How do you incorporate social emotional learning into your classroom? It doesn't need to be a specific block in your schedule or a boxed curriculum or when the school counselors comes in for 30 minutes. You can teach many SEL skills by weaving them into the activities you already use.
To increase the impact of any SEL activity, use a simple 3-step structure:
- Set the purpose
- Do the activity
- Reflect on the activity
For example, if I was introducing deep breathing to students. I would tell them why deep breathing is helpful, show them how to do it and practice, and then ask them to reflect on how the deep breathing made them feel or when they could use it.
Let's dig into 10 SEL activities and strategies you can start using this week.
Looking for more? Download the Getting Started with SEL guide for more info and tips.
1. Goal Setting
Teaching students to set goals is a skill they will carry with them throughout their whole lives. You can teach them to set goals step by step.
- Brainstorm possible goals
- Choose a goal
- Create a SMART goal
- Break goal down into manageable chunks
- Reflect on progress
Goal setting is perfect for the beginning of the year, after breaks, or with new units. They are perfect for counselors starting counseling as well.
2. Daily Intentions
Setting intentions is a great way to be more mindful and in control. It can help students be more thoughtful about their actions and feel more responsible.
To complete this activity, have students start off their week or day with six simple reflection prompts.
- My focus today is …
- I want to do more …
- I want to do less …
- I want to feel …
- To feel this way, I will …
- If I get stuck, I’ll remember …
Here is an example:
- My focus today is to keep trying when work is hard.
- I want to do more positive self talk.
- I want to do less getting down on myself.
- I want to feel proud of myself.
- To feel this way, I will remind myself that I need to keep trying when work is hard.
- If I get stuck, I’ll remember last week when I stuck with the hard math problem and figured it out.
3. Advice Columnist
This is your classroom version of a Dear Abby Column where students give each other advice. When giving advice to someone else, we learn to problem solve, take someone else’s perspective, and listen to others.
To start this activity, set the purpose. We are going to spend some time giving advice to others dealing with a problem. We will listen to others, take their perspective, and think through how to problem solve
Students read a letter from a peer asking for advice with a problem they are having. Consider the following questions and reply to their peer.
- What makes the situation tough?
- How does each person involved feel?
- What are some possible ways to solve the problem?
- What are the possible positive and negative consequences for each way?
- What choice would you make and why?
At the end, reflect by asking what did you learn from this situation that you can take to help you in your own life?
For this activity, try:
- completing as a group. You can have a simple worksheet for students to fill out and then discuss as a group.
- using created scenarios while students are still learning the skill.
- having an advice box in your room where students can submit a problem once students are familiar with the process.
4. Closing Circles
You probably have heard of or use Morning Meeting in your classroom. It sets the tone for the day, helps form community, and provides a time for your students to interact.
If you are comfortable with morning meetings, try adding in closing circles. You can do it at the end of each day or maybe at the end of the week. For the last 10 minutes, students form a circle and wrap up the day. It's a great time to celebrate accomplishments, reflect on how the day or an activity went, and preview upcoming events.
Read alouds are likely already a part of your daily or weekly schedule. They are also a great opportunity to weave in social emotional learning into the classroom.
In almost all children's books, there are social emotional themes such a big feelings, interpersonal conflicts, or tough decisions.
During read alouds, add in questions that focus on social emotional skills.
- Consider how characters feel.
- Look for strategies the characters use or brainstorm strategies they could use.
- Help a character solve a problem using a step by step problem solving process.
- Talk about what a character values and how it is effecting their decision making.
- Brainstorm the characteristics that makes someone a good friend.
- Analyze what a character is doing that bothers others.
6. Deep Breathing
One of the best calming strategies you can teach students is deep breathing. It is a strategy they can do anywhere and with no equipment.
Try using some deep breathing exercises after a busy transition, like returning from recess or lunch.
7. Positive Self Talk
Introduce positive self-talk when students are starting a challenging activity. Just as you would preview reading comprehension strategies, preview some positive self-talk students can use when they are frustrated.
For example, students could create a positive self-talk phrase like "I can try my best. It's okay if it's not perfect."
8. Mindful Minute
Mindfulness is being aware of yourself and your environment in the present moment. Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in improving emotion regulation, anxiety, anger, stress, and attention when used regularly. It can be taught to young students through adults.
Try a mindful minute each day. When introducing mindfulness to students, make sure they are in a calm state the first time. Emphasize to them that during mindful minutes we let thoughts come and go without judgement. During mindfulness, they want to let thoughts pass and bring focus back to their breath or their heartbeat.
Studies have shown that yoga helps decrease symptoms of anxiety and impulsivity, improves self-esteem and classroom behavior. Yoga is perfect for the classroom at any level or setting. There are lots of yoga poses that can be done seated or standing behind a desk. No mats required.
Tips to get started:
- Make it fun and engaging. Students can play Follow the Leader, with each student matching a student's pose.
- Use yoga sequences. This helps build confidence with the poses and allows students to implement it independently.
- Integrate with social emotional learning. Yoga is a way to become more aware and better regulated.
- Start small. Use a few poses that you feel comfortable with. It's okay if you aren't an expert.
Sometimes the best strategy to help manage big feelings is some good old-fashion distraction. Teach students to use things like doodling to take their mind off a negative situation.
Get a piece of paper and a writing implement. Remind students that they aren’t trying to draw anything in particular and it doesn’t matter what their doodle looks like. They can throw it in the garbage right after if they want to.
Increase the impact by reflecting aftwards.How do you feel after the doodling? When might it be helpful to doodle?
- Put some time boundaries around the doodling.
- Remind them it’s a strategy to settle down.
- Try using it as a brain break after recess or other high energy activity.
- Use writing implements without erasers to keep the focus just on the doodling and not the finished product.
SEL doesn't need to be some thing extra, but rather something that fits into the natural flow of your day. What activities or strategies will you try this week to bring social emotional learning into the classroom?
- Goal Setting
- Daily Intentions
- Advice Columnist
- Closing Circles
- Children's Books
- Deep Breathing
- Positive Self Talk
- Mindful Minute
Yoga Cards, Poses, and Flows
This set of yoga poses and flows gives detailed instructions and illustrated examples for you and your students. They make perfect brain breaks and teach self-regulation.
Self Regulation and SEL Classroom Tools
This bundle includes an interactive calm down corner, brain breaks, yoga cards, feelings posters, and behavior reflection sheets.