10 Activities to Promote Social-Emotional Learning

Classrooms Team

Nov 17, 2020
social emotional learning

As a teacher, you probably spend considerable time teaching the fabled “Three Rs.” With an increased emphasis on standardized testing, you might not have much choice. 

However, learning encompasses more than addition, subtraction, and mapping sentences. It includes how to regulate your responses to events and get along with others. Here’s why social-emotional learning is so vital and ten tips for sharing it in your class while still covering the subject matter. 

What Is Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-emotional learning encompasses five principal areas:

  • Self-awareness: Students gain awareness of their values and goals. 
  • Self-management: This facet includes the skills and attitudes students need for regulating their emotions and behaviors.
  • Social awareness: This factor involves empathy and understanding of other points of view. 
  • Relationship skills: Students learn how to develop and maintain healthy relationships. 
  • Responsible decision making: Finally, learners must make constructive decisions that weigh factors like personal ethics codes and acceptable behavioral norms. 

While it may sound like this learning remains the province of parents and religious groups, it’s vital to academic success. Social-emotional learning improves achievement by an average of 11 percentage points — a considerable number for districts to consider in making curriculum decisions. 

10 Activities for Promoting Social-Emotional Learning

Now that you understand how critical social-emotional learning is, the following ten activities allow you to integrate it into your lesson planning. The activities below can work in both traditional and virtual classrooms. 

1. Introduce Your Partner

On your first day of class, introduce this activity as an ice-breaker. Divide students into pairs — you can use breakout rooms in a Zoom meeting. Have them share three facts about themselves. When you reconvene the group, have students introduce their partner to the class. 

2. Seed Keepers 

What are heirloom seeds? Your students will learn the definition and how Native Americans transitioned from nomadic societies to agricultural ones. You also introduce cultural awareness with science and social studies. 

3. Charades

You can use this classic game to review the subject matter by having students act out concepts. You can also teach them emotional awareness by having them act out various feelings while their classmates identify them. 

4. Quote of the Day 

It’s wise to start each lesson with active participation, particularly in the virtual environment. You rally enthusiasm and get students excited about something other than a lecture. One activity you can use is posting a quote of the day on the whiteboard or in your Zoom classroom. Pair students to discuss their responses before sharing with the group.

5. Journaling

Psychologists often use journaling to help their patients identify and work through their feelings. You can do the same and integrate emotional awareness into your lesson plans. 

For example, say you’re reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Your students probably spent some time “hiding” in their homes during the quarantine. Have them write about how they felt during isolation. 

6. Poem From a New Perspective

Haikus are fun because anyone can write them. Their short, three-line nature appeals even to math enthusiasts. 

Have students write a short haiku from the perspective of another person. You can use this activity to combat bullying — they can write from the target’s point of view. 

7. Problem-Solving Flashcards

How will your students react and behave if they thought they scored well on a test only to receive a low grade? You can let them work through the scenario with problem-solving flashcards. Create a custom deck with problems like, “What should you do if you forget your final project on the due date,” and let them journal or discuss their responses in groups. 

8. Watch PBS Exploring Feelings 

The wonders of technology mean you no longer need to roll a clunky AV cart into class — you can share video clips directly from your computer.

PBS is an outstanding resource, and this short video on exploring feelings can raise emotional awareness in your students. At only four minutes and 44 seconds, it won’t cut into your “three-R’s” instructional time much, and the payoff in improved classroom behavior makes it pay off.

9. Rephrase Negative Thoughts  

Part of self-management entails stopping negative thought spirals and looking at problems as challenges, not defeat. Have your students identify ways they can rephrase ideas like, “I can’t do it” into, “I need a bit more practice before I feel comfortable.” 

10. Teach Sensory Grounding 

Responsible decision-making requires students to stay calm and centered — not let thoughts of what might happen paralyze them. Teach them the following 5-point grounding technique that focuses them in the present through sensory awareness:

  • Name five things you can see
  • Name four things you can touch
  • Name three things you can hear
  • Name two things you can smell
  • Name one thing you can taste

This practice helps them regain a sense of balance when adversity throws them for a loop. From there, they can approach the problem with a rational mindset. 

Promote Social-Emotional Learning in Your Classroom With These Activities 

Social-emotional learning can increase academic performance in your classroom while improving behavior. Use the ten techniques above to share these skills with your students. 

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