Teaching high school students how to recognize and regulate their own emotions and those of others is an important first step on the path to successful adulthood. These social-emotional learning activities below are both stand-alone (actively take away from class time) and can be folded into classroom norms and behaviors (can be added to things that you already do in class). The SEL skills below will help students build positive relationships and make responsible decisions about their present and future.
1) It starts with YOU
Goal: Self Assessment as an Educator and SEL facilitator that both enables you to practice SEL in your own life and become comfortable with its implementation.
If you find talking about your feelings uncomfortable, then you probably aren’t the right person to elicit these responses in your students. This is not a judgement of your character, it is simply using an SEL Pillar (self awareness) to act responsibly with others (another SEL Pillar). Before embarking on a year filled with SEL activities with your students, first practice the 5 pillars of SEL on yourself, and make sure that you can explore these things with comfort and ease. It’s ok if SEL is not for you right now!
2) Leave Space for Decompression
Goal: Take the first or last 3 minutes of class for students to engage in a self-reflective activity
In high school, class time is limited, and pressure to teach to the test or increase graduation rates is high. However, social emotional learning does not have to take away from these things. Give your students time to decompress by allowing them a silent activity for the first or last 3 minutes of class. This can be anything from reading to putting their head down on the desk - as long as it is solo and silent.
3) Create A Classroom Constitution -
Goal: Develop a list of helpful and harmful classroom behaviors with your students that they all create and agree to adhere to throughout the year.
Create a pact for self awareness and self management in which students achieve positive goals, feel and show the needs of their peers, and build trust in each other. Items in the constitution should be realistic, measurable, specific, and come with agreed consequences for when an agreement is broken. Shared agreements should be posted somewhere visible to everyone in the classroom and will promote responsible decision making and self accountability. Your students will set and achieve emotional responses on a more consistent basis.
4) Change your class perspective
Goal: Rearrange your class so that each student makes eye contact with each other.
If you have the space in your classroom, experiment with different forms of seating. Sitting everyone in a round circle, including the teacher, gives a level of equity to each member of the class.Students will always be able to see each other, making eye contact and acknowledgement easier. Get creative! Feel free to change the seating throughout the school year and see what works for your students and your class.
5) Students Respond to Conflict:
Goal: Students will develop responsible decision making and build relationships by understanding their triggers and responses leading to enhanced conflict resolution skills.
Students write down 3 situations where they have gotten angry or upset. It could be a situation with a family member, friend, or a stranger. Students will try their best to write objectively, detailing what happened in sequential order. Then students will look for patterns in these situations, trying to find their triggers. Is it the person that sets them off? Is it a particular situation? What is the difference between a reaction and a response? Encourage students to think critically about these questions.
6) Suggestion Box
Goal: Increase student voice by giving them a space to express their needs from both the teacher and their classmates.
A Suggestion box is a totally anonymous way to give feedback in class. Students can complain about a lesson, suggest more time for homework explanation, or just vent about what’s going on with them. There should be little censorship on suggestions, as they are only for the teacher to read. Show the students you are paying attention by applying some of their suggestions to your class environment. Address inappropriate comments as needed- this is another opportunity for social emotional learning.
7) - Help your students become experts in their own brains:
Goal: Students will learn how their brains make connections in order to take control over their own development.
In order to help students develop a growth mindset, they first need to understand how the human brain learns and grows. Start with some physical activities that take mental stimulation (easy: rubbing belly and patting head simultaneously, medium: thumb and pinky switch, hard: saying the alphabet backwards) Explain to students (using visual aids) that each time they learn a new task, especially a difficult task, their brains literally grow and make connections in other parts of the brain. The brain is like a muscle - it gets stronger each time you use it - it also needs to be stretched (like a muscle before a soccer game) before you use it for something big.
8) Through the eyes of a character:
Goal: Integrate academic social and emotional skills by practicing perspective taking with fictional and historical characters.
Great for an English or Social Studies class. Pick several characters from the book that the students are reading in class or “characters” that are present in the history lesson. Have students choose which person they would like to “see through their eyes”. Students will write a brief paragraph telling the side of the story from their chosen character’s perspective. Students can either share out in large or small groups.
9) Entrance / Exit tickets
Goal: Students develop a regular practice of exploring their current feelings and become more aware of how they enter and exit a space.
You can gauge how your students are showing up to class or leaving by giving them an attendance/exit SEL question. Try to ask a question that cannot be answered with a single word; instead ask questions like: 'what will you be doing after school today?’ or ‘how can you relate (today’s assignment) to your life at home?’. Teaching students this quick method of self reflection will allow them to close out the day feeling seen, heard, and whole.
10) Your outcomes depend on your commitment:
Goal: Make sure you have adequate time and energy to commit to SEL in the classroom
Here’s the thing about SEL - it takes TIME. Before implementing any of the following strategies - ask yourself “do I have the time in my class to commit to SEL?” If the answer is “No” , don’t worry, you’re not a bad person. In fact- kudos for being realistic with yourself and your abilities. Social - Emotional Learning is a delicate practice that relies on interpersonal trust and the creation of a “safe space” - and if students are engaging in a vulnerable activity that is cut short, feelings of rejection and aversion are apt to develop, making it harder to re-engage in SEL activities at a later time. This realization, in and of itself, is an SEL practice.
Click Here to learn more about our Social Emotional Learning Curriculum.
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