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Building Relationships Through Social-Emotional Literacy by Holly Chopack

I recently talked to a friend about how kindergarten is going for our kids. Our discussion centered around the need for structured activities at recess. We both felt that our children had less experience navigating open spaces with their peers. I watch my kindergarten student struggle with building relationships with his peers.

I know that developing social skills is a massive part of a kindergarten student's school year, but our work around social skills seems more critical than ever this year. Our students have not had the opportunity to play, sing, agree, disagree, and resolve conflict in the ways we hope. For many students, there has been so much distance between them and their peers that their social skills are far less developed than pre-pandemic kids. As a parent, I look to provide opportunities at home to help my child build social language and social skills. As a teacher, I have been thinking about how social-emotional literacy can find a place in my reading and writing workshop.

"Social-emotional literacy is a relatively new term that garners its meaning from the intersection of its three component terms. Literacy is the ability to grasp the rules of written, verbal, and visual language and is often equated with one's ability to read proficiently. Emotional literacy is one's ability to "read," recognize, and respond appropriately to emotions and feelings in oneself and others. Social literacy is learning how to build and maintain respectful relationships." -Center for Responsive Schools.

I can build social-emotional literacy during read-aloud. I can seek out books that promote discussions about relationships, emotions, and conflict resolution. During read-aloud, students can role-play character actions or situations. I can provide partner turn and talk opportunities with talk stems such as:

  • If this were me, I would...

  • This reminds me of

  • This makes me feel...

Some exciting new titles to plan a read-aloud with a social-emotional focus are :

  • We All Play by Julie Flett

  • Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwell

  • Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

  • I am Enough by Grace Byers

  • Thank You Omu! by Oge Mora

  • The Good Egg by Jory John

  • All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

  • I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoet

  • Love by Matt de la Pena

  • Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Writing Workshop is another occasion for social-emotional literacy. Writing partners foster cooperation and build classroom community. Students practice building talk, developing listening skills, giving compliments, and asking questions when they share writing with a partner.

In our conferences and small group, we can work with writers to build a toolbox of social-emotional vocabulary that they can access in their writing. We can also teach writers to reflect on their writing. When we do this, we ask writers to think about:

  • What felt hard?

  • What am I proud of?

  • What part of my writing is the most meaningful to me?

Our students are coming out of a time when they have not interacted with peers. For learners across all grade levels, they need to play, problem solve, and talk to their peers. We need to find additional time across our day to support this growth. We can find opportunities in our reading and writing workshop to give students the social-emotional literacy they desperately need!

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