Popular Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Activities in the Classroom

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Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has become a critical part of learning and instruction in schools. It is how we describe the ways in which students manage their emotions and make responsible decisions. Actively involving students in their own social and emotional development encourages them to practice good habits. There are many approaches to integrating SEL in the classroom and it can be even more effective when you use multiple strategies.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has become a critical part of learning and instruction in schools. It is how we describe the ways in which students manage their emotions and make responsible decisions. Actively involving students in their own social and emotional development encourages them to practice good habits. There are many approaches to integrating SEL in the classroom and it can be even more effective when you use multiple strategies.

Below are some engaging SEL activities teachers can use in their classrooms.

→ Check out our SEL Whitepaper

5 Popular SEL Activities for the classroom 

Mindfulness

Starting the morning with some quiet time for each student helps them to focus on the day ahead. Mindfulness encourages students to center themselves, focus their breathing and release any stress or agitation. This activity should be modeled by teachers to support students in getting comfortable with habit. Teachers should give explicit instructions and demonstrate any body postures like closed eyes or planted feet.

Acknowledge that the silence and stillness of the group can be a new experience but commit to continuing the practice. When engaging in mindfulness, give students techniques to help them focus, like deep breathing or closing their eyes. This a great way to lower stress and increase emotional control. Adding soothing sounds and music can also help to facilitate the experience.

Name the emotion

This activity gives each student time to think and share their emotions. This is a great morning activity because it gives the class and teacher important information about what each person is carrying into the classroom and sets the tone for how a student and their peers might respond throughout the day. For instance, if a student shares they are anxious or flustered, then this may flag for the teacher to find some time to check-in throughout the day.

An awesome addition to this is encouraging students to use different adjectives to describe their emotions. Have the students think beyond words like happy or sad, instead encourage them to use strong words like cheerful or melancholy. This is a way to increase vocabulary in the classroom that could spark discussion later in the day.

Apology, Applause, Awareness

Gather the students in a circle (sitting or standing) and close out the school day with group communication. During this activity, each student should share an apology, applaud someone or share a moment of reflection. Imagine a student saying; “I apologize for distracting the class during silent reading. I applaud my classmates for their great presentations. After today’s science lesson I am more aware of how recycling affects the environment.” This should spark a reaction from other students in the circle. As the teacher you can decide if everyone should share or if you are open to a more organic flow. This activity allows students to share not only personal reflections but also acknowledge others in their community.

Weekly powerful messages

Introduce a weekly mantra that relates to an experience or upcoming opportunity in your classroom. For example, if students have a test coming up, you can encourage the group by repeating; “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Throughout the week, create opportunities for students to reflect on the quote through quick writes or pair-shares. This is a great way for students to process their own reactions and share with others. If this is done consistently, students can begin to identify a message they might need individually. Give them the agency to identify song lyrics, quotes, or individual ideas that they feel are relevant to the class. This can be an exciting way for students to lead their class.

Arts and Crafts

Time to be creative and work in groups is critical to student development. Arts and crafts help them practice skills like patience and focus. Align crafts in your classroom to a specific unit and encourage students to use their knowledge from the lesson to create a masterpiece. For example, if you are doing a history unit, students can identify with a person or event and develop a collage that connects to that moment in history. This also encourages students to think critically and reflect on the content. Introduce new materials during each craft so students can learn to work with different resources.

To make it even more fun, add these activities to a spin wheel or have students participate in choosing the activity they will do each day.

As you are implementing these activities, be sure you are giving clear instructions and welcoming all students to engage, while keeping an organized classroom. Don’t be afraid of silence, especially if an activity calls for individuals to share. Give students time to think and respond to their thoughts and ideas. The first few times will be a learning experience for everyone, but keep working together. This develops a culture of high expectations that involves each person in the classroom. As you get to know your students, you will learn more about what activities they like and can continue to challenge them with new opportunities.