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5 Easy Ways to Incorporate Social-Emotional Learning at Your School

Social-emotional learning is more important now than ever. Right before the world shut down in March 2020, I noticed a serious shift in my students' mental health. At the start of class, I'd hear anxious conversations between students about sickness, fears of older relatives with compromised immune systems, and tense opposing views about the state of our country.

These are heavy concepts for any person, let alone our youth. It was in these moments, that I realized it was a necessity to prioritize opportunities for social-emotional and mental health improvement. Figuring out how to incorporate these opportunities, though, felt tricky. These were touchy subjects, and I wanted to make sure all students felt validated. Through trial and error, I honed in on the most effective ways to incorporate social-emotional and mental health learning in the school environment, and am here to share these tips for you to utilize in your own classrooms.

Before we dive in, if you’re interested in learning more about our kindness school assembly program, click here. We combine live music, storytelling, and social-emotional learning activities to teach students how to start a “chain reaction.” Keep reading to learn other ways to incorporate social-emotional learning at your school.

What is social-emotional learning?

What a great question! We hear this phrase tossed around all the time, but what does it actually mean? Social-emotional learning (or SEL) is the process of developing the skills needed to cope with everyday problems, connect with those around us, and understand ourselves better. Social-emotional learning skills strengthen self-awareness and build empathy. The same way we teach math and science, we can teach fundamental life skills through this type of learning.

How Does Social-Emotional Learning Help Students?

I can go on and on about the ways in which social-emotional learning helps students. Some benefits include increased mood, more empathy, stronger problem-solving skills, heightened self-awareness, and a toolbox of coping mechanisms. One of the most interesting benefits of this type of learning is its impact on academic achievement. The bottom line: when we feel better about ourselves and our relationships, we perform better. Are you ready to learn how you can make social-emotional learning a part of your school? Read on!

Our Social-Emotional Learning Tips

Tip#1: Implement Activities for Social-Emotional Learning

Providing students with opportunities to tune in to their mental and emotional health has shown to be incredibly beneficial to their overall success. Social-emotional learning activities can be as simple as occasional brain breaks or time away from their desks to dance, sing, and shake out the jitters! SEL programs in schools can be implemented school-wide in the form of a mental health assembly, or be applied through more concise classroom activities, including written tasks, reading of infographics, or times for speaking and listening shares, such as turn-and-talks (sample products listed below):

Tip#2: Incorporate Weekly Check-Ins

Weekly check-ins are some of the quickest ways to gauge where your students are mentally and emotionally. Dedicating even 10 seconds of your classroom instruction time to a brief social-emotional workshop can be all it takes for students to feel seen. Some check-in ideas include:

  • Thumbs Up, Thumbs Side, Thumbs Down: At the start of class, ask your students to hold up their thumb either facing up, to the side, or down, based on their mood that day. If you’re noticing patterns in students’ responses, use this information to adjust your SEL focus accordingly.

  • Post-it Note Warm Up: Provide students with a list of emotion words and ask them to choose the word that captures how they feel that day. Allow students the option to explain their word choice as well. This will be a helpful indicator when gathering information about your students’ mental health needs.

  • Scale of 1-10: Provide students with a half-sheet of paper that lists out the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 consecutively. Ask learners to circle where they feel are on the happiness scale and allow them to elaborate below.

Tip #3: Be Music-Minded

Ever go to see some nearby live music? Ever feel like it completely alters your mood? Me too! Music is magic for kids and can completely change the mood in a room. Try playing some relaxing music during writing time or throw a YouTube fireplace on for dramatic effect. We also offer a music mental health graphic organizer to utilize in your classroom (see below). There is a distinct connection between our favorite song lyrics and our ability to cope with life’s challenges. Drawing this important connection is another useful mental health strategy students can add to their wellness toolbox.

Tip #4: Begin “Mindfulness Mondays”

What does it mean to be mindful? Mindfulness is an awareness of our own thoughts, the ability to live in the present moment, and the tools to cope with the ever-changing world around us. Boy, do I wish I learned mindfulness as a kid, and I think it is more important now than ever to incorporate it regularly. In order to stay consistent, I have incorporated “Mindfulness Mondays” into my classroom. Every week, for about 5-10 minutes, we practice mindfulness. Not only is this part of the day a crowd favorite, but quite frankly, maybe the most important thing we do all day. also has some wonderful resources. Some mindfulness activities include:

  • Box Breathing : Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4, hold for 4, repeat

  • 5,4,3,2,1: Identify 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Pay attention to each one for a few seconds. This grounding technique is simple, effective, and can be done anywhere

  • Popping out of our thoughts: One of the most effective mindfulness and meditation practices is increasing our awareness of negative or unhelpful thoughts. I call this “popping out of our thoughts.” Teach kids to 1. Notice the thought 2. Accept the thought 3. Shift it to a positive or more helpful thought.

Tip #5 Book An SEL School Assembly

Assemblies for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools are wonderful ways to provide SEL for students. There is just something magical about a school assembly: everyone gathered together, excitement in the air, and a creative way to teach and talk about important topics. When I was you

nger, I attended a school assembly about Rachel Scott, a victim of Columbine. The messaging was so poignant that my seventh-grade self went home that day and wrote a song about it. The concept of the assembly centered on the importance of spreading kindness. Years later, my sister and I created our own SEL program filled with live music, social-emotional learning, and storytelling. Chain Reaction was born and it was through a chain reaction (seeing a school assembly, creating our own social-emotional workshop, and hopefully inspiring students), that we were able to continue our mission of spreading kindness and positivity not just to others, but also to ourselves. And that’s what SEL is ultimately all about: strengthening our self-awareness and interpersonal communication skills. is a useful site that delves deeper into defining SEL in classrooms.

Click here to learn more about our “Chain Reaction”

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