Sample Strategies

Social-Emotional Teaching Strategies

Role of the Teacher

You can promote social-emotional development in your classroom by embedding your teaching practices throughout the day. Remaining sensitive to children’s needs helps them feel secure and confident, and acts as a model for effective social behavior. For example, asking questions to help children find a solution to a social conflict helps them develop problem-solving skills. Reading a story and engaging children in a conversation about a socially challenging situation can also serve as a lesson in handling social problems as well as in literacy.

Be Attentive to Each Child’s Needs - Be attentive to the social-emotional skills and needs of each unique child so you can respond with lessons and interventions tailored to help every child develop their skills. Your attention and presence as a teacher can be a pillar of confidence for children who are dealing with stressful life circumstances. Letting children know that you are there to help will build children’s trust that you are a source of guidance. Keep in mind that children who are English language learners may need additional support to feel secure and self-assured in a learning environment that is responsive to their needs.

Early Emotional Experiences Matter - Recognize that the emotional domain is foundational to all other developmental domains. If children start school in an emotionally supportive environment, they will acquire the love of learning necessary for success in all areas of school. “As young children develop, their early emotional experiences literally become embedded in the architecture of their brains,” therefore great care should be given to children’s emotional needs, according to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. If you seek children’s opinions, allow children to initiate activities and are flexible about responding to children’s ideas, you’ll build children’s feelings that they are competent and respected, and at the same time motivate their desire to learn.

Promoting Consistent Structure with Play - Providing your transitional kindergarteners with consistent structures and expectations about appropriate behavior through play activities helps them remember and follow classroom norms, and behave in ways that are conducive to learning. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development.” Creating routines of fun and meaningful activities such as songs, chants and games can minimize problems or stress during challenging times, such as when children wait in line or during transitions.

Building Relational Capacity and Importance of Close Relationships

Positive relationships with peers and adults - including parents and teachers - are key to children’s social-emotional development. First, they make school a comfortable, secure safe place where children can focus on learning. Second, mutual, caring relationships provide opportunities for children to develop and practice important social skills.

Positive and Consistent Relationships - Social-emotional development is supported through positive and consistent relationships among teachers and children. Try going beyond expectations of compliance with school rules, and support social-emotional development by crafting a positive, emotionally supportive climate in the classroom that skillfully connects new experiences with children’s unique home experiences. According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child,  “Children who develop warm, positive relationships with their [TK] teachers are more excited about learning, more positive about coming to school, more self-confident, and achieve more in the classroom.”

Children are more likely to develop positive relationships when teachers:
  • model appropriate social behaviors;
  • provide opportunities for them to develop new social-emotional skills;
  • give explicit guidance;
  • offer curriculum that is engaging and relevant to children’s lives and cultures;
  • engage with parents in a two-way relationship to build children’s social-emotional skills; and
  • reflect an ethic of caring and nurturing.
Specific examples of productive teacher behaviors include:
  • showing respect and valuing children’s cultural and language backgrounds;
  • modeling the polite use of language and encouraging children to imitate your behavior;
  • encouraging empathic thinking with questions such as, “Why do you think he is crying?”;
  • promoting children’s confidence and development of new skills by engaging them in problem solving, for example by asking, “Can you think of a way to help you remember to wait for your turn?”; and
  • attending to signs of personal trauma and providing additional support to children who are experiencing unusual stress in their lives.

Seven Social-Emotional Teaching Strategies

The teaching strategies below give concrete approaches for promoting social-emotional development in your classroom. They are designed to guide developmentally appropriate TK instruction, moving your students along a continuum of learning by bridging the Preschool Learning Foundations with the Kindergarten Common Core. Click through to view all seven.

Strategy 1: Relationships and Social Interactions with Peers
Strategy 2: Social and Emotional Understanding
Strategy 3: Conflict Negotiation (Problem Solving)
Strategy 4: Child Regulates Emotions and Behaviors
Strategy 5: Engagement and Persistence
Strategy 6: Responsible Conduct
Strategy 7: Integrated Approaches for English Language Development and Family Engagement

  • Strategy 1: Relationships and Social Interactions with Peers

    Competency: Child interacts competently and cooperatively with other children and develops friendships with several peers (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 8)

     Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in context
    Ask a child who has grabbed a toy from another to "use his words" to let a classmate know what he wants, offering simple words to help articulate their feelings, such as "My turn, please."

    Read a story about a child whose best friend has moved away, and ask children to share ideas of things they could do to comfort the child.

    While reading, point to the child's face in the story or use a picture card to show how the child is feeling "sad," and encourage your students to draw pictures and/or write words that reflect their feelings.

    Tell a child gently and respectfully that you would like him to put his hands in his lap rather than on the child next to him. To support language understanding, model behavior and encourage the student to mimic your behavior, by saying, "I will put my hands on my lap." Show an interest in your students' lives outside of school, for example having a conversation about what they did over the weekend.
     Give opportunities for practice
    Have your students take turns during sharing time. Support language understanding by scaffolding turn-taking and saying, for example, "Now it's Nico's turn. Now it's Ciara's turn." Give your students games, such as Chutes and Ladders, that require cooperation.
  • Strategy 2: Social and Emotional Understanding

    Competency: Child shows developing understanding of people’s behavior, feelings, thoughts and individual characteristics (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 9)

     Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in context
    Ask children to discuss the emotions a child in a story is experiencing. Ask the child to explain why another child is feeling distressed.
    Comfort a child. Show interest and understanding for a child's feelings. For example, interact by saying "I see that you are sad; is it because your mom had to drop you off early today?" or, "You look frustrated, is it because your tower fell down?"
     Give opportunities for practice
    Lead a game asking children to label emotions in pictures. Use a familiar song to teach feeling words by replacing words with new emotional vocabulary paired with understandable movements and gestures. Give a chance for Think-Pair-Share during story time, having children pair off to think of something in the story that relates to their lives. For example, ask them to think about a time they felt the way the character in the story felt and share the experience with a friend.
  • Strategy 3: Conflict Negotiation

    Competency: Child shows increasing understanding of the needs of other children and is increasingly able to consider alternatives and to negotiate constructively (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 10)

     Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in context
    Offer a strategy for sharing. Example: "If you divide the cars up, you would each have three, and could play with them together on the train track." Imagine that two children are arguing over paints.

    Refrain from solving the problem for the children and instead engage them in a conversation that helps them solve it. Try asking, "What strategies could you use to decide how you share the paints?"
    Articulate that you are "waiting quietly for everyone to get ready to hear a story" while also using a gesture that is familiar to children. Example: As you get ready to read a book at circle time, a child interrupts and asks for a different book.

    Ask the class to vote and select the book with the most votes.
     Give opportunities for practice
    During "free choice" time, the children have an opportunity for dramatic play to negotiate roles, take turns, share materials and initiate activities. Ask children to create rules for the playground while writing them down and encouraging the children to negotiate differences in opinions.
  • Strategy 4: Self-Control of Feelings and Behavior

    Competency: Child increasingly develops strategies for regulating feelings and behavior based on adult guidance (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 12)

     Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in context
    Help a visibly upset child identify the cause of his distress and hold him to make him feel secure until he is calm.  Gently touch the hand of a child who appears anxious or reticent about class activities to reassure him or her.

    Ask a group of children to brainstorm strategies for remembering to keep their hands to themselves during circle time.
    Articulate a strategy you use to regulate your behavior. Example:  "I'm going to hold my hands together to help me remember not to touch any of the paints until it's time." Identify feelings in a child and articulate a coping strategy. For example, "I can see that Sam is sad, I am going to give Sam our big fuzzy bear because I think it might make him feel better."
     Give opportunities for practice
    In circle time, ask children how they are feeling that day and support new emotional vocabulary by incorporating pictures, labels and gestures. Give children opportunities to respond with words or gestures. Respond by combining the emotion word and gesture while acknowledging child's feelings. Give children games to play that require sharing materials and taking turns.

    Encourage children to identify their feelings and scaffold their efforts to develop coping strategies. For example, if a child says that he feels lonely, acknowledge the child's feelings by asking, "What can you do to help you to feel better?"
  • Strategy 5: Engagement and Persistence

    Competency: Child persists in understanding and mastering a self-selected activity, even if it is challenging or difficult (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 13)

     Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in context
    Ask a child to articulate his goal in an activity and the first step.

    Ask children to articulate their plan and the steps they will take for an art project. Example: "What will you do first? What colors will you use?"
    Model completing an activity for children, explaining each of the steps you took. When giving instructions for an activity, demonstrate stringing beads and make an error in your pattern. Point out the mistake and correct it.
     Give opportunities for practice
    Give children activities that require at least two steps (e.g., coloring a picture and writing the first letter of their name). Give projects that have several steps to completion and require planning, correction and completion. For example, puzzles, playing a game, an art project and building structures.
  • Strategy 6: Responsible Conduct

    Competency: Child develops skill in acting as a responsible group member and behaving in a fair and socially acceptable manner, regulating behavior according to classroom rules (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 14)

     Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in context
    Congratulate the students who listened to your instructions attentively.

    Scenario: The children are noisy coming in from the playground.  

    Ask the children to brainstorm strategies to remember to keep their voices quiet when they come in from outdoor play. 
    Speak in a soft voice. Ensure that every child has a chance to talk.
     Give opportunities for practice
    Children take turns distributing snacks each day. There are a pad of paper and pencil in each area with a popular activity; encourage children to create sign-up lists for turn taking.
  • Strategy 7: Integrated Approaches for English Language Development and Family Engagement

    Integrated Approach: English Language Development
    Focus on simple strategies that support children’s expressive and receptive language skills. By doing so, you can promote social-emotional competence in a way that directly influences their learning and development. Plan for activities where children express their feelings and introduce sentence starters or “linguistic frames” (e.g. “Today, I feel..., I do not like…, I need…“) to support children who are learning to communicate in English.

    Collaborative Approach: Family Engagement
    It is important to build strong relationships with families to ensure that the whole family has a positive experience in the school. When a child feels a connection between his home and school, he is bound to feel more connected and safe in both places. Develop partnerships with families and the community, organize family events and develop communication strategies that support a strong dialogue around the value of home language and culture in their child’s success in school and in life.