5 Essential Social Emotional Learning Activities 

By Laura Driscoll
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Simple ways to get started with social emotional learning activities for the classroom.

Are you wanting to teach social emotional learning skills and are not quite sure where to start or where to fit it in your schedule? Start out adding in some simple routines that will help students practice social emotional skills throughout the day. Here are five SEL tools I think should be in every elementary classroom.

1. Calm Corner

Calm corners are my number one recommended tool for classrooms implementing social emotional learning. They provide students with a space to practice identify feelings and using calming strategies. They also communicate that big feelings are expected and they can be managed.

They do not require a ton of setup or room. You can get a lot out of a simple basket and some posters in a nook. This post will tell you everything you need to set up a calm corner.  The biggest thing is making sure students know it's purpose and how to use the space.

2. Feelings Check-In

Similar to the calm corner, a daily feelings check-in tells students that all feelings are okay. Students also get comfortable sharing how they feel and understand that you and their classmates care.

Feelings check-ins can be as simple as a feelings chart or a mood meter. Students can have a token they place on the chart. 

One important note if you decide to use this tool: you have to make the time to follow-up with students who are feelings angry or sad or embarrassed. It's important that shared negative feelings don't go unaddressed.

3. Peace Table

It's a safe bet that at some point in your classroom there will be some conflicts between students. It will be your role to find out what went wrong at recess and come up with a quick solution so you can start math. 

It will 100% pay off if you invest in teaching students how to resolve conflicts (mostly) independently. They can learn a simple step by step process, like this one:

  1. Cool off
  2. Share, Listen, Check
  3. Take Responsibility
  4. Brainstorm Solutions
  5. Choose a Solution
  6. Affirm, Forgive, or Thank

Just like with the calm corner, you can have some simple visuals to guide students through the process. Voila a Peace Table!

4. Lesson Objectives

When you plan out your lessons, you likely are using standards and lesson objectives. You have an idea of what you want students to accomplish and your activities are planned around that objective. 

Consider adding in social-emotional learning lesson objectives. Look at your lesson for the day. What SEL skills are students going to need to complete this task? Maybe it's group work and they will need to work on communicating clearly with someone else. Maybe they need to set small goals for themselves for a larger project. 

Adding in a SEL objective is a great way to remember that much of social emotional learning is what is happening throughout the day and not a separate lesson.

5. Brain Breaks

A flexible SEL routine you will use over and over again are responsive brain breaks. These are short, simple activities that help students settle and get ready to learn. These could be activities that help students calm down after recess, like yoga poses or deep breaths. Or maybe they are activities that wake students up after a long time sitting, like "head, shoulders, knees, and toes".

Start by creating three categories of activities: calming, focusing, and energizing. Check out this post on brain breaks for activity ideas.

Next Steps

As you begin investing in social emotional learning in your classroom or you are working on fine-tuning your practice, choose one of the five SEL routines. 

  1. Calm Corner
  2. Feelings Check-In
  3. Conflict Resolution Process
  4. Lesson Plan Objectives
  5. Brain Breaks

Helpful Resources

Conflict Resolution

This step-by-step conflict resolution process provides students with a consistent and fair framework to help them resolve conflicts.

feelings check-in materials

Feelings Check-In

These Feelings Check-In tools and activities let students practice recognizing their emotions and determining how to manage those feelings in the classroom. 

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.
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