How many times have you heard how important it is to teach social emotional learning to your students? If you had a marble to throw in a jar every time you, that jar would likely be overflowing. Even though we know social emotional learning is super crucial to teaching, sometimes we may think students should just know these things naturally. We expect them to know how to navigate their emotions and social interactions in appropriate ways just because “they should know better”. But think about how we explicitly teach and model academics. Do we do the same thing for social skills too?
Whether you are looking for some easy ideas to get started teaching SEL topics in your classroom or you’re searching for more engaging tips for supporting your students, this post has got you covered! We’re going to talk about 5 must teach topics that are super important in helping your students thrive in the classroom, and ultimately in life.
#1 – Kindness
Kindness is a core value in the classroom that needs to be explicitly taught and modeled for students. So how do we do that? One of my favorite ways is by teaching students what it means to be a good friend. Kids want their friends to be kind so this is a great way to relate the content to them. There are several easy and engaging ways to teach this value to students, such as completing a good friend sort, taking a pledge to be kind, and role playing situations that may occur in the classroom.
I also love using literature to help teach this topic to students. Check out some of my favorite read-alouds below!
That last book is one we always use. Have you tried bucket filling in your classroom? Not only is it a great visual for students, but it is also a simple way to help spread kindness! And speaking of spreading that love all over, Random Acts of Kindness is another awesome, free tool for lessons and activities.
You can wrap up all your great learning with THIS kindness activity! After reading Kindness is Cooler Mrs. Ruler, give the students the same assignment that Mrs. Ruler gives out! It’s a fun way to engage students in kindness activities at home. Each student gets 5 hearts on Friday afternoon and as they bring them back in, have them share their acts of kindness and create an anchor chart. They LOVE showing off and it spreads more kindness!
#2 – Expressing Emotions
Expressing yourself is a super important skill when it comes to your social and emotional well-being and we’re not born knowing how to do it in an effective and respectful way. Our students come from various backgrounds, which means they’ll display various ways to communicate. Some may not ever have been taught how to express themselves, others may be discouraged to do so, and a few may have rules that are appropriate for their home setting, but not for school. It’s also important to remember that some adults are still learning how to effectively communicate, so we of course have to give our littles some grace. With that perspective in mind, we must set our expectations and then MODEL and PRACTICE over and over again.
So how do we begin to help our students to express themselves in conversation? We work through how to communicate when we’re upset, we practice using “I” statements when expressing emotions, and we learn to apologize genuinely. One of my favorite ways to teach young learners how to let someone know that something has upset them is by reading, A Bug and a Wish by Karen Scheuer. It teaches a very simple and effective way to say, “Hey. I don’t like that. Please fix it.” Check out the poster that I love using below. It provides students with the language they need so that they can begin to express themselves in a respectful way. Practice that language by setting up opportunities for them to role play like pictured below to develop the skill when kids naturally have conflict.
Introducing I Statements is another great tool for students to use while communicating how they feel. They are respectful, direct statements to help students express their feelings and state what they want. An example is, “I feel sad when you say things about my shoes. I want you to stop doing that.” Or “I feel angry when you don’t include me. I want to play together.”
Another crucial communication skill is knowing when and how to apologize in a meaningful way. This has to be explicitly taught if we expect kids to do it. How many times have you encountered a kid doing something to upset someone else and their way of apologizing is by mumbling, “sorry.”? This is where we step in by teaching them what it looks and sounds like to genuinely apologize. I like to use this poster to help students figure out all the components to saying sorry sincerely.
Just like everything else, we MODEL and PRACTICE. Over and over and over again until they’ve got it down. All of these skills work together to create a safe space for students to express themselves. You are setting expectations for an environment where peers are communicating, problem solving and apologizing when they’re wrong so everyone feels good to speak up when needed.
Are they struggling to even recognize their emotions? That can be really difficult too. Check out THIS to support them as they learn to identify and regulate feelings!
#3 – Solving Problems
How many times have you heard, “Ms. (insert your name here), she’s looking at me!”? Or “They stuck their tongue out!”? These tiny conflicts are time consuming, and quite frankly, mentally exhausting. Why are students doing this though? It’s because they don’t have the tools needed to be independent problem solvers. The goal is to teach students to know how come up with solution as for themselves, or at least attempt before a meltdown or seeking an adult.
A great lesson I facilitate with students at the beginning of each year is about Big and Little Problems. We discuss the difference between the two and ways we can independently solve our little problems. I love using this lesson HERE to help work through this skill. We read, What Do We Do with a Problem? by Kobi Yamada and discuss how WE can be problem solvers. Using this language, coupled with a lot of modeling, empowers students to do it on their OWN. You also get the added bonus of more time for you to do what we love… teaching! Take a look at some of the benefits!
“This resource is perfect for my class. I love that it gives concrete lessons and examples of problem solving in lots of different age appropriate ways. I am using it to help my kids become more independent problem solvers!”
“We have worked a lot on problem solving this year! I love that this resource includes the different “size” problems and how to handle them. I used this as a review to things we have worked on this year but it will also be great to introduce at the beginning of next year!”
“A great Social-Emotional learning resource! I’ve used big problem, little problem language for awhile and now I have great visuals to pair with it! It’s easy for kids to grasp and helps them work though problems together! Thank you, looking forward to using this all year long!”
#4 – Calming Strategies
Even when we know how to express ourselves, sometimes the feelings are too big for the moment. So what happens when someone or something makes us angry or sad and we are SO upset that we are not ready to learn? Where can we go to handle our big emotions in a safe way? Two words: Chill Zone. Or you may have heard it referred to as similar areas such as, Peace Place, Calm Down Corner, Zen Zone, etc. No matter what you call it, this is a designated space students can go to learn and practice how to manage their feelings.
There are a few books I love to read when I introduce the calming space to students. Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns It’s Ok to Back Away and Little Monkey Calms Down are great for learning to understand when our bodies are tense. After reading, together we create a Signs of Tension Anchor Chart. We discuss that when our body feels this way, we need to use strategies in our space to regulate our bodies before we are ready to learn again. You can see the anchor chart below, as well as different calming tools I have in my “Chill Zone” that can be used.
How to use this zone is another piece that is EXPLICITLY taught and must be modeled. Since there are lots of “fun” tools that we can use to calm our bodies, expectations MUST be taught. We must also teach students how to time themselves to regulate how much time they spend calming. And of course we PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. The goal of this designated space is to use strategies to manage our feelings and calm our bodies to be ready to learn again. Remember though- this space is NOT a TIME OUT or PUNISHMENT area. This is solely a tool for self-regulation so students learn to recognize when they need to calm down. As teachers we can help students recognize if they are upset and encourage the use of the space, but we also do not force students to use this place. If ample time is spent practicing and modeling, this space becomes a very effective way for students to learn how to manage their own big emotions. You can learn more HERE!
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#5 – Growth Mindset
We all experience failure, right? YES! Do students know how to handle it when they fail though? Probably not! So let’s support them and help provide them with the tools they need. There are ENDLESS books that cover having a growth mindset that really helps students connect and understand what it means to have one. Check out a few of my faves below and take a look at THIS list to see some of my favorites to support students!
In addition to great literature, one of my FAVORITE tools to teach growth mindset is with The Class Dojo mini series! These are 5 short videos that can be watched over a week’s time that can lead to some great discussions about having a growth mindset. We create this anchor chart pictured below to help with this skill, along with goal setting. The two topics really go hand in hand and help students recognize that we are ALWAYS learning and growing.
My favorite is when students start to learn about having a fixed vs growth mindset, and start to recognize it in themselves or each other! Teaching students this vocabulary, while creating a supportive environment, can really help students grow in their social and emotional health. It allows them to push themselves and others to continue to get better. It is truly a beautiful and magical thing that can be created in your classroom.
Read more about growth mindset in the classroom HERE!
Other Social Emotional Resources
Social emotional learning is SO important for students and there are so many important skills to help them thrive in the classroom and in their lives. Below you’ll find more tools to help support your students and ultimately make your classroom a wonderful place to be!
Sometimes we’re not given the tools we need or not sure how to implement these values into our classrooms. I’ve got you covered though! Check out the growing bundle of engaging, hands-on, valuable tools, lessons, and resources to support your students, while they learn these important life skills in a fun way! Because this is a growing bundle, when you purchase, you’ll get any new resource ever added for FREE! Grab yours below!
We must teach our students about these topics and help them understand why it matters in, and outside, of the classroom. Take the time to act out scenarios and role-play. If you spend ample time at the beginning of the year practicing these skills, you will be amazed at how students are able to effectively communicate and solve their own problems. I also keep our anchor charts up for the entire year for students to have a constant reference when learning how to express themselves. Many of the charts provide students with sentence stems to scaffold learning and help to build the capacity to be independent in it.
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