February 1st, 2024 by Angélique Toque

10 Social-Emotional Learning Activities to Engage Students

emotional activities to engage students

In a fast-paced and increasingly digitized world, teaching students how to manage their emotions correctly is one of the most important aspects of modern schooling. For educators, social-emotional learning activities are a great way of encouraging young people to share their feelings safely, develop positive relationships, and cope with changing environments. Today, the benefits of social-emotional learning (SEL) cannot be overstated, with many strategies being applied to children of all grades and years. 

In this article we discuss some of the top 10 best social-emotional learning activities for children and students. Read on to learn more! 

1. Check-in Sessions

A favorite of many teachers and an ideal morning activity, check-in sessions allow students to express themselves in a safe and supportive environment. Whether this SEL activity is done individually or as a group, a check-in gives you the chance to listen to what your pupils have to say and provide them with emotional validation. Sessions like these could be arranged around “show and tell” activities, “would you rather” discussions, or even be used as a way to take a “brain break” after a long day.

2. Daily Greetings

One of the simplest and easiest social-emotional learning activities is the personalized morning greeting. Let your students choose what greeting they prefer and encourage them to address each other by name as they arrive in class. Some examples of fun greetings include a wave, a handshake, a bow, a thumbs-up, a high-five, or even a fist-bump. This is also a great way to create an understanding of cultural differences in the classroom.

3. Journal Writing

Journaling is a tried and tested method of helping children (and adults) to express and manage complex emotions. Writing a mindfulness journal encourages self-reflection and gives young people the opportunity to refine their thoughts and feelings. To enhance this experience, you can provide prompts, such as:

• How are you feeling today?

• What person in your life makes you feel happy?

• What is your favorite hobby and why?

4. Gratitude Lists

This one is a favorite of many educators as it works well to foster a consistently positive and empowering environment (with both children and young people). Provide your students with a pen and paper and ask them to list all the things that they are grateful for on that day. Showing sincere appreciation and gratitude is an essential social skill that should be developed from a young age. This could also be combined with mindfulness journaling and other creative activities, such as writing thank-you notes to all the important people in each student’s life.

5. Drawing and Painting

Creative activities like drawing and painting are great ways for students to relieve stress, reflect on their feelings, and express themselves. Mindful coloring exercises are ideal for promoting individuality and creating a space for self-reflection. Collaborative art projects, such as murals and displays, are an easy way to create bonds between pupils and share creative ideas. 

6. Daily Affirmations

As an educator, you have the unique opportunity to influence how a student feels and thinks about themselves on a daily basis. Positive self-talk and daily affirmation sessions are an easy way of building self-confidence in the classroom. If you hear a young person addressing themselves with negative self-talk, you can correct them with a positive phrase. This social-emotional learning strategy is perfect as an end-of-day group activity before pupils go home.

7. Set Goals

Setting individual development goals is an excellent way of teaching self-management, self-motivation, and mental pacing. You can let your students set their own academic growth targets or you can set individual objectives for each of them. As you track their improvement, it’s important to show them what they’ve already accomplished and what exciting things they have yet to learn. Explain Everything’s sticky note functionality is a great way to keep track of all your students’ progressions and goals. 

8. Family Portraits

Asking your students to make “family portraits” can be a great way of helping them to recognize the diversity of cultures that exist outside of the classroom. There are a number of different worksheets that emphasize the various differences between families, such as questions about languages used at home, or favorite family holiday celebrations. This exercise is also an ideal way for pupils to get to know each other at the beginning of the year.

9. Debate

Hosting regular debates is the perfect way to teach students how to respectfully disagree with each other and confidently share their own points of view. Equally, it also teaches them how to support their opinions with relevant facts and accurate information. Debates are also great ways to express emotions and promote positive interpersonal relationships. The choice of topic is up to you, whether it’s something funny or something relatable, your students will get a lot out of the experience.

10. Random Acts of Kindness

This is a great way of promoting self-awareness, building empathy, and positive relationships between students in the classroom (and outside). Encourage your students to perform acts of random kindness, such as: 

• Donating to a local charity.

• Talking to a classmate who seems sad or lonely.

• Lending a friend a favorite book.

• Holding the door open for the person behind them.

• Giving someone a genuine compliment.

Social-emotional learning in the educational landscape

In conclusion, integrating social-emotional learning (SEL) activities into the modern educational landscape is crucial for nurturing well-rounded individuals in a rapidly evolving world. 

See how Explain Everything can help you incorporate SEL activities into your teaching and help educators provide engaging and effective learning experiences in any teaching scenario. 

Social Emotional Activities FAQs

What is social-emotional learning (SEL)?

Social-emotional learning is the process of learning self-awareness, interpersonal skills, and emotional management techniques that are important for navigating school, work, and life. It often involves activities that allow children and young people to better understand their thoughts and feelings, and deal with changing situations.

What is the meaning of social and emotional learning?

Social and emotional learning, often referred to as “SEL”, is the process of learning to be self-aware, mindful of one’s emotions, and able to manage one’s feelings in both favorable and unfavorable situations. Social and emotional learning is widely seen as vital to succeed in professional and personal contexts.