Social Emotional Literacy Instruction

With the dawn of social-emotional learning in the schools in the last decade, there has been hoards of research coming out about the importance of helping students express their feelings in a socially expected manner. 

What is Social Emotional Learning?

Social Emotional Learning relies heavily on students having the vocabulary to express their feelings. We know that many emotion and feeling words are nuanced. What makes one individual aggravated may be different to another. That emotion may feel different, appear different, and show up in different contexts. By providing students with a deeper understanding of emotions through multiple images and rich oral language using InferCabulary, we can support social emotional learning.

“In order to correctly perceive feelings in yourself and others, you first have to have words for those feelings, a feeling lexicon. Many children are either “happy” or “mad” and miss all the subtle gradations of feelings in-between because they do not have labels and definitions for those emotions. A large and more complex feeling vocabulary allows children to make finer discriminations between feelings; to better communicate with others about their internal affective states; and to engage in discussions about their personal experiences with the world” (Joseph and Strain, 2003).

How vocabulary instruction with InferCabulary can help

InferCabulary can easily be a resource for introducing and expanding emotional vocabulary because it includes the important elements we already know about good vocabulary instruction.  Instead of relying upon a single picture to show an emotion, InferCabulary offers six pictures providing lots of great non-verbal information including both situational cues and body language.  These pictures provide a range of subtle differences to support the nuanced meanings characteristic of emotional vocabulary words.  Unlike video or interactions where subtle changes happen too quickly to notice, these pictures are static. Having different examples allow for consideration of  how the emotion changes from person to person. 

The captions provide additional information to support social emotional lessons. Students see explanations of each situation

which can be used to anchor future discussions about their own feelings, perspectives of their friends, or perspectives of characters in a story.  The captions also include synonyms which help categorize words according to degrees of meaning.

For example, instead always using the word, “anxious” in vocabulary instruction, students can be more specific with synonyms such as uneasy, apprehensive or overwhelmed. There are over 567 words related to feelings and emotions in the InferCabulary database.

Research has shown that when children have words to describe their feelings, they can identify their own emotions, as well as communicate them in a healthy and expected way.  They are also able to better understand the emotions others may be feeling.  This specific type of word knowledge empowers students with more descriptive language to accurately talk about their personal experiences. 

Interested in a demo of InferCabulary? Contact our team at or try out the demo site here.



Author: Jen Knapp; MS, CCC-SLP

Sources for Social Emotional Research:

Joseph, Gail & Strain, Phillip. (2003). Enhancing Emotional Vocabulary in Young Children. Young Exceptional Children. 6. 18-26. 10.1177/109625060300600403.