GuidesWebinarsCase studiesWhite PapersBlogOther Resources

20 SEL activities to support middle schoolers

Kimber PierichNovember 22, 2022

20 SEL activities to support middle schoolers

As a middle school teacher, you know that it’s important for your students to be practicing social-emotional learning (SEL) skills throughout the year. These SEL skills will help them socially, behaviorally, and academically, while also preparing them for high school. In this blog post, we’ll provide you with 20 different activities that you can use with your middle schoolers to support their SEL development. We hope that these activities help your students build strong relationships and manage their emotions effectively as part of your SEL programs for middle school! 

SEL program activity #1: Check-in journal

In this activity, your middle school students will reflect on their day and how they’re feeling. At the beginning of each class, give each student a couple of minutes to write in their journal. Then, have them share one thing that they wrote about with the class. This can be done as a whole group discussion or in small groups.

SEL program activity #2: “I am” self esteem builder

In this activity, students will write positive statements about themselves. Give each student a piece of paper and have them write, “I am” at the top. Then, have them finish the sentence with something positive about themselves. For example: “I am a good friend,” “I am a good listener,” or “I am a good problem solver.” Once they’ve finished writing their statements, have them share their papers with a partner.

SEL program activity #3 : “Think, say, do”

This activity will help students to think about how their words and actions affect others. Write the following prompt on the board: “I am upset because ______________.” Then, have students brainstorm different ways that they can respond to the situation. They can choose to “think” about the situation before they say or do anything, “say” something to the person who upset them, or “do” something to solve the problem. This activity can be done as a whole group discussion or in small groups.

SEL program activity #4: The paper challenge

This activity is a great way to get students up and moving while also practicing self-regulation. Divide the class into two teams and give each team a stack of paper. The object of the game is to see how long the team can keep the paper in the air without it touching the ground. If the paper touches the ground, that team is out. The last team standing wins!

SEL program activity #5: Different perspective scenario cards

In this activity, students will practice empathy by looking at situations from different perspectives. You will need a deck of cards with different scenarios written on them. For example: “You are the new kid in school and no one is talking to you,” or “Your best friend just got a new phone and you don’t have one.” To play, deal out all of the cards so that each student has one. Then, have students take turns reading their scenario aloud and responding from the perspective of the different people involved.

SEL program activity #6: Circle of emotions

In this activity, students will identify and label different emotions. Draw a large circle on a piece of paper and write the word “emotions” in the middle. Then, have students brainstorm different emotions and write them around the circle. Once all of the emotions have been written down, have students choose one emotion and stand next to it. Then, have them share with the group why they chose that emotion. This activity can be done as a whole group discussion or in small groups.

SEL program activity #7: The listening game

This activity will help students practice active listening. To play, you will need a deck of cards with different topics written on them. For example: “What is your favorite animal?” or “What was the best day of your life?” Deal out all of the cards so that each student has one. Then, have students take turns asking their question to the person next to them and listening closely to the answer. The person who is answering should feel like they are being heard and understood. This activity can be done as a whole group discussion or in small groups.

SEL program activity #8: The feelings jar

This activity is a great way to help students to identify and label their emotions. You will need a jar and some pieces of paper. On each piece of paper, write down a different word related to feelings. Some examples are: “happy,” “sad,” “angry,” “frustrated,” or “stressed.” Put all of the pieces of paper in the jar and have students take turns picking one out and sharing how they’re feeling. This activity can be done as a whole group discussion or in small groups.

SEL program activity #9: Goal setting

In this activity, students will learn about goal setting and how to set effective goals. Ask your students to think of a goal that they’ve set for themselves. What was the goal? Why did they choose that goal? How did they go about achieving it? After they’ve had a chance to think about their own experience, have them share with a partner. Discuss different ways they could’ve set the goal and how that might’ve changed the outcome. Help them to understand that it’s important to set realistic and achievable goals in order to be successful.

SEL program activity #10: Growth mindset

In this activity, students will learn about growth mindset and how it can impact their lives. Ask your students to think of a time when they faced a challenge. How did they feel in that moment? What did they do? Did they give up or keep going? Why do you think they made the choice?

SEL program activity #11: Self-advocacy

In this activity, students will learn how to advocate for themselves. Ask your students to think of a time when they needed help from someone else. How did they feel in that moment? What did they do? Did they ask for help or try to do it on their own? After they’ve had a chance to think about their own experience, have them share with a partner. Discuss different ways that they could’ve handled the situation and how that might’ve changed the outcome. Help them understand that it’s important to advocate for oneself in order to get what you need.

SEL program activity #12: Strengthening friendship skills

Help your students build strong friendships with this activity. In pairs, have students share things about themselves that they don’t usually share with others. After they’ve had a chance to share, have them discuss what it felt like to open up to their partner. What did they learn about their partner? How did it feel to share something personal? How can they use what they learned about their partner to strengthen their friendship?

SEL program activity #13: Managing emotions

In this activity, students will explore different emotions and how to manage them effectively. Ask your students to think of a time when they felt a strong emotion (anger, sadness, fear, etc.). What were they thinking in that moment? What did they do in response to the emotion? How did that make them feel? After they’ve had a chance to think about their own experience, have them share with a partner. Discuss different ways that they could’ve responded to the situation and how that might’ve changed the way they felt. Help them understand that it’s okay to feel all emotions, but it’s important to learn how to manage them in a healthy way.

SEL program activity #14: Coping with stress

In this activity, students will identify different sources of stress in their lives and brainstorm healthy coping mechanisms. Ask your students to think of a time when they felt stressed. What was happening in that moment? What were they thinking and feeling? What did they do to cope with the stress? After they’ve had a chance to think about their own experience, have them share with a partner. Discuss different ways that they could’ve coped with the stress and how that might’ve changed the way they felt. Help them to understand that it’s important to have a variety of healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress.

SEL program activity #15: Building resilience

In this activity, students will learn about resilience and how to build it in their own lives. Ask your students to think of a time when they faced a challenge. How did they feel in that moment? What did they do to face the challenge? Did they give up or keep going? Why do you think they made the choice that they did? After they’ve had a chance to think about their own experience, have them share with a partner. Discuss different ways that they could’ve faced the challenge and how that might’ve changed the outcome. Help them to understand that it’s important to be resilient in the face of challenges.

SEL program activity #16: Accepting differences

In this activity, students will learn about accepting differences and why it’s important. Ask your students to think of a time when they were around someone who was different from them. How did they feel in that moment? What did they do? Did they interact with the person or keep their distance? After they’ve had a chance to think about their own experience, have them share with a partner. Discuss different ways that they could’ve handled the situation and how that might’ve changed the way they felt. Help them to understand that it’s important to accept differences in order to build strong relationships.

SEL program activity #17: Conflict resolution

In this activity, students will learn about conflict resolution and how to handle conflicts effectively. Ask your students to think of a time when they were in a conflict with someone. What was happening in that moment? What were they thinking and feeling? What did they do to resolve the conflict? After they’ve had a chance to think about their own experience, have them share with a partner. Discuss different ways that they could’ve handled the situation and how that might’ve changed the outcome. Help them to understand that it’s important to resolve conflicts in a healthy way.

SEL program activity #18: The gratitude game 

In this activity, students will practice gratitude by thinking of things that they are thankful for. To play, you will need a deck of cards with different prompts written on them. For example: ” something you are grateful for in your life,” “someone who has made a difference in your life,” or “a time when you were proud of yourself.” Deal out all of the cards so that each student has one. Then, have students take turns sharing their answer to the prompt with the group. This activity can be done as a whole group discussion or in small groups.

SEL program activity #19: Complimenting circles 

This activity will help students practice giving and receiving compliments. To play, you’ll need a deck of cards with different compliments written on them. For example: “You’re a great friend,” “You’re funny,” or “You have a great smile.” Deal out all of the cards so that each student has one. Then, have students take turns giving their compliment to the person next to them. The person who receives the compliment should say “thank you” and then give a compliment to the person next to them. This activity can be done as a whole group discussion or in small groups.

SEL program activity #20: Team building 

This activity will help students to practice working together as a team. To play, you’ll need a deck of cards with different tasks written on them. For example: “Build a tower out of plastic cups,” “Create a human chain to get from one side of the room to the other,” or “Make as many paper airplanes as you can in two minutes.” Deal out all of the cards so that each student has one. Then, have students work together in teams to complete the task on their card. This activity can be done as a whole group or in small groups.

Photo credit: Google Education

Better middle school PBIS begins with better implementations

Download your free PBIS implementation guide to access best practices and an implementation checklist to build a better program in your middle school.

Download the guide now

Social Emotional Learning

Better middle school PBIS begins with better implementations

Download your free PBIS implementation guide to access best practices and an implementation checklist to build a better program in your middle school.

Download the guide now