George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social and Emotional Learning

Weaving SEL Skills Into Book Talks

May 8, 2015
Children in class, four around each table; a boy in the foreground raising his hand

Regardless of what social and emotional learning (SEL), character development, or any other related program you might use in your school, two things are true: They have a problem-solving component, and generalization is greatly enhanced when what is being taught as SEL/character is also integrated into the rest of the school day.

Because of the importance of language arts skills, reading activities provide an ideal way to build students' problem-solving skills by applying them to deepen their insights into the written materials.

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Generically, most problem-solving approaches cover these basic areas:

  • Identifying feelings
  • Putting problems into words
  • Deciding on the goal(s)
  • Brainstorming options for reaching the goal(s)
  • Anticipating consequences of the options for self and others, long- and short-term
  • Selecting the best option to reach the goal(s)
  • Planning the details of how to carry out the option, and anticipate and prepare for obstacles
  • Reflecting on what happened and what one can learn for next time

Book Talks

A "book talk" is an occasional assignment that uses the problem-solving framework of a particular program or approach as a lens through which to view or analyze the book or its sections or chapters.

From, Building Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills Through Literature Analysis, here is a lesson format, drawn from secondary-level classrooms:

Assign a book.

Students can be given time to do the reading in class or given several chapters to read at home.

Provide the book talk problem-solving framework.

Present the framework and review it briefly with students.

Questions Assigned to Student for Problem-Solving Literature Analysis

1. Think of an event in the section of the book assigned. When and where did it happen? Put the event into words as a problem.

2. What people were involved in the problem? What were their different feelings and points of view about the problem? Try to put their goals into words.

3. Describe some of the different solutions from each person that might help him or her reach his or her own goals.

4. For each of these ideas, what are all of the things that might happen next? Envision and write down short- and long-term consequences.

5. What were the final decisions? How were they made? By whom? Why? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

6. How was the solution carried out? What was the plan? What obstacles were met? How well was the problem solved? What did you read that supports your point of view? Imagine a plan to help you carry out your solution. What could you do or think of to make your solution work? What obstacles or roadblocks might keep your solution from working? Who might disagree with your ideas? Why? What else could you do?

7. Rethink it. As you read, see what the author wrote and compare it to what you anticipated or how else it could have been presented. Is there another way of looking at the situation that might be better? Are there other groups, goals, or plans that come to mind?

8. What questions do you have, based on what you read? What questions would you like to be able to ask one or more of the characters? The author? Why are these questions important to you? If you had to write a sequel to this book, what would the plot be? How might you approach it?

Ask students to write out their answers.

In journals or otherwise, students would answer either all or a set of questions from the framework.

Have group discussions about the responses.

After students have done the assignment, assemble a small discussion group. Initially, the rest of the class would use this time to complete other language arts assignments. (It is also possible to set up simultaneous discussion groups, especially as students get used to working with the framework on their own.)

The small group discusses each student's individual response to the questions assigned by having each student read his or her written response. Everyone listens to each response. When all responses have been read, the teacher may ask students with different points of view to share the reasoning behind their responses.

Use creative role-play.

Especially when considering consequences, planning actions, and anticipating obstacles, encourage students to role-play their perspectives. They can also talk about what they believe a character should do at a particular point in the story, explaining why they think characters chose as they did, or think about whether one option would be better for a character than another.

In chapter books, students can be asked to create the next chapter, both from their own point of view as well as from that of the author.

Throughout all discussions, students are encouraged to listen respectfully to one another with reminders that all points of view are important. There is less emphasis on "right" or "wrong" responses than on justifying one's point of view.

As appropriate, depending on the section of a book or story, and especially at the end, students can be brought together for full-class discussion.

Questions to Consider

Who can lead these problem-solving-guided discussions of literature?

A language arts teacher is well suited to do this, but librarians, parents, after-school program leaders, and any individual with the time and inclination to read and discuss literature with adolescents may pursue this exercise.

Social studies teachers also find this format useful to discuss both historical and current events from the perspective of problems that students are trying to solve.

For what grade levels is this suitable?

Students from grade five and up can use this format, and with some modifications and simplifications, it can be used for younger students as well.

How long is the typical discussion?

A discussion lasting about half of a 50-minute class period gives a group of five to seven members time to state and then discuss each response, as well as other topics that may arise. The discussion will vary with size of the groups, amount of reading material assigned, and the degree of heterogeneity in groups.

Especially when first starting with this format, discussions should allow time to encourage students' careful, critical thinking as well as learning how to question one another in constructive and respectful ways.

What are your experiences with book talks? What insights and ideas might you share with us?

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Filed Under

  • Social and Emotional Learning
  • Lesson Plans
  • Literacy
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School