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4 SEL Skills Every Student Needs for a Successful Grade Transition

When we consider whether a student is ready to move to the next grade or graduate, we often think of academic skills. Of course, there is a baseline of knowledge every student needs to have to thrive at the next level and avoid learning gaps. However, many of the skills that prepare students for success in school, and life, can be found within the realm of social and emotional learning (SEL), which includes skills to manage emotions, set and achieve goals, establish and maintain relationships and make responsible decisions.

Here are four ways to build an intentional practice of these SEL skills into your classroom.


The ability to ask for help when needed and then ask the right questions about the situation is a learned skill. Even college-level students can struggle in self-advocacy. The earlier you can provide practice, the better.

Like many areas of SEL, you can start by modeling the behavior yourself. Model questioning strategies during lessons, even rhetorically. You can also work on framing any redirections or admonitions, as you request help from the student rather than asserting authority. It models the fact that even educators need help sometimes and that it’s OK to ask.

Goal Setting

For many students, their goals come from someone else, like parents or teachers. The ability to set incremental goals often sets successful high school and college students apart. You can help students develop goal-setting skills early by giving them a voice in setting lesson objectives for the day based on the standards you are trying to hit. Not only are you modeling the correct process, but also you are generating buy-in for learning.


Employers cite collaboration as one of the most requested skills on the job market, so students should expect increasing group work as they proceed through school to help them in and out of the classroom. Encourage them by providing a lot of opportunities to work together and give and receive constructive feedback. This is often where children struggle when working together. Also, set up a firm conflict resolution protocol for students to use and follow.


Digital natives, as modern-day students are often referred to, are used to having things served to them so that they may find decision-making challenging. Use your subject content to highlight important decisions and show how a person from the lessons (whether it’s a character from literature, historical figure, mathematician, etc.) reached the conclusions that they made. Educators make countless decisions a day, so verbalize some of your thought processes as a model for your students. Ask students to create their own “choose your own adventure” story, flowchart, or movie as practice for a fun project. And always recognize when students make good decisions and celebrate that success.

Are you looking for more ways to add SEL practices into your classroom? Explore these five read-aloud books to teach SEL to students!

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