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Quick ways to incorporate social emotional learning into everyday learning

Brita SherrenApril 6, 2022

Teacher talking with students in a classroom

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is one of the many topics that educators have been asked to integrate into their curricula and squeeze into an already overflowing schedule. It’s perhaps more important than ever to teach students how to manage emotions and navigate social situations, but this is easier said than done when considering how busy the average teacher can be. Here are some quick, low-prep ways that teachers can implement  meaningful social emotional learning in school while integrating it seamlessly into daily life in the classroom.

1. Make entering the room a mindful moment

Dedicate one lesson to talking with your students about social awareness, and in particular, the social and emotional challenges we all carry with us throughout the day. Have them think about and write down some of the concerns and stresses they’re carrying around with them. Then, have them exit the room and leave what they’ve written in a box or envelope outside the door, which will remain there all year. Encourage your students to leave their worries at the door and step into the room without them. They can mentally pick them up on the way out if they choose, but the important part is to leave burdens at the door. For the rest of the year, the container outside the door will be a reminder to take a breath and enter the room mindfully each day, ready to learn.

2. Build emotional vocabulary in reading, writing, and health classes

This academic social and emotional exercise is perfect for language and health-related classes. For example, identifying  vocabulary that is more descriptive than “mad, glad, and sad” can be a teaching point when students learn descriptive writing skills. It can be useful to introduce emotional vocabulary when talking about characters’ actions and reactions during guided reading or read-aloud. They can even create lists of synonyms and near-synonyms for their feelings. In health classes, students can practice identifying different feelings in pictures or on classmates’ faces during a “feelings charades” game. Being able to recognize and name feelings in oneself and others is the first step towards being able to address those  feelings.  

3. 5-minute check-ins  

Check-ins are a tool for teachers to get to know their students better and gain insight into their challenges, strengths, and needs. You can do this by  going around the room at the start of the day on a Monday and inviting students to share something they are looking forward to in the day or the week, an idea that is weighing on their mind, or what they are feeling more generally. You can also ask students what their high and low points were at the end of the day. Check-ins can also be an opportunity to stop and “take the temperature” of the room, allowing students to step back and recognize how they are feeling. At moments like this, you can have students talk to each other about what’s working for them and what’s not, or discuss with the class what’s going well and what adjustments can be made. Take all of these opportunities to use emotional vocabulary that you are developing at other times of the day.

4. Stop-and-breathe signal 

Some teachers use a tool like a small gong, a set of chimes, or a rainstick to get students’ attention. You can take this to the next level by asking students to close their eyes and focus on their breath until they can no longer hear the rainstick, chimes, gong, or other auditory signal you use. You might be surprised at how the tone of the room changes after just a minute or two, as it allows students a moment to pause and refocus. 

5. Celebrations

We all need positive feedback to help us build a sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem. When handing back work or providing feedback, taking a moment to celebrate something a student has done well can mean a lot, not to mention go a long way towards supporting students’ mental health. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to bring out the marching band and have a parade, but words of praise or even small displays of recognition can go a long way. Dance it out, high-five, or leave a trophy on the corner of a desk to make that student’s day and let them know they’re doing well.

6. Be emotionally honest 

Nobody’s perfect, and teachers are no exception. Odds are, at some point, you’ll have a bad day and speak more sharply than you mean to or respond to a question in a way that you wish you could take back. When it happens, step back from the situation in the same way you would want your students to – recognize that your action or reaction wasn’t what it should have been and apologize to the students. Take a breath when you’re on edge, modeling the behavior for your students, and let them know that you feel frustration, anger, and sadness, just like they do. They’re watching how you handle these experiences, and they know when you’re not in the best mood, even if you may try to hide it. Make these moments teachable by being emotionally honest with your students and modeling appropriate ways to express yourself. 

Every interaction in the classroom is an opportunity to model and teach strong social-emotional and relationship skills. Riding the ups and downs of learning with your students and being transparent about how you’re feeling at the right times can create important teachable moments. Recognizing students’ emotional needs and taking a few minutes at a time to help them appropriately regulate and express their feelings can make a world of difference in helping them develop stronger SEL skills. 

Photo Credit: Google Education

Your toolkit for a successful year

FREE SEL TEMPLATES to lighten your workload and effectively manage your classroom

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Classroom Management - Social Emotional Learning

Your toolkit for a successful year

FREE SEL TEMPLATES to lighten your workload and effectively manage your classroom

Download now