Elementary students doing art projects.

10 activities to integrate SEL in your classroom

Here are several ways to help students develop social-emotional learning skills

Students are at their best in environments that focus on respecting and educating them as whole people. Research shows that students whose social emotional learning (SEL) needs are prioritized and consistently met do better long term in not only academics but in overall personal and professional growth and success.

If you find yourself wondering what that means for teachers or how you can integrate SEL activities into your curriculum and classroom, these 10 activities are a great place to start.

10 low-tech ways to bring SEL into your classroom

1. Games

Gamified learning activities help build and strengthen cognitive abilities such as memory, decision-making, and logic, but they can also be viewed as fun activities to promote SEL in the classroom. Playing games in your classroom encourages students to interact with peers to achieve an objective, either collectively or competitively. Make your own question-and-answer games with students working individually or in pairs or groups to answer questions about lessons or play Pictionary or Charades and have students draw or act out elements from the curriculum.

2. THINK-ing about our words

One of my favorite acronyms for teaching the responsibility of our words is T.H.I.N.K. It promotes kindness in the classroom by considering if the words we speak to others are:

  • True
  • Helpful
  • Inspiring
  • Necessary
  • Kind

In addition to teaching students to be kind to others, it is important to teach them to be kind to themselves. Introduce positive alternatives to common negative phrases students use when speaking about themselves and repeat them often. Correct and model these phrases for students: “Instead of ‘I’m not good at this’ we say, ‘Learning takes time.’” Post the phrases around the classroom and encourage students to review them when discouraged about their learning.

3. Partner and group work

Group/partner projects are important to encourage communication, emotional awareness, teamwork, and accountability. Working with a partner or in small groups encourages mindfulness in students of their own emotions and communication, especially when feedback is given correctly, as Elena Ontiveros points out in this blog post: “When feedback is conducted in groups, it’s easier to demonstrate what students can learn from one another, and talk through the reasons certain suggestions are made.” Partner projects also create opportunities for students to observe and gain an understanding of how other people work and communicate differently and develop empathy and respect for others.

4. Roleplay

Roleplaying activities can teach compassion and perspective. By acting out scenes from the viewpoint of someone else, students are pushed to view scenarios from a perspective outside their own and use critical-thinking, decision-making, and even conflict-resolution skills. Activities where students are encouraged to act out scenarios involving being both the bully and being bullied help students learn cause and effect as well as empathy. You may even ask your students to roleplay as you to see how they view your teaching practices!

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