Connecting SEL and Social Skills Using Film and Video

Jennifer Schmidt

Intervention Specialist | Special Education Adjunct Professor

Beavercreek City Schools | Antioch University Midwest & Wright State University

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published an article about the loss of instruction and academic learning during the elearning precipitated by the global pandemic—which is not a shock to any educator or parent. Remote learning was implemented with minimal training or planning when the pandemic struck. The AAP also explored the impact of social distancing and elearning on students’ mental health. As a proponent of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and its impact on our children’s well-being and success in the future, I was pleased to see SEL mentioned in the same paragraph with the academic gaps that are going to result.

People are starting to see that it’s not enough to teach students academic knowledge; our students also need to be able to communicate effectively, be resilient, and maintain healthy relationships. The Core SEL competencies according to CASEL are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision-making

I can think of some adults who struggle in one or more of these areas! Given that, we should not assume children automatically know how to share their opinion respectfully, listen to others’ thoughts and ideas, and compromise; these skills must be taught, and maybe more importantly, practiced.

Providing opportunities for direct instruction, modeling appropriate behaviors through adults and peers, utilizing role-play, and providing practice in various settings are critical to the successful generalization of social skills. Collaborating with others in both the school and home settings will be beneficial to students as they practice across multiple environments. Learning more about social skills also helps a student self-regulate their behaviors to ensure they are sending the message they intended, resulting in successful communication with others.

How Do We Connect SEL and Social Skills?

You may be thinking at this point: “Okay, we get it—SEL and social skills are important! But how are we, as educators or parents, supposed to fit in one more thing?” I’m glad you asked. Try to think about SEL and social skills as something you integrate into your lessons and/or your child’s daily schedule.

Take self-management, which encompasses the following subcategories:

  • Impulse control
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-motivation
  • Goal setting
  • Organization skills

Self-management is one area that can help create a less stressful life for students now and in the future; teaching this competency as well as the other four should be something we consider when helping mold young people into their adult selves.

During this time of remote learning, it may be helpful for parents to think of social skills as a subject much like math or social studies. I am sure you have had a conversation with your children at some point about using proper etiquette at a dinner table, or when you overheard them answering the telephone in a manner that could be improved. In these instances, you were teaching social skills! Remember to continue to promote the learning of social skills at home as the teachers reinforce it in their classrooms.

Integrating Video Modeling

In my classroom, I’m intentional (but sneaky) about integrating SEL into lessons. Full disclosure: I teach social communication, so this is not a struggle. I am a huge fan of video modeling, and I use it often. With some lessons, I use a short video clip to illustrate a social skill, or I have students search for what to do and what not to do in any given social situation.

Video modeling is evidence based and highly effective. If you are unfamiliar, video modeling means using video or film to teach a new skill—a great strategy for all exceptionalities and grade levels and for teaching a variety of skills. The other benefit of using video modeling is that you can cover lessons that incorporate all five SEL components mentioned above by showing what not to do followed by what to do in any given situation.

Using Film to Teach Social Skills and SEL

When I am teaching a social skill such as anger management, I use movie clips to demonstrate how to implement coping strategies before rising to an anger level where you may not make choices you are proud of later. This can be especially helpful for our visual learners who remember the video clip and how sad the character was after throwing a fit and getting into trouble or hurting someone.

Using video to help students understand the concept of empathy will also benefit them well beyond their time in your classroom. When we understand that others may be feeling as we do, we are in a better position to support one other. Understanding empathy will help students strengthen their relationships with others, as well as enhancing the classroom community.

By using animated films, facial expressions can be evaluated more easily. Students can be taught about using social cues, allowing them to process and evaluate the emotions of others. This connection is further reinforced by freezing a scene to dissect and discuss what is happening through both verbal and nonverbal communication. These skills will help students become more self-aware of the verbal and nonverbal signals they send to others.

During remote learning, teachers can show videos online, then lead a discussion about the social situation and skills demonstrated by the clip. Students can take turns role-playing positive and negative examples of how to handle a specific situation. They can reenact a scene—even in an online class. Then they can change how one character responds to see cause and effect in action. A discussion can follow focusing on how our words and actions impact others.

Parents can do this at home as they watch television with their children. Pausing a show to talk about social cues, conflicts, nonverbal communication, or facial cues. will provide their children with further examples and extend their learning. Parents can refer back to examples they watched together when guiding children’s behavior at home.

Using film and movies is effective because, besides being an evidence-based practice, students love it. Film studies are fun, easy to implement, and highly engaging.

Tips and Tricks for Use with Film Study

Film study is an effective teaching method that can be used in all settings whether teaching in person or online.

Set Expectations

Before you watch the movie, explain to the students that film studies are not just for fun, but also teaching tools. Explain that while they get to watch the whole movie uninterrupted at home, this film will be paused and reviewed in short increments. I have learned firsthand that students do not like it when you stop the movie, so you must prime them for this, or you’ll have some frustrated students on your hands!

Prompt Discussion

Adjust the instruction level of questions related to the film by adding a word bank instead of a fill-in-the-blank answer, or making it multiple choice by giving 2–3 possibilities for each question.

Model Behavior with Peers

Use peer-mediated instruction to help students learn social skills and socially acceptable behaviors. Peers can be called on to model appropriate behaviors or assist with reading, writing, and content on an as-needed basis. This is the strategy I most often use in my classroom. By encouraging peer interaction, you are also integrating other social skills such as eye contact, appropriate volume, and taking turns.

Pause the Video for Effect

Don’t hesitate to rewind and or pause a movie to teach a concept. This is especially helpful when teaching body language and facial expressions. You can freeze a scene and dissect the facial expressions of the main character as well as the reaction of the other characters. This can be helpful for teaching perspective-taking. Often our students don’t realize that other people have thoughts and feelings based on our words and actions; film can help students grasp the concept as they can see the reactions.

Have Students Nominate Films

Increase students’ buy-in by asking them to recommend a film. This is a fun way to get the students to start thinking about social themes when they are watching a movie for leisure. Sneaky, right? Have them answer questions such as: Why do they think we should use their movie? What social communication lessons can we learn from the film you are suggesting? Engage students by having them write and prepare a short pitch, or create and record a commercial to convince their peers to vote for their movie choice.

Bringing It All Together

The use of film and movie clips in the classroom utilizes evidence-based practices such as peer-mediated instruction and intervention, video modeling, and modeling. The social-emotional skills that can be learned through film study will benefit students across multiple settings, and for years to come!

About the Author

Jennifer Schmidt has spent 23 years as a general education teacher, autism consultant, and special educator. She is currently a high school teacher, a college instructor, and an experienced national and international presenter. Jennifer recently published her first book on the use of peer modeling and other evidence-based practices to teach social skills to students with autism. Jennifer earned a Master of Education degree in Special Education from Wright State University.