20 Writing Lessons to Build Empathy and SEL

Creating Strong Kids Through Writing: 30-Minute Lessons that Build Empathy, Self-Awareness, and Social-Emotional Understanding in Grades 4-8 
By Deborah S. Delisle and James R. Delisle, Ph.D.
(Prufrock Press, 2019 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Anne Anderson

As I reviewed Creating Strong Kids Through Writing: 30-Minute Lessons that Build Empathy, Self-Awareness, and Social-Emotional Understanding, one word kept coming to mind: simple. Simple, as in straightforward, uncomplicated, and fundamental.

Deborah S. Delisle and James R. Delisle have created a collection of 20 lessons designed to assist students in thinking and responding. These powerful lessons allow students the opportunity “to write from both cognitive knowledge and emotional sensation.” (p.7)

With all the buzz (and accompanying teacher expectations) about Social-Emotional Learning, Creating Strong Kids Through Writing is a much-needed resource. The authors have created an easy-to-use book of activities to help teachers help adolescents grow socially and emotionally.

What’s in the book

The book is arranged in three sections: Lessons for the Beginning of the Year, Lessons for Any Time of the Year, and Lessons for the End of the Year. However, these are not one-time or one-subject lessons; the basic lesson idea can be extended and/or repeated across disciplines.

Each lesson includes these sections:

  • Objective: One simple statement identifying the purpose.
  • Resources and Materials: A list of needed supplies.
  • Context: Any background information that might be useful.
  • Social-Emotional Connection: The competencies or skills of SEL (e.g., Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Responsible Decision-Making, Relationship Skills, and Social Awareness).
  • The Hook: The fun, engaging activity to get students focused.
  • Inviting Students to Respond: The step-by step instructions for teaching the lesson.
  • Tips to Enhance or Extend This Lesson: Ideas for getting more out of a lesson.

If you are looking for a new start-of-school activity, look no further than Lesson 1, “Getting to Know Students From the Inside Out.” This lesson includes a short-answer exercise that helps you learn about your students. Be sure you complete the lesson handout prior to class so you can share your own responses.

Lesson 5, “The Pyramid of Personal Qualities,” helps students “to articulate the essential personal qualities or attributes that help to guide their lives.” (p.34) I felt like this lesson might take more 30 minutes, but it will be time well spent.

Beyond ELA

And, don’t think that Creating Strong Kids Through Writing is just for ELA teachers. Lesson 11, “Fascinating Fibonacci,” combines literacy and mathematics “by creating a piece of writing that follows the Fibonacci sequence.” (p. 76) Lesson 15, “Science Fact and Fiction,” will be fun for your students as they create fake answers to scientific questions.

Building SEL into lessons

With these insightful lessons, students – and their teachers – move away from right or wrong answers. The Delisles have designed instruction that guides students to slow down and think. Their belief that the social-emotional competencies “must be a part of lessons, and not apart from lessons” makes this title an excellent addition to your professional library.

The lessons in Creating Strong Kids Through Writing: 30-Minute Lessons That Build Empathy, Self-Awareness, and Social-Emotional Understanding are much more important than just generating grades. Use this book and watch your students grow as writers and productive young adults!

Former eighth grade teacher Anne Anderson is an educational consultant known for her practical ideas and engaging ELA workshops. Anne’s goal is to help teachers help students. Her positive approach and sense of humor bring encouragement to her audiences. She seeks to provide educators with practical solutions to teaching and learning problems. Visit her website and subscribe to her bi-monthly newsletter, Spotlight on Success.



MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.