Kids and young adults need social-emotional skills to be successful at school, home, and for the rest of their lives. These are the skills that help kids build confidence, understand their own strengths and weaknesses, collaborate with others, navigate social situations, develop strong relationships, and make better decisions. Without a doubt, these are critical skills for all learners.
In my years as a teacher, I know there is just not enough time for everything. So often, social and emotional learning gets put on the back burner to other important skills like reading, writing, math, history, and science. While these skills are certainly important, I would argue that it’s even more important that kids develop their emotional intelligence through social emotional learning activities. Simply put, if kids are mentally and emotionally healthy, they are better equipped to face the challenges life brings. We just have to make the time to teach, discuss, and practice these skills! Best of all, there are many ways to integrate social-emotional learning into what you are already teaching.
Below I share 25 strategies for integrating SEL instruction and activities into the day. Of course, if you’re looking for a solution that targets these skills more explicitly, I created a yearlong curriculum for elementary social emotional learning and middle school social emotional learning to help all kids learn these skills.
Here are 25 ways to integrate social emotional learning into your classroom:
1. Use Journal Writing. You can use daily journal prompts to help kids think about social-emotional skills in all areas. For example, you might ask kids, “When was a time you used self-control? What was outcome?” to focus on self-management skills. After writing, it’s helpful to have students share their responses with a partner and with the class as a whole. Kids will be practicing writing, partner work, group discussion, and SEL skills all at the same time. I love this yearlong Social Emotional Learning Journal for just a few minutes of writing and discussion every day.
2. Teach Perspective-Taking with Read Alouds. This is one of my favorite strategies for integrating SEL into everyday learning because it is something educators do so often already. While reading, spend time talking about how some of the characters might think and feel. Use this time to highlight that this is perspective-taking, a skill we use to understand others’ emotions and thoughts. Best of all, it can be done with any text you are already reading.
3. Incorporate Art Activities. Art can be a powerful way to target social and emotional skills. Creating a self-collage can help kids develop better self-awareness about who they are. Painting and drawing can serve as positive coping strategies to manage stress. Having partners work together on a shared drawing can increase collaboration and relationship skills. There are lots of opportunities for learning with art!
4. Hold Class Meetings. You can choose to hold a class meeting once a day as a “morning meeting” or just once a week. The purpose of a class meeting can be to boost each other up, to help solve problems, and plan class events together. Having this space for community can help promote a positive climate for all kids.
5. Talk About Managing Emotions. No matter what age, all kids and young adults need practice managing their emotions. This is another skill that can be weaved into literature as you talk about character’s feelings and needs. You might say, “How did Theresa feel when her mom left? How did she manage her emotions? Do you think it was a healthy way to manage them?” Additionally, be open with kids about how to manage their own emotions and give strategies for what kids can do in your classroom. For example, “If you are feeling nervous about the test today, remember to use positive self-talk. Tell yourself that you’ve got this!”
6. Give Responsibilities. Giving kids responsibilities and jobs helps build their sense of self-worth and gives the message that we are all part of a larger community. It’s important that every student has some type of responsibility, whether it is a class librarian, lunch counter, or part of a “clean up crew”.
7. Practice Problem-Solving Skills. If students have an issue or challenge to overcome, avoid solving it for them right away. Encourage kids to think about how they could solve their problem and have a 10 minute policy – students can get your help but they need to think about the problem for at least 10 minutes first. Often, kids will figure out a solution on their own or with a friend during that time. You can use these free social problem solving task cards or grab the full set to get started! Again, this is another skill that can be strengthened through literature by discussing characters, problems, and making predictions about solutions.
8. Build Community with Teamwork. For class projects and assignments, have students work in larger teams to complete a task. Teach students to assign different jobs when working in a team, so that all students have important responsibilities.
9. Encourage Positive Self-Talk. Self-talk is voice in our minds that reassures and encourages us. It also helps us control our emotions so we can deal with problems appropriately. Today, kids hear a lot of negative, so teaching positive self-talk explicitly is really important. Model this and encourage this every day. Use this free positive thoughts and affirmations list to get started.
10. Celebrate Diversity. Spend time discussing and learning about people from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and ability levels. Kids need to hear, see, discuss, and understand that we are part of a larger community within our countries and world. Early discussions about diversity can help promote tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion for everyone.
11. Incorporate Hands-on Crafts. If your students need a craft break or activity before a holiday, use that time to promote social and emotional skills. The craft below is a Positive Self-Talk Flower Craft. Kids can add their own positive self-talk statements, color the craft, cut it out, and then keep it to help remind them how to use this helpful strategy. This is just one small example that can help to maximize your learning time by incorporating SEL into activities like crafts.
12. Encourage Reflection. After students complete a task, assessment, project, or assignment, encourage them to reflect about their own progress. This is a critical SEL skill that can be used across all curriculum, such as math, reading, writing, science, history, and more.
13. Practice Mindfulness. Using mindfulness in the classroom can help teach kids how to calm down before a big test, manage their emotions when they are upset, and just feel happier in the moment. Sometimes, kids don’t really know how to calm down on their own. Teaching mindfulness can help kids learn breathing strategies, how to focus on just one thing at a time, and relaxing our bodies. You can use these Mindfulness Activities to teach kids these strategies right away.
14. Create a Calm Down Area. Not all kids will use this area, but there are some students who truly need it. Set up a small area in your classroom with a bean bag, a few books, a calm down jar, a few fidgets, and anything else you have that is calming. Students who need this space can sit, use coping strategies, and return back to class when they are calm again.
15. Promote a Growth Mindset. Embracing a growth mindset helps kids and young adults learn that we can accomplish our goals with hard work, good strategies, and persistence over time. Sometimes kids feel they are just as smart as they’ll ever be (i.e. “I’m just never good at math, so there’s no use in trying). This mindset can be detrimental to student growth, so it is worth investing time into teaching kids to embrace a growth mindset and instead say, “Math is tough but I’m going to study, work hard, and ask for help so I can accomplish what I want to.” Use these free Growth Mindset Task Cards to get yourself started!
16. Encourage Kindness. One of my favorite ways to promote kindness is encouraging random acts of kindness. Set up a bin where students can write and add a note when they notice someone else doing something kind or helpful. Once a month, draw from the bin to award a small reward. You can also post the random acts up on a bulletin board so that everyone can see.
17. Play Games. It’s helpful to have an assortment of games that focus on social-emotional skills, such as communication, empathy, and problem-solving. Read up more on how you can integrate social emotional learning through games. You can also read my blog post about games you can use to strengthen executive functioning skills, such as self-control, planning, attention, and more.
18. Provide a Daily Check-in. You can do this either through a morning meeting, or just a quick check-in for specific students in need. Have students identify how they are feeling and consider what they might need to improve their emotions in the moment.
19. Discuss Empathy. To me, empathy is one of the most critical skills for kids to develop. It is the foundation for considering about how others think and feel so that we can respond in socially appropriate and compassionate ways. You can practice empathy on its own or through literature by discussing characters and how they might feel in a variety of situations. I also love these social skills task cards to practice the skills when time allows.
20. Create SMART Goals. SMART goals are another way to help kids have control over what they want to accomplish in life. You can have students write SMART goals for an academic area that they need to improve or a social area that needs work. Make sure to check-in on these goals periodically so that students can identify if their strategies are working or not, and make decisions about how to change their approaches to make their goals a success.
21. Teach Coping Skills to Manage Stress. All kids and young adults experience stress even when we don’t see it. It is so important to teach them actual strategies they can use when they are feeling overwhelmed. It’s critical that kids practice these strategies when they are actually calm and don’t need them. That’s so they can effectively use those skills in the moment when they are struggling with emotions. I love this Coping Strategies Wheel to teach and practice some of these skills in a hands-on way.
22. Highlight Skills Throughout the Day. Just teaching or addressing some of these social-emotional skills isn’t enough. When you see them in action in the classroom, highlight and encourage the skill! For example, you might say privately to a student, “I noticed you were frustrated when you couldn’t work with the group you wanted and you did a great job using your self-control and flexibility to go with the flow and choose another group. Thank you.” You can highlight the skills to the whole class, too. You might say, “Before this test, I want everyone to just stop and use some positive self-talk. Give yourself a compliment.”
23. Teach Active Listening Skills. All kids need to learn strong active listening skills for success at school, with friends, and at their future jobs. Kids will use them in your classroom when you are teaching, when they are working with a partner on an assignment, and when they are just chatting with a friend.
24. Teach Group Ground Rules. Group work is an important part of learning in the classroom, but it is not a strength for all learners. Have your kids develop “Group Ground Rules” for what is important when working in a group. Some examples might be: Do your fair share of the work, stay with the group, and give everyone a chance to speak up. Continually remind students of these rules when working in groups or partners.
25. Practice Respectfully Disagreeing. People are going to disagree sometimes, so learning how to disagree respectfully is a critical skill (especially in our digital world). Have students discuss and debate topics, making sure that they actively listen to the other person and respect that opinion even when they don’t agree. You can use these Free Communication Skills Lessons to practice!
Remember that a social-emotional learning isn’t just one thing. It’s an approach that brings all of these aspects into your classroom and supporting your learners every day. I also have developed a yearlong curriculum for elementary social emotional learning and middle school social emotional learning to help all kids learn these skills. Kids deserve to have them!
These are just some ways you can incorporate social-emotional learning into your already-busy classroom. If you have more ideas about SEL, please share!