Social and emotional learning carries a powerful boost of success. Children who benefit from SEL instruction are not only better equipped to manage stress and obstacles as an adult, they also have increased academic and relationship outcomes (Durlak et al., 2011). Social and emotional learning can help create adults who are able to cope with stress in life and have empathy for others. CASEL’s Ready to Lead Report states that including SEL instruction increases student achievement scores by 11 percent.
With the mounting evidence citing support for social and emotional instruction, the question remains: How do teachers fit it into an already packed schedule?
Five Domains of Social and Emotional Learning
Incorporating SEL into subject-area lessons is a simple way to weave social and emotional learning into the busy school week. Merge the five domains of social and emotional learning into writing, reading, math, social studies, and science lessons to stay on track during the school year.
- Social awareness
- Responsible decision making
- Relationship skills
Download these free SEL printables from Evan-Moor’s Social and Emotional Learning book! These creative and cross curricular SEL activities keep children practicing important skills all year long.
Discover more social and emotional learning activities below.
Helping children learn to identify their emotions is the first step to helping them manage them. Building self-awareness can be as simple as checking in with students throughout the school day. Check-ins can be quick or can take more time.
Morning greeting: Greet students as they come in the classroom and ask them how they are feeling. This simple act of acknowledging and allowing children to express their emotions is the first step in helping them learn to manage them. It can also provide insight into specific behaviors children may exhibit throughout the school day.
Morning meeting: Create a short morning meeting for the first 15 minutes of the school day to check in with students and provide them with an opportunity to share how they are feeling and choose a goal they have for the week. Morning meetings are a wonderful opportunity to foster empathy and relationships between students. Allowing an open door for expressing anxiety and stress can help students realize they are not alone in their fears and can also foster empathy for classmates who may be dealing with serious issues at home.
Journal write: Ask students to respond to reflective writing prompts in their journals. Prompts could include:
What is your greatest talent?
Write down five things that define who you are. Write them in “I am_____ ” statements.
Write about a time you did something you were afraid to try. How did you feel afterward?
Write about a person you admire. What qualities do you have in common with this person?
What do you do when you see a classmate struggling with something?
Helping children manage their emotions throughout the school day can be daunting. Teaching them positive habits and strategies for managing stress can help students learn important life skills.
Take five deep breaths: Include breathing breaks throughout the week to demonstrate simple and easy calming techniques. A wise teacher once told me that showing your students how to manage conflict and stress will carry more weight than simply telling them how to. Before raising your voice in the classroom, take a minute to breathe deeply and then address the class. Your students will notice a difference.
Yoga stretches: Incorporating a few yoga stretches after a long period of desk sitting provides students with a moment to clear their mind. It can be as simple as reaching for the sky and touching toes. These physical movements are a great addition to help children understand the connection between their bodies and their minds.
Create a calm corner: Create a quite space in your classroom where students can go when they feel angry, anxious, or stressed.
Teach students to have empathy for others by consistently asking them to take a walk in a different pair of shoes.
Read-aloud reflections: After reading a story, ask students to think about how they would react when confronted with obstacles that a character has faced. Helping children practice walking in someone else’s shoes is great practice for developing lifelong empathy for others.
Student sharing: Provide opportunities for students to share their emotions in class. The more students know about each other, the easier it is for them to understand actions and emotions that arise during the school year. One year my daughter came home from school very upset. She had learned during a class sharing that a girl she disliked had a very difficult home life. This simple insight into this student’s struggles helped my daughter develop empathy for this young girl and ultimately led to a lovely friendship.
Responsible Decision Making
Provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice positive decision-making in your classroom. Here are some ways to help your students become thoughtful and engaged decision-makers.
Play the Would You Rather game: Have students decide between two different scenarios and support their decision with relevant facts.
Brainstorm decisions: Practice responsible decision-making as a class by working out important decisions together through this model. You can decide on real issues or create make-believe scenarios.
Think about choices
Consider the consequences of each choice (pros and cons)
Make a decision
Review the decision
Example: Kasey overheard her friends saying hurtful things about her friend Joel. What should she do? What advice would you give her?
Building positive relationships within the classroom sets the tone for quality relationship interactions throughout the school year. Provide students with the tools to manage their friendships by modeling correct speech and providing opportunities for students to practice.
Positive speech poster: Provide visual examples of correct peer speech in your classroom.
For example: Instead of saying “Move out of my way,” say “Excuse me.”
Group work: Include plenty of opportunities for students to work in partners and groups and practice collaborative speech and decision making.
Bucket fillers: Create individual student buckets (can be construction paper pockets too) and provide opportunities throughout the week for students to write compliments and encouraging notes to place in other students’ buckets. This is a great activity for primary grades and helps children learn to “build up” their peers rather than criticize them.
Cooperative learning games: Include fun games and activities that require students to work together and that also encourage having fun in the process. (It is even better when you pair up students and provide opportunities for children to work with different personalities.)
Picture Talk is a fun game to play in the primary grades. The teacher begins to tell a story based on the picture he or she is holding. Then each student gets a chance to continue the story using the picture for inspiration.
About the Author
Heather Foudy is a certified elementary teacher with over 7 years’ experience as an educator and volunteer in the classroom. She enjoys creating lessons that are meaningful and creative for students. She is currently working for Evan-Moor’s marketing and communications team and enjoys building learning opportunities that are both meaningful and creative for students and teachers alike.
Fifteen Ways to Incorporate SEL into Your Busy School Day: Free SEL Printables