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Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom

Social-emotional learning in the classroom (SEL) has risen in popularity in recent years, becoming a staple of many classrooms. With research, including social-emotional learning articles, showing a strong link between social-emotional learning curriculum and academic achievement, it’s no wonder why.

SEL is also shown to help students make healthier life choices and demonstrate positive behavior. The skills SEL teaches—self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills—help children develop their empathy, therefore reducing bullying and drop-out rates.

Let’s take a look at social-emotional learning and what it looks like in the classroom.

Social-Emotional Learning for Kids

It’s important that social-emotional learning in the classroom begins early. Starting the social-emotional curriculum early allows kids to gain these critical skills early on. This is why numerous SEL organizations focus on engaging activities and curricula geared towards young children - social emotional learning for kids helps develop not only their skills in academics, but their interpersonal skills as well. Essentially, the importance of social-emotional learning for all students across all grades cannot be overstated.

SEL is most often described with five core competencies in mind: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. When kids are young, the methods for teaching these skills are pretty basic. Children might fill out an “All About Me” worksheet to learn how to express what they feel, or they might learn different words to express emotion. They might play games like “Would you rather?” to learn to listen to people who have different opinions.

Early-childhood educators will even tie SEL into storytime by reading books about interesting, relatable characters. Studies have long shown a link between reading and increased empathy, so it’s no surprise the savvy educator will take advantage of this benefit. 

Kids will also learn basic anger- and anxiety-management exercises. This is the first and very important step to teaching kids healthy ways of managing their emotions. This alongside basic conflict resolution and problem solving skills will help them in all facets of their life.

Examples of Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom

Social-emotional learning doesn’t stop in elementary school, however. In fact, effective SEL should continue through high school. Here are some social-emotional learning examples for different age groups.

Social-Emotional Learning: Elementary School

While younger elementary students might use some activities we cited above, older elementary students might find them a little reductive or boring. As kids get older, you can begin to incorporate SEL into other subjects.

For example, you might make reading assignments based on how characters are feeling. A good option for social emotional learning activities 5th grade would be to ask students questions like, “If you were in this situation, would you do the same thing? Why or why not?” alongside questions like, “Why do you think this character acted the way they did?” These questions will help them develop empathy and encourage them to put themselves in the characters’ shoes. Social emotional learning activities for elementary students help them to develop their sense of empathy right alongside their critical thinking skills. 

Teachers can also create small group discussions about these reading assignments or what history subject they’re learning about. These will not only teach empathy, but they’ll also help students learn how to articulate their thoughts and feelings about a particular subject.

Social-Emotional Learning: Middle School

When children reach middle-school age, they’re beginning to understand these subjects on a deeper level. As such, SEL activities should evolve in complexity. Again, you can tie this into other subjects.

It might help to look at some social emotional learning examples. For instance, students could write letters as a creative writing assignment. The teacher might tell them to imagine a friend or family member going through a rough time, or they might substitute a real person for a likable character from a book or short story. Then the teacher could ask them to read the letter where they switch the other person’s name for their own. Alternatively, the teacher could tell them to write a reply to themselves as if they were the other person.

Teachers might also incorporate goal-making strategies into a history lesson. They could discuss a historical figure with a great impact on society—like Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, or Queen Elizabeth I—and point out their accomplishments in the face of adversity. Encourage students to research setbacks they experienced or disadvantages they had and how they overcame them. Then ask students to come up with a goal or simple plan they could’ve used to overcome those obstacles.

If these don’t appeal to you, there’s always the option available to take a look at some free social emotional learning worksheets or a social-emotional learning in the classroom book. 

Social-Emotional Learning: High School

Again, SEL concepts should become more complex as children grow older. In high school, children are approaching adulthood. While lacking experience and maturity, most high school students can understand complex subjects and have intelligent discussions like any adult. In high school, you might be able to more explicitly discuss SEL subjects with high schoolers.

For example, you might discuss why developing empathy is important or how reasonable people can sort out differences through calm discussion. You can outright tell high schoolers why they should be in touch with their own emotions and understand healthy modes of self-expression.

You can still, however, implement SEL through fun activities and lessons also. For example, you might have students discuss different communities they’re a part of (e.g. school, city, county, state, culture, et cetera), and what their responsibilities within that community are. 

You might also discuss characters in a more in-depth manner. Ask students (as individuals or in groups) to figure out a specific characters’ motivations and/or morals, then discuss them as a class. This will help students understand how different people might have different perspectives, and allow them to express abstract concepts in more concrete terms.

Social-Emotional Learning Activities at Home

Social-emotional learning activities at home are just as important as they are at school. If you’re a parent looking for social-emotional learning activities your child can complete at home or virtually, there’s free worksheets, PDFs, and books you can find online. As a parent, you can also help your child with SEL through various activities. With so much school occurring online as it is, you might even consider social emotional learning activities virtual.

For instance, you can use daily schedules and to-do lists to teach your child self-management skills. Encourage your child to help with this schedule by picking some fun activities they’d like to do tomorrow or next week.

You can also encourage your child to keep a journal about their feelings. Set aside some time each day for your child to work on their journal. Tell them they can write about their feelings, draw something that happened recently, or even just doodle to help calm their emotions.

Remember, however, the most important way you can help your child with SEL is to demonstrate its skills yourself.

Social-Emotional Learning for Adults

If you didn’t experience SEL yourself, however, you might have a hard time with this. Don’t get discouraged! It’s never too late to learn social-emotional skills. Whether you’re a parent trying to do right by your child, or a teacher trying to teach social-emotional skills, there are numerous ways you can engage in SEL yourself with social-emotional learning activities for adults.

You may think it’s too late to hone this skill if you’re past school-age, but you would be wrong. Social-emotional learning for adults is not only possible, it’s encouraged. 

As adults, however, we’re gifted with the ability to discuss the abstract concepts of SEL and think logically about how to apply them to our everyday lives. For example, you can learn to identify your own emotions and tie them to physical responses in the body. If you know anxiety causes a fluttery feeling and an accelerated heart rate, or that stress gives you a headache, you can point those out to yourself and get familiar with their signs.

Once you’re more familiar with your emotions and when they arise, you can get curious. If you find yourself feeling anxious before beginning a certain lesson, ask yourself why. When did these feelings start? What about the lesson makes you anxious? Once you begin analyzing these feelings, you can take steps to alleviate them.

SEL Activities for Staff Meetings

If you’re a department head or an administrator, you’ll find some benefit to infusing SEL into the workplace by encouraging SEL activities for staff meetings. This won’t just help your staff feel better, it will also give you some valuable insight into your team. 

There’s simple activities you can do in a physical and virtual environment. For example, you can begin each meeting by asking your team members to use one word to describe how they’re feeling or how their day is going. This will not only help people articulate their own emotions, but it’ll also help others notice how everyone else is feeling. It’ll also help you approach the meeting in a different light if everyone’s feeling off. And you don’t even have to be together in-person for this to be possible, the great thing is that SEL activities for virtual staff meetings are very possible. 

If you’re looking for something a bit more complex, however, you can try sorting everyone into groups of two or three. If you’re meeting virtually, you can sort people into breakout rooms. Give everyone five minutes to talk to their partner(s) and make a connection. Afterwards, have each person share something they admire about their teammate(s). This can be something as simple as their smile or a skill they possess, or it can be a quality like their optimism or work ethic.


Social-emotional learning is key to developing a healthy lifestyle in and out of the classroom. Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or an administrator, knowing how to teach social-emotional skills is key to helping your students excel. 

Whether you follow a specific curriculum or incorporate these skills into your other lessons, there’s numerous ways to teach SEL. Six In Schools is happy to help your students learn social-emotional skills and self-expression.

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