Second Step

Preschool & Elementary SELect Program

Program Design and Implementation Support

Second Step provides instruction in social and emotional learning with units on skills for learning, empathy, emotion management, friendship skills, and problem solving. The program contains separate sets of lessons for use in prekindergarten through eighth grade implemented in 22 to 28 weeks each year. The Early Learning program in Second Step also includes a unit for transitioning to kindergarten. Second Step uses four key strategies to reinforce skill development: brain builder games (to build executive function), weekly theme activities, reinforcing activities, and home links. Teachers are encouraged to give children daily opportunities to practice. Second Step also connects new skills to other areas in the curriculum (e.g., literacy, arts, dramatic arts) and provides a structure for each day of the week. The first day contains a script and main lesson. The second day includes a story and discussion. The third and fourth days involve practice activities in small and large groups. On the fifth day students read a book connected to the overall unit theme, and teachers send home a “Home Link” activity that gives students an opportunity to practice new skills with their caregivers. Second Step lessons and accompanying photographs incorporate a variety of cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Home Link activities are available in English and Spanish. Initial training for Second Step typically lasts one to four hours and is not required.

Program Description Video

Evidence of Effectiveness

Second Step has been evaluated in multiple randomized and quasi-experimental studies (three randomized control trials and two quasi-experimental). Students have been followed over the course of up to two years.


Frey, K. S., Nolen, S. B., Edstrom, L. V. S., & Hirschstein, M. K. (2005). Effects of a school-based social-emotional competence program: Linking children’s goals, attributions, and behavior. Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 171-200. 
Grossman, D. C., Neckerman, H. J., Koepsell, T. D., Liu, P., Asher, K. N., Beland, K., Rivara, F.P. (1997). Effectiveness of a violence prevention curriculum among children in elementary school: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 277, 1605-1611.
Holsen, I., Smith, B. H., & Frey, K. S. (2008). Outcomes of the social competence program Second Step in Norwegian Elementary Schools. School Psychology International, 29, 71-88.
Holsen, I., Iversen, A. C., & Smith, B. H. (2009). Universal social competence promotion programme in school: Does it work for children with low socio-economic background? Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 2, 51-60.
Schick, A., & Cierpka, M. (2005). Faustlos: Evaluation of a curriculum to prevent violence in elementary schools.   Applied and Preventive Psychology, 11, 157-165.
Upshur, C. C., Heyman, M., & Wenz-Gross, M. (2017). Efficacy trial of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum: Preliminary outcomes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 50, 15-25.