Social and Emotional Learning Through Literature in Elementary School

Christine Gibson, Intervention Specialist and Author

McGraw Hill
5 min readJun 19, 2019

Building a community that is welcoming to all takes a lot of hard work. Children must learn how to build relationship skills, identify their feelings, cope with their feeling and emotions, work with peers that may not share the same values, and resolve conflicts peacefully. Students must also have the skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges. Through literature, many, if not all of these things can be addressed. After all, literature is the universal adhesive that connects all races and cultures.

I truly believe Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) plays a key role in a child’s development. As children grow, it is essential that they have the social and emotional tools to identify with who they are by developing a sense of self. As an Early Childhood educator, often times we offer themes such as All About Me to support children in identifying with cultural norms, family dynamics, and community values. Embedded in these lessons educators offer families and students a variety of opportunities to showcase artifacts from their homes that can be displayed around the room as well as literature that reflects all these things. These artifacts consist of pictures, sharing of stories, cultural foods, clothing, dance, historical/cultural relics, and much more. Welcoming such diverse values and cultural differences into a classroom supports the five competencies of SEL while building a classroom community using various types of literature.

To create connection between home, the classroom, and myself and my students, I read stories that not only create meaningful conversations but are also relatable. I, like so many other educators, am faced with students who have a difficult time managing their anger and emotions. So, I always use literature that is centered around one or more of the five competencies of SEL. These competencies are as follows:

Self-awareness: recognizing one’s emotions and thoughts, self-efficacy

Self- management: controlling impulses, self-discipline, self-motivation

Social awareness: respect for others, empathy, appreciating diversity

Relationship skills: communicate clearly, teamwork, good listener

Responsible decision-making: social norms and concerns, problem solving, reflecting, evaluating consequences, and analyzing situations

(CASEL, 2019)

I am very intentional when I choose literature that not only supports my students’ social and emotional growth, but also literature that is representative of the population I serve. As children learn and grow, it is imperative that they see images that mirrors them in a wide range of careers, adverse situations, in various skillsets, and much more.

I hold myself accountable in regards to the literature that I use and implement in my teaching practices. Districts often have prescribed programs that may or may not provide students with social and emotional tools and are representative of a diverse population. However, literature that’s entrenched with SEL has been found to promote positive classroom management, prevention of problem behaviors, positive self-efficacy in students, and increased academic outcomes.

According to a meta-analysis from CASEL, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University, and the University of British Columbia, SEL has profound effects. Up to 18 years later, students exposed to SEL in school continue to do better than their peers on a number of indicators: positive social behaviors and attitudes, skills such as empathy and teamwork, and academics. And they have fewer conduct problems, less emotional distress, and lower drug use, among many other benefits. The analysis looked at 82 research studies involving about 100,000 students here and abroad. (Taylor et al., 2017).

As an African-American woman, and an educator who serves a population of students from diverse backgrounds and cultural norms, literature is my number one tool to implement life values and create a culture of equitable citizens that value all humanity. Literature infiltrates into students’ subconscious minds and eventually becomes a part of their conscious decisions. Through literature, students now have characters and names, situations, and in a breadth of life skills that they can identify with and reflect on while on their journey to greatness.


CASEL, (2019). SEL Impact. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from

Taylor, R. D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J.A., & Weissburg, R. P. (2017). Promoting Positive Youth Development Through School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Interventions: A Meta-Analysis of Follow-Up Effects. Child Development (88)4.

Ms. Christine Gibson is an educator and an innovative thinker. She received her Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education while she worked as a Head Start teacher for fourteen years. Advancing her education while working as a Lead Teacher, Ms. Gibson obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies from Northern Kentucky University. Ms. Gibson then went on to acquire her Master’s Degree in Multicultural Special Education from The Mount St. Joseph University. She began her career as an Education Coach where she assessed educators inside the classroom to assure best practices were being administered. Ms. Gibson then became an Intervention Specialist for Cincinnati Public Schools while also pursuing her Doctorate in Early Childhood Education. Ms. Christine Gibson authored a book series titled Christine’s Big Hair Adventures that focuses on Social and Emotional Learning.

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