make inferences and draw conclusions. By exploring Via’s predicament, children learn how they could respond in a similar situation.


Hot-Seating could also be used at this particular point, either alone or in conjunction with Write in Role. It helps to activate prior knowledge, ensuring that pupils think about what they already know or have experienced and try to make links. Taking on the role of a character enables young people to see events from a different viewpoint. This first-hand experience further supports reading comprehension as children draw inferences about a character’s feelings, actions and motives, justifying them with evidence.

Track and Trace

Track and Trace uses a map or graphic organiser to track a character’s emotions, thoughts and interactions at significant points. This technique works well with Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival. Ruby’s feelings can be tracked across the whole book. Children can then make personal responses by creating links with their own experiences of anxiety and mapping their responses and reactions to what is encountered by the character.

Conscience Alley

He kept running. So what if he got in trouble? What difference did it make?” This example from Louis Sachar’s There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom is a good point to introduce Conscience Alley, a useful technique for exploring dilemmas a character faces, providing an opportunity to analyse a decisive moment in greater detail.

Picture detective

Picture books are a potent tool through which to develop visual literacy and nurture SEL skills. They open our eyes to different times, people, and places, they can elicit profound emotional responses, challenge our thinking, and open doors to other cultures and worlds. Picture Detective can be used to hone in on a specific image.

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The above image from Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park conveys a great deal about the character’s state of mind and circumstance. It is an ideal opportunity to read body language to identify and name feelings and emotions whilst analysing how the illustrator uses colour, line and position to reflect mood and emotions. William Moebius, wrote that​‘we can pour emotion and affection’ into the pages of children’s picture books and the lovable creatures which inhabit them, reliving a kind of second childhood, or we can choose to​‘watch more closely … and attend to elements of design and expression’ (1986). Mathew Tobin’s excellent blog explores picture book conventions in detail.

'…The end goal of SEL is that children use the knowledge and skills they are taught as part of their daily interactions with peers and adults. The teaching of skills is therefore likely to have greater and longer-term impacts when it is integrated into everyday classroom interactions, and across subjects, than when skills are taught in isolation. Teachers and other school staff can support children’s skill development by purposefully seeking out opportunities to model, recognise, and practise SEL skills.' - EEF Social and Emotional Learning Guidance Report

The above quote highlights the importance of ensuring these techniques are carefully planned for, systematically chosen, modelled and practised depending on the context, such as whether the technique forms the basis of a reading lesson or during the sharing of a book in an assembly.

Developing SEL is critical for children’s development. The key is not to completely change what we already do but to make small tweaks. Spending time consciously reading books with an SEL focus and prioritising particular skills can make a world of difference.

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