7 Activities for Social Emotional Learning in the Classroom
Social-emotional skills are essential for success in school, work, and life. They help people manage their emotions, make good choices, solve problems and resolve conflicts, form healthy relationships, feel empathy, achieve goals, and more. In this post, I’ll share some helpful classroom activities for social emotional learning!
What Are Social-Emotional Skills?
According to CASEL, the organization that coined the term “social emotional learning,” social-emotional skills fall into five key competence areas:
- Social awareness
- Relationship skills
- Responsible decision-making
These skills teach children to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Children learn to develop positive relationships with themselves and with others. Social-emotional skills build a foundation for happiness, health, and success in life.
7 Activities for Social Emotional Learning to Try in Your Classroom
These activities for social and emotional learning are great for your students’ well-being and success. But they’re also great for your classroom as a whole!
Your students will treat each other with more empathy and solve conflicts more respectfully. And when children know how to manage their emotions, it’s easier for them to focus and learn. You’ll also find that as students learn to handle their own feelings and interpersonal conflicts, your teaching time increases.
1. Write in Journals
Journal writing creates an opportunity for introspection and reflection. It increases self-awareness. For some, it’s also a self-regulation strategy.
You can ask students to free write about their day or something that’s on their minds, or you can provide prompts. Students can write about what they’re good at, what they want to learn more about, what they’re grateful for, how they manage feelings like sadness and anger, ways they like to help others, etc.
It’s also helpful if you write back, even if it’s only a sentence or two! This boosts connection and trust in your classroom, creating an environment where children want to cooperate and learn.
2. Honor Kind Acts
Talk to children about what being kind and helpful means. What does kindness look like? What does it feel like? Do you feel good when someone is kind to you? Do you feel good when you’re kind to others? Make a list of kind acts, then narrow it down to kindnesses you can share in a classroom.
Then, find a way to honor kindness and helpfulness in your classroom community. For example, students can add a marble to a jar when they witness or experience an act of kindness. Other options include adding leaves to a tree, flowers to a garden, sprinkles to a donut, Post-It notes to a bulletin board, etc.
The point is not to reward individual students for being kind, but to collectively honor classroom kindness. This activity trains students’ brains to seek the positive, and it both celebrates and promotes kind deeds.
3. Identify Feelings
Identifying emotions is a key step in the self-regulation process. Only when an emotion is brought to a child’s awareness can the child successfully regulate it. Being able to identify the emotions of others is also essential to practicing empathy.
Post labeled pictures of faces displaying various emotions around your classroom. Have children look in a mirror and act out emotions like sad, angry, happy, and confused. When you watch movies or read books, ask children to label the emotions the characters are experiencing.
4. Teach Self-Regulation Strategies
Once your students are comfortable identifying their emotions, they’re ready to regulate them. Teaching self-regulation is one of the most important activities for social emotional learning! Start by explaining that all emotions are normal and acceptable. What really matters is how we manage our emotions when they come to visit. Below is a list of helpful ideas but if you want something already completed for you then check out my self-care corner for self-regulation.
Then, discuss different strategies for managing emotions. Practice strategies like:
- Deep breathing
- Visualization techniques (e.g., visualize a place where you feel safe and relaxed; visualize people chattering outside your window then calmly shutting the window to quiet anxiety, etc.)
- Grounding technique (Notice five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste)
- Playing with a “fidget” like a stress ball
- Writing in a journal
- Hugging a stuffed animal
- Drawing a picture
Tell students that different strategies work for different people, and they should find which strategies work best for them. Later, ask students to choose an emotion they sometimes struggle with, like “Angry,” “Scared,” “Worried,” or, “Sad.”
Have each student make a book called “When I Feel [Emotion selected by the student].” The beginning of the book will describe what it feels like to be scared, sad, angry, or any emotion the child has selected. It should also list situations that trigger the emotion.
Then, include a page that says, “But when I feel [emotion], I know a few different ways to feel better.” The rest of the book will focus on strategies the child can use to calm the emotion when it comes to visit.
5. Practice Conflict Resolution
Teach students specific language for managing conflicts. For instance, coach them to assertively tell others, “I don’t like it when you ____________. Please ____________ instead.” This could include a child saying, “I don’t like it when you push me. Please say ‘Excuse me’ instead,” or, “I don’t like it when you snatch my toy. Please ask for a turn instead.” Practice this language in the context of actual classroom conflict, and when watching movies or reading stories. Ask the class how they would solve the fictional conflicts that arise.
You can also teach conflict resolution in class meetings. Use class meetings as an opportunity to discuss problems the class is having, such as struggling to share or frequently talking out of turn.
Then brainstorm solutions together. Frame the problem as a positive, such as asking, “What will help us remember to raise our hands?” instead of, “How can we stop talking when it’s not our turn?” This cues students to brainstorm helpful solutions instead of punishments. Finally, ask, “How will we know if this solution has worked?” and check-in at the next class meeting.
6. Make Commitments
Setting and achieving goals is another social-emotional skill students can practice in class. At the beginning of class, have students write down a commitment for the day or week. If you teach younger children, you may provide a list of commitments for students to choose from.
At the end of the day or week, revisit the commitments. Ask students to write either, “I did it!” or, “I will try again next week.” If they “did it,” what helped them keep their commitment successfully? If they plan to try again, what will they do differently next time?
7. Give Classroom Jobs
Classroom jobs increase student’s sense of belonging and responsibility. When children have classroom jobs, they feel that they are making a meaningful contribution to the class running smoothly. It also increases ownership, which promotes cooperation.
Assign jobs for every student. If you run out of ideas, ask students to brainstorm a few of their own. You can choose to keep jobs the same, or you can rotate them. If you rotate jobs, have students make a book about how to do their job, then pass it on to the next student who takes on the task.
Final Thoughts: Activities for Social Emotional Learning
These are just a few of the many activities for social emotional learning you can use in your classroom. SEL activities can include anything that increases connection and belonging, teaches kids to manage big feelings, and promotes responsible and caring behavior. Making even the smallest investment in these activities will lead to major pay-offs for you and your students!