Teaching Social-Emotional Learning Through Metacognitive Skills

Three students smiling while doing schoolwork

Looking for ways to help students build their social-emotional learning skills? Metacognition — thinking about one’s thinking — is a valuable tool students can use to build a foundation of self-understanding that supports social-emotional learning.

SEL and Metacognition

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process of developing self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills needed throughout one’s life. This boils down to a basic understanding of our emotions and how we deal with them. When students think about their thinking (metacognition), they better understand how their brain works. While metacognition focuses on the processes of how we think or learn, educators can capitalize on metacognition to build students’ emotional self-awareness to support SEL skills.


Teaching SEL skills begins with helping students build a foundation of self-understanding. To do this, students need to learn how to identify their strengths and challenges in relation to social-emotional learning. Having students make T-charts or Venn diagrams can effectively display this information. You can then use these charts to encourage students to think about situations in which they effectively handled their emotions as well as times when they struggled.

Role Play

Role play is a great tool for teaching social skills. It allows students to think ahead about situations that might arise in the classroom, such as sharing materials or resolving arguments. In a role-play scenario, students can collaborate and discuss ways to handle each case, which builds their toolbox of strategies. Try having students physically act out the scenarios to practice what they might say if a difficult situation arises. Then ask students to think about when situations like these might come up in their lives.

Learning social-emotional skills is an ongoing process. If we teach students to understand their feelings, they are better able to develop strategies to deal with them. Metacognition can help students build a foundation of these skills and is one of the many ways to link executive function and SEL strategies.

  • Julia Ronkin, SMARTS Student Intern

Looking to build your executive function toolkit? Join us for the Executive Function Summer Summit (July 26, July 28, August 2, and August 4) and the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop (August 9, August 11). All summer professional development opportunities are available online via Zoom and through recorded sessions.

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org