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ACT for Youth

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Toolkit

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a student-centered approach that emphasizes building on students' strengths; developing skills through hands-on, experiential learning; giving young people voice in the learning process; and supporting youth through positive relationships with adults over an extended period of time. Commonly used in school and after-school settings, SEL programming offers strategies and techniques helpful to other youth work professionals. Many of these strategies align with the features of effective youth development settings identified by the National Research Council.

This SEL Toolkit offers web-based resources to help youth work professionals provide opportunities for social and emotional learning. Resources include manuals, activities, fact sheets, videos, and websites. The Toolkit was assembled by the Risk and Thriving in Adolescence Program Work Team, a collaboration of Cornell University, Cornell Cooperative Extension, New York State 4-H Youth Development, and external stakeholders.

Evidence for SEL

SEL is an evidence-based approach to youth programming; it is not a program in itself. Providing youth with opportunities to develop social and emotional competencies has been shown to decrease problem behaviors and increase school connectedness, achievement, attendance, and positive social behaviors.

Research has also identified after-school program features that make positive SEL outcomes more likely. Best practice programs are "SAFE":

  • Sequential: skills are taught through sequenced activities
  • Active: youth have opportunities to actively practice skills
  • Focused: focused time is set aside for skill development
  • Explicit: programs explicitly target specific skills
For more on this research by Joseph A. Durlak and Roger P. Weissberg, see The Impact of After-School Programs That Promote Personal and Social Skills (PDF).

Toolkit: SEL Core Competencies and Strategies

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified the following interrelated core competency areas that are nurtured in SEL programming. In this toolkit, we use the CASEL framework to describe a set of instructional practices and resources that can be incorporated in any youth programming. Click on the links for tools and resources.
  • Self-awareness: the ability to identify our own feelings, as well as how our feelings and thoughts influence what we do
  • Self-management: the ability to manage our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in a variety of contexts
  • Social awareness: the ability to understand and empathize with others' points of view
  • Relationship skills: the ability to communicate and connect with a range of people in a healthy way
  • Responsible decision making: the ability to make positive choices about how we behave
Teaching strategies and tools that support multiple SEL competencies are also included in this toolkit.