Committee for Children Blog

Avoid the Setback of Forgotten SEL Skills with 5 Teaching Tools

Sustaining social-emotional learning with Second Step curriculum

Do you remember everything you learned in school? Or don’t you?

I can’t help but overhear someone at the table next to me as I am writing this, talking about what she learned on a recent trip to Washington, DC, and telling her friend she “doesn’t remember a thing from her history classes in high school.”

What if that happened with social skills, those vital skills that carry us through life—through challenges, anxious and angry times, and difficulties with friends and colleagues?

I led students down that path of potential forgetting many years ago, when first teaching social skills in classrooms. My focus was on getting through the lessons. Check, and done. I felt so accomplished. I remember thinking, “I made it through the entire curriculum this year.” Now all I can say is, “Really?!”

Eventually I realized why many of my students weren’t using the skills as much as I’d hoped they would. I began feeling that I’d failed somehow, and I didn’t know why. A couple of years later I attended a conference session on sustainability. That’s when it really hit me: I couldn’t realistically expect to spend 30 minutes teaching students a skill and stop there. I had to reinforce the skill, model it, give multiple opportunities for practice and discussion, and then revisit the skill.

That type of “one-and-done” teaching might make us feel accomplished, but it doesn’t ensure that skills last.

Sustain Social-Emotional Skills with Second Step Teaching Tools

At the time of my aha moment, I was using Second Step to teach social skills in elementary school. The problem was that I didn’t use it as intended, and I skipped several of the built-in components. If you’re implementing the Second Step curriculum, take some time to look at whether you’re using it to its fullest extent.

Second Step includes five teaching elements that can ensure students learn social-emotional skills and use them for the long term. If you’re not currently using all five of these elements, make that adjustment. Just do it. When I made the change, I saw more kids using the skills more often. A big win for all.

1. Using Social-Emotional Skills Every Day

Second Step teachers use an Anticipate, Reinforce, Reflect (ARR) process to support students in applying their skills daily. This process encourages students to think ahead (anticipate) about when they might need to use their newly learned social skills and strategies, and to reflect back on situations when they did try them. Adults are also encouraged to regularly reinforce students’ behavior when they use the specific, positive social skills during the school day; for example, “I noticed you taking deep breaths when you were angry. That helped you calm down.”

2. Daily SEL Practice

There are five Daily Practice opportunities for each Second Step lesson. Day One always starts with teaching the lesson. For each of the next four days, there’s a short, predesigned activity to reinforce the lesson content. The activities include games, reflective writing, cartoon drawing, music videos, and much more. You can add these to your class day without spending time planning.

3. Home Link for Families

Every Second Step lesson includes a Home Link activity that gives family members more information about what skills their children are learning. The activity extends student exposure to the newly learned social skill beyond the school day, reinforcing their continued use of the skill outside of the classroom.

4. Academic Integration Activities

Each unit has Academic Integration Activities for content areas such as literacy, science, social studies, fine arts, and physical education. These activities help students use their social skills in academic areas, which ultimately benefits academic performance too. The activities are brief, and are already put together for you.

5. Real-Life Scenarios

The Second Step lessons are filled with scenarios and other opportunities for practice in common situations. Many scenarios involve practice with a partner so students can try out the skills with each other.

If you’re looking for real social-emotional learning (SEL) impact, explore what Second Step offers. If you’re wondering how to sustain SEL beyond the lessons and curriculum, read my article 4 Key Ways to Sustain Social-Emotional Learning in Schools.