So you are looking to add social emotional learning activities to your upper elementary classroom, but aren't sure where to start? It doesn't have to be complicated or another boxed curriculum. Focus on adding simple SEL routines to your day and engaging activities like the ones below to help students practice age-expected SEL skills.
1. Asking for Help
Learning when to ask for help and how is a lifelong skill we can start practicing early with social emotional learning activities.
First, we have to encourage and teach students to think about their learning (i.e., metacognition). After activities ask students some questions to help them reflect on their learning. What went well? Where did they get stuck? Before an activity have students think of what they could do if they get stuck.
I've had teachers use a visual on every students' desk. visual. One side was green and the other was red. When a student needed help, they flipped the card over to the red side. This was a simple, nonverbal way to ask for help.
ACTIVITY: Ask students to write down two things they struggle with in school and two things they consider strengths. Give them an example or provide them with a bank of choices.
I have a really hard time staying organized and losing games. I am good at spelling and making friends.
Read aloud some of the challenges and have students give advice. Next, make a list of the strengths and have students raise their hand if they are someone others can come to for help.
Resource: School Success SEL Lesson
2. Anger Buttons
We also have situations that make us angry and this isn't the same for everyone. Maybe I get angry when someone is late, but it doesn't bother you.
ACTIVITY: Create a checklist of common events that make your students angry. Have each student check off ones that make them upset. You can have all the students stand up and move to different parts of the room. This will help show students that there are others who feel the same way they do. It will also show them even though something isn't a big deal to them, it might be a big deal to someone else.
Try this simple craft activity to help students understand their anger triggers.
3. Self Care
Upper elementary is a great time to start talking about healthy habits and self care. Self care isn't just the occasional bubble bath. It is also creative activities, time with others, or time for yourself. For self care for kids and adults, you can define it as:
- Things you do every week or every day (Consistent)
- Helps you feel calm or happy (Positive)
- Helps you handle hard things and feel good (Helpful)
ACTIVITY: Have students brainstorm self care habits they can do that week. Then choose one or two they will try out. Reflect at the end of the week about how the activities helped or didn't help. Check out this post on self care habits for kids and download the healthy habits free digital resource.
4. Goal Maps
Learning to set and monitor goals is another great social emotional learning activity for elementary. Heck, I'm still working on this one.
Students can learn about setting goals, brainstorm their own goals, and break goals into small chunks or mini-goals.
ACTIVITY: Take a piece of paper and have students draw a path from their starting point to their goal. Break the path into individual tiles and write down the mini goals on each tile. They can color in each tile as they make their way to their final goal. If they decide to change some of their mini-goals along the way, have them create a new branch in their path and write out new mini-goals. This is a great way to show progress when students are working on bigger goals.
5. Acts of Kindness
Kindness Bingo or a Kindness Calendar gets students thinking about how they can show kindness to others in their class, school, home, or community. I love the idea of having a Kindness Jar in the classroom filled with kind acts students can do right away.
ACTIVITY: On Monday morning, students can choose one kind act they will do that week. Post them on a bulletin board when they are complete or petals in a kindness garden bulletin board.
6. Stress Busters
Start the day with deep breaths explain how it can help relieve stress or overwhelm.
Cloud breaths are a variation of shape breathing. You may be familiar with magic 8 breathing or star breathing. Students trace the shape as they slowly breathe in and out. I like to use a cloud since you can associate it with a calming activity. You can also have students picture laying in the grass and staring up at the clouds while they slowly breathe in and out.
7. Playground Plan
Recess can be one of the most challenging times for students socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. There is a lot to negotiate and not a ton of structure. It is also a great opportunity to foster social-emotional skills.
As a class, create a playground plan that helps carryover relevant classroom rules and culture. For example, what is the plan for making sure everyone is included? How will we handle disagreements? How do you pick who goes first in a game? What do you do when you can't find anyone to play with?
8. Active Listening
Active listening is essential for school success and is also a key social skill. Define and model for students what active listening looks like.
- Stopping what you are doing and looking at the person that is talking.
- Looking at the person, nodding, or saying "hmm mmm" while the person is talking.
- Ask questions about what the person said.
ACTIVITY: Pair students up. Have them tell each other about their weekends. Students have an opportunity to ask questions and then they have to tell the class about their partner's weekend in a few sentences.
9. Personal Values
Personal values are what you think is important and what you believe in strongly. Everyone has a unique set of values. Your values are linked to how you behave and think. It can be helpful to have students explore their developing values.
ACTIVITY: Create a list of 20+ things people value like honesty, fairness, popularity. Have students:
- Circle 7 values that are important to you.
- Pick two of those as your top values and put a star next to them.
- Cross out a value that isn’t important to you at all.
- Reflect and share with your classmates.
Resource: Personal Values SEL Lesson
10. Decision Making
Decision making is something that doesn't really come naturally. Students make plenty of decisions, but are rarely doing so in a though out way. You can teach them a simple step by step process for making every day decisions.
First, what is the decision you have to make?
- What is important to you about this decision?
- How do you want things to work out?
- How do you want to feel?
- How do you want others to feel?
Next, brainstorm all the solutions or choices you could make.
- What are the positives and negatives of each choice?
- Which one feels best to you?
Last, make a choice.
- Choose the one that most closely matches what is important to you and will lead to the best outcome.
Give them simple, familiar problems such as things that happen at recess. Let them work through the decision making process step by step.
Social emotional learning is best implemented by being weaved into your day through simple activities and routines. What social emotional skills will be helpful for your students? What activities can you easily add into your day?
Resources In This Post
Teach kindness to students through quick, engaging activities.
SEL Worksheets Bundle
Bundle of 35 social emotional learning topics broken down into simple student worksheets.
Download the Getting Started with SEL Guide for my activities, strategies, and routines for the classroom.