Build a Solid Foundation for Social and Emotional Learning

Young female student learns online while building a solid foundation through social and emotional learning

The Great Books Foundation uses the Shared Inquiry method to develop critical thinking skills and social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies in grades K–12. Since the pandemic has forced education to take place largely from home, we have created the Junior Great Books Virtual Academy, which enables students to connect with peers in an engaging and collaborative online environment.

In the Junior Great Books Virtual Academy, students take part in lively discussions and varied interpretive activities led by experienced Great Books trainers. As in all Junior Great Books programs, students discuss rich texts that allow them to share their curiosity, maintaining and deepening their listening and speaking skills. The Virtual Academy has allowed us to introduce works of visual art and even short films to add variety and interest to the content students explore.

Of course, any educator trained to lead Junior Great Books can do so online. Our online learning platform for grades K–8 provides complete materials and easy access for teachers and students.

During a time when children have fewer opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings with each other, our approach provides a chance for students to connect with each other through the ideas and evidence they share with one another during Shared Inquiry discussions. Our work is built upon the practice of civil discourse and used to build authentic learning opportunities through dialogue and active listening, therefore promoting the SEL skills needed to create a strong learning environment.

Our approach aligns with the social and emotional learning standards that are being adopted by states and districts nationwide. These standards are research based and reflect the work done by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). The standards address the following SEL competencies:

  • Self-awareness and self-management
  • Social awareness and relationship skills
  • Responsible decision-making

How Great Books Shared Inquiry Activities Reinforce Social and Emotional Learning Skills

Shared Inquiry Sequence of Activities Primary Social and Emotional Learning Competencies Addressed
Prereading: Students share responses to a question about the text’s topic. Self-Awareness and Social Awareness: Students share personal connections to the text and listen to the perspectives of others.
First Reading: Students listen to or read a text and mark places where they are confused or curious. Self-Awareness and Self-Management: Students build cognitive control by tracking and recording their responses.
Sharing Questions: Students share their questions about the text and explore answers with the teacher’s help. Social Awareness and Relationship Skills: Students take turns sharing questions and listening to those of others. All questions are regarded as valuable, and students respond to and help answer others’ questions.
Second Reading: Students read or listen to the text again, engaging in close-reading activities. Social Awareness and Relationship Skills: Students take turns sharing their own perspectives and listening to others, with an emphasis on comparing and explaining reactions.
Shared Inquiry Discussion: Students collaboratively explore a central problem of meaning in the text. Guided by the teacher’s questioning, students develop ideas, find and explain evidence, and respond to their peers’ answers. Responsible Decision-Making, Self-Awareness, Self-Management, and Relationship Skills: This cornerstone activity addresses many SEL competencies. Developing and explaining a personally satisfying answer to the discussion question prepares students to make responsible choices in other complex situations.
Writing Activities: Students further develop their response to a text in a persuasive essay. Responsible Decision-Making: Students synthesize their own thinking about a topic while drawing on the perspectives they heard in Shared Inquiry discussion.