This blog series focuses on social and emotional learning (SEL) and its benefits for helping students manage emotions and build healthy relationships. Each blog post provides ideas and strategies for implementing the five areas of SEL in a variety of grade levels. Read the previous post, here.

Consider a piece of hard candy and a stick of gum. The candy is unbending and rigid. It cracks or breaks under pressure. The gum is soft and flexible. It can bend and be stretched.

Now, think about yourself when things do not go your way or as you had planned. What is your reaction? How do you respond when rain cancels a field trip, when your computer crashes, or when your schedule is altered? Do you most often resemble the candy or the gum?

Using object lessons with actual props or visuals encourages discussion and critical thinking among students. These activities are effective for helping students explore social and emotional behaviors.

In blog posts, 1 and 2, we “unmasked” SEL and “uncovered” literature ideas. In this post, we will “unwrap” activities that support the five competencies of social and emotional learning for both younger and older students.

Understanding and Managing Emotions

Read A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

Have students compare the thoughts and feelings of the main character in a story to their personal thoughts and feelings. Instruct students to sketch self-portraits with patterns to depict how they feel at that moment (e.g., happy: smiley faces, nervous: squiggly lines). Compile the illustrations to form a class book entitled “All the Feels.”

Lead students in a discussion about the cause of stress for the main character in a story. Ask students to think about any stress “patterns” in their own lives (e.g., relationships, homework, future plans). Guide students to brainstorm and discuss ways to deal with these stresses (e.g., listen to music, write, have alone time, exercise). Encourage students to create a playlist, create a journal, choreograph an exercise routine, or develop another stress-reliever strategy for responding positively to their emotions.

Set Goals

Have students create vision boards. Guide students to draw illustrations or cut images from magazines that represent their goals. Ask students to place the illustrations/images on large sheets of paper and label them with words that describe their goals. Encourage students to display their boards in their homes as reminders of their hopes and dreams.

Direct students to list three areas in which they find success and one goal they plan to work toward (e.g., running a mile, learning to play an instrument, making an A in algebra). Guide students to think of ways they can use their strengths to achieve the identified goals. Have students develop measurable charts/tools to document the progress toward achieving their goals.

Show Empathy for Others

Read Someone Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli.

Lead students in a discussion about the different emotions Mr. Hatch experiences in the story. Record the emotions on individual sticky notes and place on a posted chart. Guide students to think about the events in the story that lead Mr. Hatch to feel as he does. Help students brainstorm ways to show others they care. Instruct students to think about people they encounter and how they will demonstrate acts of kindness to those who need encouragement.

After discussing the emotions experienced by Mr. Hatch, have students brainstorm actions that might invoke both positive and negative feelings (e.g., standing up to a bully, excluding people, inviting a person to be a part of a group/team, posting on social media). Direct students to reflect on their actions and behaviors toward others and discuss how showing kindness impacts their own feelings. Instruct students to research current events for examples of people who have shown empathy toward others and draft a social media post saluting them.

Establish Positive Relationships

Have students create life-size cutouts of themselves. Guide students to describe and label how they might use different parts of their bodies to be friends to others (e.g., mouths—encouraging words, brains—to help with homework).

Direct students to create and share “The PowerPoints of Friendship” by developing slide show presentations that provide tips for being a good friend.

Make Responsible Decisions

Display pictures of an elephant and an ant. Ask students to discuss which animals they would rather be by brainstorming the pros and cons of each. Have students determine and explain their choices. Encourage students to list pros and cons when making other decisions.

Have students use technology to create and present “movie trailers” titled One Tough Choice that answer the following questions: What is the most difficult decision you have had to make in your life? What made it a challenging decision? What factors did you use to make your decision? Do you still feel it was the best decision? Invite students to share their movie trailers and debrief their learnings.

As you “unmask,” “uncover,” and “unwrap” social and emotional learning in your classroom, expect to see unbelievable results in your students!