9 Ideas to Support ELs’ Social-Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning is a process for acquiring life skills, including how to deal with others, build relationships, and work in an effective manner. ELs are thought to be at a higher risk than their general education peers for social-emotional and behavior problems. There are a number of factors that contribute to this:

  • ELs don’t yet have the  English language  and vocabulary skills to express their concerns and problems. They don’t have the language to initiate social interactions with teachers and peers and will often feel cut off from their peers.
  • ELs often perceive that their classmates are prejudiced against them. This may keep ELs from bonding with their classmates and becoming an integral part of the school community.
  • ELs may have low self-esteem because they haven’t made friends or are unable to participate in the academic learning of their class.

Here are nine ways that teachers of ELs can help their students develop social-emotional life skills.

1. Directly teach skills that allow ELs to manage stressful situations. It is important to provide a realistic context for these situations (classroom, hallway, playground, cafeteria).

2. If your ELs are exhibiting negative behavior, teach a lesson that includes scenarios that students can role-play. The use of role-play fosters social-emotional learning  for ELs. Have students gain knowledge about how to observe their peers for models of correct behavior. This can be direct observation or video.

3. Promote social-emotional learning for ELs’ social skills by using children’s literature. Not only do children’s stories include common difficulties that ELs may have in school, but they include solutions to these problems. A series developed by Teaching Tolerance entitled “Perspectives of a Diverse America” addresses anti-bias and encourages the use of a multicultural curriculum.

4. Have students practice phrases to ease social interactions. For example, learning how to approach a teacher to ask a question or engage a classmate in a conversation can help ELs develop the social skills that they need to bond with their classmates and teachers.

5. Give ELs encouraging messages every day. Messages such as “I like the way you…”, and “I can see you are really trying” can encourage ELs as they are learning. Use gestures to accompany your positive message (thumbs up, pat on the shoulder. high five, smile) so that a child whose English is limited will understand that you are saying something positive.

6. Teach social skills that are valued by the ELs’ families. Involve parents in reinforcing these skills at home. For example, learning how to greet other children and adults in English can increase ELs’ confidence during social interactions. If parents emphasize the same skills in their home language, they will be more meaningful for students.

7. Help ELs acquire pride in their culture.  In addition to your annual multicultural fair or food tasting, incorporate pride-building activities into your everyday instruction.  Multicultural books are one way to develop this pride. You can also use video and other multimedia resources.

8. Help ELs develop self-esteem by supporting their academic progress. Scaffold
content information so that ELs feel successful in school. Classroom teachers need to learn what ELs should be able to do at different levels of language acquisition so that they are not putting too much pressure on them to reach academic goals that they don’t yet have the language to achieve.

9. ELs may have negative feelings about themselves in response to many situations that they experience at school. Teach ELs positive self-talk so that they can better mange their feelings. Have them write positive messages that they can use in either their home language or English to help build self-esteem.

If you have other ideas to promote social-emotional learning for ELs, please share them in the comment box below.

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and has been providing professional development for teachers of ELs around the United States since 2008. She is the author and coauthor of seven books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “The Essential Guide for Educating Beginning English Learners“ with Debbie Zacarian. She is founder of the website everythingESL.net and was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher." She is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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One Response to 9 Ideas to Support ELs’ Social-Emotional Learning

  1. Tan Huynh says:

    I’m going to create an infograph that explains these ideas, Judie. THANK YOU!

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