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The Debrief

What the most popular SEL articles tell us about students’ lives today

The Newsela Team
Oct 18, 2019

It’s no secret that teachers often go above and beyond to help students develop skills like self awareness and navigating relationships. Though long practiced, this holistic approach to education now has a name: Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). As Christina Cipriano, Director of Research at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, put it in a recent interview with Edsurge, social-emotional learning is essential because it’s “the ability for us to be able to recognize, understand, label, express and regulate our emotions.”

Between academic and extracurricular pressures and the constant influence of social media, students have more need of emotional understanding and support than ever before. Schools across the country are taking action, and so is Newsela: earlier this year, we launched a new Social-Emotional Learning collection designed to support SEL frameworks and spark student discussion.

So what can the top SEL articles (those most frequently assigned by teachers) tell us about the issues students are struggling with today—and how teachers are tackling them in the classroom?

  1. It's all about your mindset — Self-management

  2. Social media's effect on teens — Media

  3. Music and emotions — Media

  4. Stress management — Self-management

  5. Emojis and communication — Media

  6. Can body language talk too much? — Self-management

  7. How to calm down — Self-management

  8. Self-compassion is good for you — Self-management

  9. How do people process emotions? — Relationship skills

  10. How to be kind to others — Relationship skills

  11. Learning patience — Relationship skills

  12. How to be a good friend — Relationship skills

  13. Procrastination and homework — Self-management

  14. How to become an organized student — Self-management

  15. Why stereotypes should be avoided — Relationship skills

The most popular SEL articles coalesce around three key themes: the role of media in our lives, our relationships with ourselves, and relationships with peers. 

It’s no surprise that teachers want to help students understand and reflect on the effect media and technology has on their day-to-day lives. Social media dominates teen’s communication and relationships, and one of the most-assigned SEL articles—titled “Research offers mixed messages on social media's effects on adolescents”—provides a balanced take on the positive and negative effects that apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat can have on teens’ emotional health. 

Articles like this help students become more self-aware about their media intake, revealing that feelings of anxiety and depression aren’t something to be ashamed of—they’re often common side effects. Other popular media-focused SEL articles discuss the role of emojis in communication, and the relationship between music and emotion.

Self-awareness is another theme teachers gravitate towards when it comes to teaching Social-Emotional Learning in the classroom. The importance of students being able to shift their mindset is something groups like the Mindset Scholar’s Network are starting to research more deeply, and the article “It’s all about your mindset” comes out on top as the most common SEL title for teachers to assign. Articles on the power of self-compassion and stress management are also popular choices, especially as teachers, parents, and school administrators become more aware of the rise of issues like teen anxiety and negative body image.

Articles that deal with relationships with friends and fellow students are also being assigned frequently, from seemingly straightforward topics like how to build friendships to complex issues of body language and stereotyping. In a social world where students have to juggle interacting both online and in-person, the question of how to be a good friend and avoid making assumptions is far from simple. 

With many schools across the country adopting Social-Emotional Learning frameworks like CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), the need for resources to teach SEL continue to grow—and these insights show us that there are many valuable angles from which to introduce these concepts to students.

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