SEL Song Lyrics

What better way to teach students about Social Emotional Learning than through the ARTS?  A colleague of mine said it best: “Art IS SEL!”

And if music is an expression of humanity, then music is a way we can learn about our abilities to love and be loved, to heal a broken heart, to build a relationship and to cope with what life throws our way.

Of course not all music is created equal when it comes to finding songs that speak to SEL competencies.  Just like authors have a purpose with writing literature, composers and songwriters have a purpose when composing their lyrics.  (Another great connection between the two, and a lesson for students!)

*SEL Competencies cited from

*SEL Competencies cited from

For our end of the year 4th grade celebration this past year, my team and  I decided to make our theme the SEL competencies.  Traditionally, we write a script and insert appropriate songs that the students can sing as part of the celebration.

Here are the songs we chose:

Social Awareness – We Can Work it Out by The Beatles

Responsible Decision Making – Right Now by Van Halen
(While the lyrics are totally clean, watch the video at your discretion…and possibly not with your students.)

Self Management – Unwritten

Self Awareness – Scars to Your Beautiful
(This video is worth watching as it has cameos of real people who all send the same powerful message.)

Relationship Skills – You’ve Got a Friend in Me
(This version is by Michael Buble…just to spice things up!)

Our students loved learning these songs and what was more, we were able to really discuss the lyrics with them as we learned them.  We talked about self-image and how that will be playing into their lives a lot in the next few years as they enter middle school.  We discussed the values of a good friend, what it means to listen to others’ perspectives and how to be heard, how to take advantage of good situations and walk away from others.

What I believe was the most prominent lesson learned was that in “Unwritten.”  While some students took the lyrics literally (at least at first), so many students came to understand that as they are ending this time in their journey (the end of elementary school), so much of their life is unwritten and under their control.  They really appreciated that message!

What’s more is that even though some of the moral lessons we tried to relay to them may have gone over their heads, or in one ear and out the other, the hope is that the music will live on.  When they hear these songs in the future, the sound may trigger a memory of our 4th grade celebration and the great lessons we learned through the music.

There is so much great music out there!  It was fun to search our personal collections and listen with different ears to the radio to pick up on the many songs that have great SEL messages.  In fact, that’s what I do for our Winter Retreats that focus on art and SEL.  For each Winter Retreat, I create a Retreater Playlist – a playlist of great songs that build our SEL.

Music and songs can build you up, help you to feel and help you to heal.  So go and check out your own musical library.  What are some songs that build your SEL?


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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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