Social and Emotional Learning Skills

First Edition: Stacy White and Craig BarnhartSecond Edition: Avital Deskalo and Kristen Gerpe


"The single best predictor of adult adaptation is not school grades, and not classroom behavior, but rather, the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children." (Hartup, 1992[1] )
In addition to fostering students' academic and behavioral success, today's schools are also charged with the responsibility of facilitating healthy social development, and the instruction of habits and skills that will enable students to function effectively in everyday society[2] . Some students enter the educational environment with well-developed interpersonal and self-regulation skills, including sharing, initiating conversations, and recognizing and managing negative emotions. However, other students do not acquire these skills, and may develop negative relationships with peers and adults[3] . As will be discussed below, social and emotional learning curricula play a substantial role in creating a postive school climate for children, which in turn promotes school connectedness and increased academic competence. Therefore, schools serve as the ideal environment for providing social and emotional learning services.

What is Social and Emotional Learning?
The concept of social emotional learning is defined as "the process through which children and adults develop the skills necessary to recognize and manage emotions, develop care and concern for others, make responsible decisions, form positive relationships, and successfully handle the demands of growing up in today's complex society" (Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning, 2002, p.1[4] ). As illustrated below, social and emotional learning encompasses many underlying and interrelated skill areas that regulate students' interactions with themselves and others.

For a more in-depth look at the components of Social and Emotional Learning, please click here.

Why should social and emotional learning be an integral component of a student's education?
Poorly developed social skills in childhood have been linked to later difficulties and the development of problem behaviors in adolescence and adulthood, including:
  • Aggression and violence
  • Peer rejection
  • Lack of school connectedness
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • School drop-out
    • In 2010, nearly 23,600 students did not graduate from Indiana high schools
    • The lost lifetime earnings in Indiana for that class of dropouts alone total over $6.1 billion[5]
  • Contact with the criminal justice system
  • Mental health concerns[6] [7]
    • It is often difficult to discern whether a mental health concern serves as a precursor to social and emotional learning problems, whether social and emotional learning difficulties are features of current mental health disorders, or whether social and emotional learning difficulties lead to future mental health concerns. Nevertheless, given the data on the relationship between social and emotional learning and mental health problems, treatment is certainly warranted[8] .
    • In 2011, 1 in 83 children had been diagnosed with Autism[9]
    • In Indiana in 2011, 11-14% of youth had been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder[10]
    • Between 2005-2007, 8.3 percent of adolescents aged 12-17 reported a past- year Major Depressive Episode[11]

For more information on the benefits of implementing a Social and Emotional Learning program, please click here.
Federal Policy:"In October 2011, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) passed draft legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The draft bill includes":
  • Title IV- Successful, Safe and Healthy Students “to foster positive conditions for learning in public schools, in order to increase academic achievement for all students.” Further, Part C—Section 4302(a) identifies key activities and lists 'develop social and emotional competencies.'
  • Title IX – General Provisions includes in the definition of (10) Conditions for Learning as “conditions that advance student achievement and advance positive child and youth development by supporting schools that promote physical, mental, and emotional health and also promote social, emotional, and character development, including “help staff and students to model positive social and emotional skills[12] .”

Illinois K-12 Learning Standards for Social and Emotional Learning:(Self) Goal 1 - Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.(Other) Goal 2 - Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.(Decision-making) Goal 3 - Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts[13]

Assessment of Social and Emotional Learning SkillsSimilar to academic and behavioral difficulties, universal and targeted assessments can be utilized to identify students who need Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3 intervention services. One universal screening technique that can be used to identify students who require prevention and intervention services is the Developmental Studies Center Child Development Project Scale. This scale has an elementary and middle school version, and assesses students' social, emotional, ethical, and academic development, as well as student involvement in high-risk activities. The scale also measures aspects of school climate, including student perceptions of school community, student-teacher relationships, and liking of school[14] . Students who scored "high" or "at-risk" on the universal assessment might require more comprehensive and targeted assessment techniques, such as the Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders (SSBD). The SSBD is a three-stage process multi-method tool (i.e., teacher nominations and systematic observations). Students identified in the first stage are then further screened using a series of rating items to determine the content and the severity of the problem behavior. In the final stage, the students are systematically observed in different settings to determine their performance in social and classroom situations. A second assessment tool that can be utilized to determine social and emotional learning skills is the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS), which is completed by the teacher, parent, and student. This assessment tool might provide a more accurate depiction of the student's difficulties than the SSBD, as all three reports can provide a more complete understanding of the student's social behavior[15] . Finally, a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) may be completed for students who require tier 3 services. An FBA is used to identify the function of challenging behaviors as the basis for intervention selection to decrease the occurrence of the behaviors.

Social and Emotional Learning InterventionsRTIpyramid.pngTier One:The universal or Tier 1 level of interventions foster a class-wide or school-wide environment of prosocial behavior and positive school climate, directed towards all students. One universal intervention endorsed by Merrell and colleagues include:
Second StepA series of research-based violence prevention programs developed by the Committee for Children, Second Step can be implemented with children in grades K through 9 to target social and emotional skills such as empathy, conflict resolution, and problem solving.
Pre-Kindergarten and Elementary SchoolDina Dinosaur's Social Skills and Problem-Solving Curriculum is a social skills prevention and intervention program developed for children ages 4 to 8. This curriculum is developentally appropriate and utilizes engaging instructrional strategies and materials to promote social, emotional, and academic competence. The universal social skills and problem-solving curriculum contains 60 lessons, and is delivered 2-3 times a week in 20- to 30-minute circle time discussions followed by 20-minute practice activities throughout the day.
Providing Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) was developed for preschool through 6th grade. This universal strategy targets specific social and emotional learning skills, such as self-control, emotional awareness, and interpersonal problem-solving skills. At the universal level, this curriculum should be implemented two or three times per week. Each session is designed to last approximately 30 minutes.
Middle School and High SchoolStrong KidsDeveloped by researchers at the University of Oregon, the Strong Kids curriculum consists of programs for students in Kindergarten through Grade 12, and is designed to teach social-emotional skills to both typically developing students and those identified with emotional or behavioral disorders.

Tier Two:
Interventions at the Tier 2, or targeted, level are targeted towards students who have been identified as at-risk for the development of social and/or emotional problems, and continue to demonstrate signs of risk even in the presence of strong universal supports.

Pre-Kindergarten and Elementary School:
Check & Connect is a comprehensive, secondary tier intervention designed to promote student engagement at school in grades K through 12 through relationship building, problem-solving and capaity building.
First Step to Success is identified by Merrell and colleagues as an exemplary Tier 2 program for children in the early elementary grades (K-2). The program is both school- and home-based, and utilizes a Coach who works with students in the classroom and collaborates with parents and family members.
Behavior Education Program: A Check-In and Check-Out Program is a Tier 2 program targeted to elementary school and middle school students. The BEP is a daily check-in system that builds on schoolwide expectations by providing students with frequent feedback and reinforcement for engaging in appropriate behavior. A home-based component is included in this intervention.

Middle School and High School
Walker Social Skills Curriculum: ACCESSThree Components:1. Relating to peers2. Relating to adults3. Relating to selfContains 30 teaching scripts, role-play scripts, student report form, study guides, step by step instructional procedure and strategies.

Tier Three:
Finally, interventions at the Tier 3, or intensive, level are reserved for students exhibiting behaviors that indicate an immediate need for intensive, individualized intervention. One example of an effective Tier 3 program is Multisystemic Therapy, a family- and community-based treatment program that uses a wraparound approach to identify the environmental contributors to the student's difficulties. Therapy is approached from a strength-based perspective, and family members are active participants in the development of treatment goals.

Pre-Kindergarten and Elementary School
Dina Dinosaur's Social Skills and Problem-Solving Curriculum is a social skills prevention and intervention program developed for children ages 4 to 8. This curriculum is developentally appropriate and utilizes engaging instructrional strategies and materials to promote social, emotional, and academic competence. This small group therapy is delivered in 2-hour weekly small group sessions (6 children/group) lasting 18-20 weeks. If possible, it is offered in conjunction with the 2-hour weekly parent group sessions. Group leaders explain to parents ways they can foster their children’s learning in Dinosaur School in their interactions with them at home.

Middle School and High School
EQUIP: Teaching Youth to Think and Act Responsibility Through a Peer Helping Approach
Teaches Three Behaviors:
1. Moral Judgement
2. Anger Management
3. Pro-Social Skills

Lesson Plan Ideas for Social Skills Instruction

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: Interpersonal Effectiveness

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: Lesson Plans

Additional Guidelines for Individualized and Small-Group Interventions
Though often implemented with preschool and early elementary populations, group-based social skills interventions have been used with students of all ages to target behaviors including off-task behavior[16] and problems with self-regulation[17] . Group-based social skills interventions can be used to target skills ranging from the simple (i.e., getting someone’s attention) to the more complex (i.e., social problem-solving). Using task analysis, skills can be broken down into discrete steps and taught to students using modalities including modeling, role playing and direct instruction[18] .

Some general guidelines for social skills instruction with young children are outlined in the following presentation, prepared by the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning:

As stated by Elliot, Roach, & Beddow (2008), "the selection of social skills interventions rests heavily on the classification of social skills difficulties as resulting from either deficits in response acquisition (can't do) or response performance (won't do)." Therefore, the specific type of deficit demonstrated by the student, as determined by outcome of assessment, will guide the selection of the appropriate intervention. Conceptualized by Gresham & Elliot (1990), the following schema provides a framework for linking social skills problems to suitable intervention techniques.

No interfering problem behaviors
Interfering problem behaviors
Social Skills Acquisition Deficits
  • Direct instruction
  • Modeling
  • Behavioral rehearsal coaching
  • Modeling
  • Coaching
  • Differential Reinforcement of a Low rate of Response (DRL)
  • Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO)
  • Reductive procedures to decrease interfering problem behaviors
Social Skills Performance Deficits
  • Operant methods to manipulate antecedent or consequent conditions to increase the rate of existing behaviors
  • Operant methods to manipulate antecedent or consequent conditions to increase the rate of existing prosocial behaviors
  • Differential reinforcement of a Low rate of response (DRLs)
  • Differential reinforcement of other behavior (DRO)
  • Reductive procedures to decrease interfering problem behaviors
Social Skills Strengths
  • Reinforcement procedures to maintain desired social behavior
  • Use student as a model for other students
  • Reinforcement procedures to maintain desired social behavior
  • Reductive procedures to decrease interfering problem behaviors

Social Skills Intervention with Students with Disabilities
Often times, group social skills programs are implemented with students with disabilities. The research literature is replete with studies of social skills interventions for students with autism spectrum disorder; however, social skills programs have also been implemented with students with other disabilities such as brain injury, emotional disability, intellectual disability and visual impairment. When working with students with disabilities, important preliminary considerations must be taken into account to determine the student's readiness for social skills intervention. The following video outlines some indicators of student readiness:

Additional Intervention Ideas for Students with DisabilitiesDigital Stories Targeting Social Skills for Children With Disabilities: Multidimensional Learning
Top 7 Tips to Teach Social Skills and Help Kids Make Friends images.jpgTeaching social skills and making friends may not be the first thing we think about when planning our children's individual education programs. In the middle of school IEP committee meetings[19] , academics issues are at the forefront and not teaching social skills. Whether or not teaching social skills is ultimately included in an Individual Education Plan, there are some things that can be done to help children with learning disabilities build the valuable social skills and relationships that are so important to their self-esteem and sense of belonging.

1. Teaching Social Skills in Extra-Curricular Activities
2. Organized Activities Help Teach Social Skills and How to Make Friends
3. Teaching Social Skills and Building Friendships in Easy-to-Manage Steps
4. Teaching Social Skills and Making Friends Takes Practice
5. Role Play Social Situations to Teach Social Skills
6. Game and Sportsmanship can Teach Social Skills in Advance
7. Schedule Fun Time to Make Social Skills and Making Friends a Priority

But Does Social Skills Intervention Work?Although social skills interventions typically result in positive short-term outcomes for students, a key concern for interventionists is that treatment effects are not always maintained over time or generalized to new contexts. However, several suggestions have been offered to increase the likelihood that students will continue to apply what they have learned during social skills interventions.

1. Target behaviors that will be maintained in the natural environment
2. Train "loosely," across different behaviors, settings and persons; and using various reinforcers3. Systematically withdraw/fade intervention procedures to approximate the natural environment4. Reinforce behavior change when it occurs in new and appropriate settings5. Include peers in social skills training6. Provide booster sessions after the intervention has ended


Resources for Administrators and Support StaffBoys Town Press (
National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Fact Sheet on Social Skills
Social Skills and PBS
Tier Two Social Skills
Assessment (School Practices, Needs and Outcome, and School Climate)
Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (TACSEI)
Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning at Vanderbilt University

Resources for Parents and Teachers
Promoting Social and Emotional Learning in the Home EnvironmentParent Training Modules and TipsPractical Strategies from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning

  1. ^ Hartup, W. W. (1992). Having friends, making friends, and keeping friends: Relationships as educational contexts. ERIC Digest. Champaign: IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. ED 345 854.
  2. ^

    Greenberg, M. T., Weissberg, R. P., O'Brien, M. U., Zins, J. E., Fredericks, L., Resnik, H., et al. (2003). Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. American Psychologist, 58, 466-474.
  3. ^ Elliott, S. N., Roach, A. T., & Beddow, P. A. (2008). Best practices in preschool social skills training. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V. Bethesda, MD: The National Association of School Psychologists.
  4. ^

    Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2002). Guidelines for social and emotional learning: High quality programs for school and life success. Retrieved July 17, 2011, from
  5. ^ Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA). (2010). Impact of high school dropouts in Indiana. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from
  6. ^ Maag, J. W. (2006). Social skills training for students with emotional and behavioral disorders: A review of reviews. Behavioral Disorders, 32 (1), 5-17.
  7. ^ Rutherford Jr., R. B., Quinn, M. M., & Mathur, S. R. (2004). Handbook of research in emotional and behavioral disorders. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  8. ^ Merrell, K. W., Juskelis, M. P., Tran, O. K., & Buchanan, R. (2008). Social and emotional learning in the classroom: evaluation of the Strong Kids and Strong Teens on students' social-emotional knowledge and symptoms. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 24, 209-224.
  9. ^ Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2012). Autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network-2012. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from
  10. ^ Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2007). State-based prevalance data of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved on April 10, 2012, from
  11. ^ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Mental Health Services (SAMHSA). 2008. Mental Health, United States, 2008. Retrieved April 10th, from
  12. ^ Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2011). Federal policy. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from
  13. ^ Collaborative For Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2011). SEL in your state. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from
  14. ^ Collaborative For Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2011). Needs and outcomes. Retrieved April 10th, from
  15. ^ Hawken, L. S., Adolphson, S. L., MacLeod, K. S., & Schumann, J. (2009). Secondary tier interventions and supports. In W. Sailor, G. Dunlap, G. Sugai & R. H. Horner (Eds.), Handbook of positive behavior support (pp. 395–420). New York: Springer.
  16. ^

    Arritola, K., Breen, J., & Paz, E. (2009). Increasing on-task behavior through the development of classroom social skills.Online Submission, Retrieved from EBSCOhost. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  17. ^ Pelco, L. E., & Reed-Victor, E. (2007). Self-regulation and learning-related social skills: Intervention ideas for elementary school students. Preventing School Failure, 51(3), 36-42.
  18. ^ Merrell, K.W., Gueldner, B.A., & Tran, O.K. (2008). Social and emotional learning: A school-wide approach to intervention for socialization, friendship problems, and more. In B. Doll & J.A. Cummings (Eds.), Transforming school mental health services: Populations-based approaches to promoting the competence and wellness of children. Bethesda, MD: The National Association of School Psychologists.
  19. ^ Elliott, S. N., Roach, A. T., & Beddow, P. A. (2008). Best practices in preschool social skills training. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V. Bethesda, MD: The National Association of School Psychologists.