5 Essential Social Emotional Learning Activities 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
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. Goal Setting

Work with students to set academic and behavior goals. You can teach them how to create S.M.A.R.T. goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. They can track their progress, anticipate road blocks, and celebrate success. 

Goal Brainstorm Sheet

2. Check-Ins

Similar to the calm corner, a check-in gives students a way to voice their thinking.

A Couple Notes

If you decide to use this tool, you have to make the time to follow-up with students. It's important that shared negative feelings don't go unaddressed.

It is best if these sorts of check-ins are not public. There can be social contagion with negative feelings. 

Check-ins don't have to be about feelings. They can be about what a student thinks of an activity, a goal they are working on, or reflection.

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 an SEL objective. Look at your lesson for the day. What social 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.

Don't add in SEL objectives that aren't aligned with the lesson. Students don't need to be practicing identifying feelings when they are writing a scary story. Use the SEL objective to help you get more out of your lessons.

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. Goal Setting
  2. Check-Ins
  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.

SMART Goals

SMART Goals

This resource provides activities to help students understand the concept of SMART goals. It includes lessons, visuals, and handouts to guide students through setting clear, achievable goals and tracking their progress.

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ABOUT LAURA
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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