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Social-Emotional Learning

How to Identify the Best SEL Strategies for Your Students [+ Intervention Guides]

When bringing social-emotional learning (SEL) to a small district or school, different communities take different approaches depending on their unique situation and needs. Whether you are a classroom teacher looking for strategies to use with your students, or a member of an SEL team working to build an intervention library, knowing which strategies are right for your students is vital.

The good news is that there are a lot of SEL strategies available to educators online. But not all interventions are research-based or vetted by experts, and even those that are may not be appropriate for your particular context. While it’s important to have a wide variety of interventions at your disposal, collecting resources and never using them can lead to confusion and clutter.

Use the following guiding questions to help you determine whether an activity is right for classrooms in your school or district, and whether it belongs in your SEL intervention library. Not every question has to be answered, but all will serve to guide your thinking when making decisions about whether or not to use a strategy.

We’ve also included two example interventions from Playbook, Panorama’s intervention library. Practice using the questions to determine if these interventions are right for you. 

 

Did you know? Schools and districts that partner with Panorama have full access to Playbook, a professional learning library for K-12 educators. Playbook includes 500+ in-depth strategies, instructional resources, and MTSS interventions across SEL, academics, and behavior.

 

Download our rubric for identifying strong SEL interventions in the SEL for Small Teams with Big Dreams toolkit.

8 Questions to Help You Identify Strong SEL Strategies

1. What are the details of this strategy? 

First things first: you want to know the basic details of the strategy.  
  • What is it called? 
  • What grade levels is it designed for?
  • Who created this strategy?
  • Where can it be found?

These initial questions will help you discount some strategies right from the beginning, or encourage you to dig deeper.

2. Is there research to support this strategy? 

Look for information about whether this strategy has been studied through research by an organization or practitioner. Note if this strategy is recommended by a fellow educator, as colleagues can be great resources for tried and true activities.

 

Did you know? The terms evidence-based and research-based are often used interchangeably when it comes to educational strategies, but they do not mean the same thing.

  • Research-based means that the strategy is based on practices that have been proven to be effective through research. It does not mean that there has been research done specifically on this strategy. 
  • Evidence-based means that the strategy itself has been studied through research and has been proven to be effective.

 

3. What approach is used for this strategy?  

The term “strategy” is used fairly broadly and can mean a number of different things. Some strategies may be specific activities done with students, like creating a Plus-Delta T-Chart, while others may be teaching practices, like the Lunch Bunch. You might also find strategies that are part of a larger social-emotional learning curriculum that may or may not make sense as stand-alone practices. 

4. Is this strategy flexible?  

Strategies that allow for differentiation and extension can be especially valuable to have in your intervention library. Check to see whether the strategy provides tips for differentiated instruction in response to student learning needs, classroom schedules, or necessary materials.

Another area for flexibility is the depth of involvement. Is this an involved strategy that can be cut back to be made simpler? Is this a simple strategy that can be made more complex for deeper learning? Knowing this can help you and your fellow educators get the most out of each strategy.

5. Does this strategy have a dual benefit for adults?

Students aren’t the only ones that need SEL—adults can also benefit from strategies. While some interventions may be designed with adult SEL in mind, some intended for students can also have learning benefits for adults. Take note to see if the intervention fosters SEL skills in adults, builds positive teacher-student relationships, or engages family members in student learning.

6. Is this strategy aligned with a particular curriculum standard or framework? 

Schools are built up of many systems, so it’s important for strategies to work within existing frameworks. Consider whether the strategy supports your district’s MTSS or PBIS frameworks, or if it aligns with a particular curriculum standard.

Many schools align their SEL work with the core competencies outlined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Does this strategy support learning in one of these key areas?

7. How much time is required for this strategy?  

Knowing how much time a strategy is expected to take can help educators plan for when and where it might fit into the school day. For example, the Two-Word Check-In is a quick and easy intervention that can be used as part of a morning meeting, whereas a Rose, Bud, Thorn journaling exercise takes a bit more time and preparation.

8. Does this strategy have any additional features?

Some strategies will come with additional resources like translations, worksheets, videos, or facilitation guides. If a strategy includes these, make note of that, as this could be helpful information when deciding whether or not to use a strategy.  


Now that you know what to look for, test out these questions on the sample SEL strategies below.

 

SEL Strategies from Panorama’s Playbook 

 

1. Plus-Delta T-Chart

MTSS Tiers: Tier 1

Developmental Stage: Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School

About This Strategy: 

A Plus-Delta T-chart is a simple tool that can be used to help students reflect on their progress in learning and to assist educators in analyzing their own teaching. 

Incorporating this strategy in the classroom supports student agency, fosters a growth mindset, and increases learners’ ownership over their own learning.

Preparation

  • Materials: poster paper or whiteboard; marker or pen

Action

  1. Draw a T-chart on poster paper or a whiteboard. Draw a plus sign (+) at the top of the left side of the chart. Draw a delta sign (▵) at the top of the other side.

    plus delta t chart
  2. After students complete a lesson or learning activity, ask them to reflect on the experience using the T-chart:
    - Ask: “What went well in this activity?”
    - Write student responses underneath the plus sign.
    The goal here is to encourage students to identify positive elements of the activity and highlight aspects that they want future lessons to continue incorporating.

  3. After several minutes reflecting on what went well, ask students to consider areas to improve.
    - Ask: “What could we change about this activity in the future?”
    - Write student responses under the delta sign.

  4. After a few minutes, review the full list of pluses and deltas. Work with the class to select one or two specific deltas that can be improved upon.

  5. Start to co-create a plan or new class goals for specifically addressing these areas of improvement in the near future. These goals can range from changes in the delivery of a lesson to class-wide behavioral goals.


2. Circle of Concern

MTSS Tiers: Tier 1

Developmental Stage: Middle School, High School

About This Strategy: 

This activity, adapted from the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard University, helps students explore the concept of a "circle of concern" while building key social awareness and empathy skills. The goal of this exercise is to help students develop greater empathy, demonstrate ways to express empathy for others, and appreciate individual differences.

Preparation: 

  • Materials: chart paper or whiteboard; journal or notebook; writing utensils

Action

  1. Explain to students that a "circle of concern" is a group of individuals we think about, care about, and interact with in a kind and thoughtful manner.

  2. Illustrate an example by drawing a stick figure within two concentric circles. Share that the smaller circle is your circle of concern, with those closest to you inside it. The larger circle represents those who are outside your circle of concern.
    - Share a few examples of people who might be inside of your circle of concern, and a few who are outside of it.
    - Say: "We all have circles of concern, and they look different for everyone. Because circles can be both confining as well as inclusive, we usually have people who fall outside of our circle of concern."

    circles of concern

  3. Provide students with 5-10 minutes to free-write about who at school they would consider to be inside their circle of concern (and who is not).

  4. Ask for volunteers to share their circles of concern. Why are some people outside of their circle of concern? How might this affect those people? How might it affect our community as a whole?

  5. Using large chart paper or a whiteboard, work as a group to brainstorm examples of groups/roles (not specific names) in the school community that are usually inside a student's circle of concern, and groups that are usually outside the circle of concern.

  6. Ask students to reflect on this and consider how one's circle of concern might be expanded. What actions might they take to expand their circle? What would be easy or hard about taking these actions? Record ideas and responses.
    - Examples: sitting with someone at lunch who they normally wouldn't; organizing an event with students they do not know; learning the names of cafeteria workers

  7. Discuss how these actions might impact the school community. What benefits would be seen and felt?

  8. Wrap up the activity by asking students to journal about one change or action that they can commit to making within the next few days to expand their circle of concern. 

Next Steps for Building Your SEL Intervention Library 

Your intervention library is only as good as the strategies inside. Now that you know the questions to ask when identifying strong interventions, support the adults in your district in using social-emotional learning activities in the classroom and at home. Expand your team by hiring SEL-specific roles, further build your team’s capacity for teaching SEL, and provide opportunities to engage families in student social-emotional learning.  

Empower your small SEL team with more resources from the SEL for Small Teams with Big Dreams toolkit.

Topic(s): Social-Emotional Learning

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