If there’s anything the past year in education has made painfully obvious, it is the urgency of social-emotional education for our students. Kids need support and instruction to manage successfully in school (whether that’s in person or online) and in life. Skills like recognizing and managing emotions, being a good friend, controlling impulses, communicating effectively, and working with others are invaluable. Here are 26 simple ways you can integrate social-emotional learning activities in your classroom every day.
1. Start the day with a check-in.
Source: Jim Borgman
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 or asking a question, even if you are teaching virtually.
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 are 50 must-have picture books to teach social-emotional skills.
3. Do lots of partner activities.
Source: 2B’s Black and White Super Stars
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 kids 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. Look for a trusted SEL curriculum.
It helps to be systematic when it comes to teaching social-emotional skills, and a research-backed curriculum can help you cover the skills your students need the most. Many SEL curriculums are designed to teach topics such as communication, teamwork, and self-regulation in just a few minutes a day, and in combination with the academic subjects you’re already teaching. Check out the options available from our friends at HMH as one example.
6. Nurture a culture of kindness.
Source: Miss Education
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. Here are 21 bucket-filler ideas. And here are more social-emotional learning activities.
7. Practice lots of role-playing.
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. Print these free character role-playing cards.
8. Build their social-emotional vocabulary.
Here’s a free poster that shows 8 phrases that nurture growth mindset. It 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.
9. 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 reluctant starters, you can provide a menu of optional prompts. Here are 50 Creative Writing Prompts for Third Graders. Independent writing is an ideal activity for hybrid learning.
10. Set up a calm-down corner.
Source: Jillian Starr Teaching
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.
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. This can work for in-person or online learning.
12. Teach 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 example.
13. Teach students 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? Download this free goal-setting kit.
14. Use anchor charts to teach social-emotional skills.
Source: One Less Headache
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.
15. 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.
16. Play games to build community.
Cooperative-learning games can promote social and relationship skills. There are tons of SEL resources out there including activities to play in your classroom. Here are 28 awesome team-building games and activities.
17. Cultivate friendship.
Friendship comes easy for some kids; others may need a little coaching to be a good friend. There are lots of ways to cultivate friendship in the classroom, but one of our favorite methods is with videos. Here are 12 of our favorite videos for teaching kids about friendship.
18. Buddy up with an older or younger class.
Source: The Bright School
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.
19. Help students manage feelings and emotions.
Creating a caring classroom environment requires a little coaching. One way to start is to teach students to recognize feelings and emotions and learn to manage their moods. This ready-to-use unit has five engaging lessons to get you started.
20. Teach mindfulness.
This chaotic year has created a lot of stress and anxiety for our kids. Practicing mindfulness is one activity that may alleviate anxious feelings and help kids further develop their social-emotional awareness. Here are 15 books to teach kids about mindfulness.
21. Hold regular class meetings.
Make sure all of your students feel heard. 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.
22. Encourage expression through art.
Source: The Imagination Box
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.
23. Foster deeper connections.
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 are not necessarily the same as their own.
24. Teach them to work toward a common goal.
Source: Teaching Excellence
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.
25. Teach your kids about Zones of Regulation.
Sometimes big feelings are hard to manage. Here are 15 activities that help kids recognize powerful emotions and learn strategies for dealing with them.
26. End each day intentionally.
The end of the school day can get pretty hectic. End each day intentionally by coming together for just a few minutes 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 is your current go-to for teaching social-emotional skills? Share in the comments below.
Plus, don’t miss these free social-emotional learning activities and lesson plans from our friends at HMH.