While the impact of the new federal education law ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) has yet to be realized, there’s one change that is welcome to educators. It is the shift in emphasis from the prescriptive testing and accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind to a broader definition of success, including recognition of the value of non-academic concepts and “whole child” issues.

ESSA recognizes social-emotional education as an important factor in helping students develop crucial life skills that go beyond academics. For an awesome infographic on the core competencies of social-emotional learning, click here.

Here are 21 simple ways you can support social-emotional learning for your students every day.

1. Start the day with a check-in.

Make it a goal to start each day with a personal connection. It doesn’t need to be a time-consuming or elaborate procedure. It could be as simple as giving a warm greeting to welcome each person as they arrive in the morning.



2. Use story time for teachable moments.

Read-alouds are the perfect tool for exploring social-emotional themes with your class. They’re not just for little kids either—there are tons of gorgeous picture books with complex themes and vocabulary that older kids will love too. Here’s a list to help start your social-emotional book library.

Storytime - 21 Ways to Integrate Social Emotional Learning

3. Work in partnerships.

Give kids lots of opportunities to work with partners. Working with a partner helps kids learn to cooperate and builds community in your classroom. Alternate between strategically assigning partnerships and allowing kids to make their own choices.

4. Teach them how to work in a group. 

Being able to work in a group setting is an important life skill. Students will learn how to negotiate with others, develop leadership skills and figure out their own strengths so they can best contribute to the group. Click here for tips to make group work more productive.

5. Nurture a culture of kindness.

At the beginning of the year, read Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, a story about the power of kind words. Then create your own bucket for the classroom. Get a small tin bucket from a craft store and cut 3-by-3-inch pieces out of card stock. Kids can write messages of kindness, appreciation and love on the cards throughout the week to fill up the bucket. At the end of each week, spend a few minutes sharing these notes of encouragement to end the week on a positive note.

6. Give them new words to say.

Here’s a free poster, “8 Phrases That Nurture Growth Mindset,” that gives students positive phrases they can use to foster their resilience and overcome failure. Hang a large copy on the wall, or give them their own smaller version for their journals or planners.

Words to Say - 21 Ways to Integrate Social Emotional Learning


7. Set up a Peace Place.

Create a special place in your classroom for kids to take a break when they are upset or angry or need to calm themselves. This space should have a peaceful atmosphere and might include comfy pillows to sit on, noise-canceling headphones, a fish tank, journaling materials, calming images and/or books about peace.

8. Teach your kids how to manage conflict with peer mediation. 

Peer mediation is a problem-solving process that helps students involved in a dispute meet in a private, safe and confidential setting to work out problems with the help of a student mediator. There are lots of programs out there—here’s one sample curriculum.

9. Use anchor charts to teach social-emotional skills.

You can create anchor charts with your class about many different topics, from “Owning Your Learning” to “What Does Respect Look Like?” and “Be a Problem-Solver.” Check out the WeAreTeachers Classroom Management Anchor Charts Pinterest board for many more ideas.

10. Practice lots of role-play.

Sometimes you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to truly understand a situation. Taking time to role-play tricky or troubling situations that show up in your classroom helps kids develop empathy and understand other people’s feelings. For example, it’s a great strategy to use when discussing bullying. Read The 10 Key Benefits of Role-Play for Children.

11. Allow for talk time.

Give kids a lot of opportunities—both structured and unstructured—to talk to one another during the course of the day. Bouncing ideas off of one another or figuring out problems with a little give-and-take will help your students build understanding and confidence. Here are 10 great techniques to try with your students. When your class is cracking up and getting wiggly, taking a five-minute chat break is a great way to hit the reset button.

Talk Often - 21 Ways to Integrate Social Emotional Learning


12. Play games to build community.

Cooperative-learning games can promote social and relationship skills. There are tons of resources out there for activities to play in your classroom. Here’s one we love: 10 Team-Building Games That Promote Critical Thinking.

13. Buddy up with an older or younger class.

Having a special connection with another class is a great way to build positive ongoing relationships in your school community. Kids are always amazed at how easy it is to find common ground with younger or older students. The big kids feel important and the little kids feel special. For how-tos, check out The Power of Buddy Classrooms: 19 Ideas.

14. Build community with teams.

Consider an alternative seating arrangement that allows kids to sit in teams. Let each team create an original name, motto and flag. This is a great way for students to feel a sense of belonging, and it encourages collaboration and cooperation. Change up teams every 6 to 12 weeks.

15. Teach them to monitor their own progress.

Make personal goal-setting (academic, emotional, social, etc.) a regular activity with your students. It will strengthen their intrapersonal skills and give them ownership of their own learning. Help them develop the habit of revisiting and adjusting their goals often to monitor progress. Am I meeting my goals? What do I need to work on next? How do I want to grow? For more on goal setting, click here.

16. Hold class meetings.

Check in frequently to celebrate what is working and address things that need tweaking within your classroom community. Empower all of your students with a voice and a vote to give them ownership of their environment.

17. Make space for reflective writing.

Give your student time to journal and free-write. Put on quiet music. Dim the lights. Make writing time a quiet, soothing break from busyness that your students will look forward to. For stubborn starters, you can provide a menu of optional prompts. For more information, read 6 Benefits of Journal Writing.

18. Encourage expression through art.

Sometimes students think and feel things that they can’t quite put into words. Art is a great tool to allow them to explore topics from a different perspective. Sketch your thoughts and feelings out as a prewriting activity. Create a painting as an interpretation of a piece of music or poetry.

19. Assign interview projects.

Have your students interview each other throughout the year about topics such as cultural background, family traditions or opinions about a current event. Conducting a formal interview is different than a casual conversation and teaches skills such as focused listening and conversational skills. In addition, learning about their classmates will broaden their perspective as they consider that everyone’s background and experience is not necessarily the same as their own.

Interviews - 21 Ways to Integrate Social Emotional Learning


20. Put ’em to work.

Classroom jobs teach responsibility and give kids ownership of their classroom. Pride in a job well done is a great confidence-builder. Here are 25 fun, easy job charts you can create for your classroom.

21. End each day with a checkout.

Circle up for just a few minutes at the end of each day to reflect on your day together. Check in with how your students are feeling, talk about what went well, read some notes from the kindness bucket and set some goals for tomorrow.  

What steps do you take to reinforce social-emotional skills throughout the day? Want more on Social-Emotional Learning? Check out the free webinars offered by Apperson.

21 Simple Ways to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning