By Liz Bergren
Social and emotional learning has significant short-term and long-term benefits, including positive behaviors and relationships; improved test scores, grades, and attendance; higher graduation rates; and better mental health. As a former classroom teacher, at times I found myself in a creative slump when it came to creating lessons and really needed help. Other times I needed something quick, easy to use, and fun that I could teach when class ran short. I spent hours scouring the internet looking for new resources and innovative ways to integrate SEL into my lessons. This post offers you practical, user-friendly, and free resources from Free Spirit Publishing so you don’t have to search all over like I did. You can use these resources for effective SEL lessons for early childhood through high school.
One of my favorite lessons to kick-start or reignite classroom relationship-building and social skills involves greeting, eye contact, and conversation practice. Have students share ways that they have heard and seen the adults in their lives greet others. Answers could include statements such as “Hi, how are you?” and “How is your day going?” Nonverbal greetings could include a handshake, head nod, or fist bump.
Next, divide the class into two groups and create an inner and outer circle. The inner circle faces the students in the outer circle so students are paired up. Provide a question prompt such as “What is your favorite book?” or “What is your favorite game?” and give students 30 seconds to greet one another and then ask and answer the question. Their greetings should include both a verbal and a nonverbal element. After 30 seconds, rotate one of the circles so the students face a new partner. Give them a new prompt and 30 seconds to repeat the exchange.
Hang In There
Practicing perseverance is important for building self-esteem and a strong work ethic. For elementary students, the Hang-In-There Rings from William Mulcahy’s Zach Hangs In There help provide a concrete strategy for working through the struggles, doubts, and emotional upheaval that can accompany obstacles. Using a common childhood achievement—crossing the “tricky trapeze rings” (or monkey bars)—this activity helps students understand the action steps necessary to reach a goal. You can print the rings worksheet here for free. Have students choose something that they would like to work on or something that they want to accomplish and help them work through the rings. Encourage them to analyze any potential barriers to accomplishing their goal. Use this as a time to teach positive self-talk phrases such as, “Don’t give up,” and “I can do it.”
Emotion Coping Mind Map
Older elementary students can create a mind map of strategies for coping with emotions. They can do this as a group on a bulletin board or smart board, or students can create individual mind maps or posters. Start with a center bubble containing an emotion that tends to be difficult to cope with. Then brainstorm unhealthy or unhelpful ways that people deal with that emotion. For example, if the emotion is anger, answers could include hitting or screaming at someone. Next, brainstorm healthy coping strategies. For anger, these might include deep breathing, walking away, going outside, or talking with someone. Here are free available resources from How to Take the GRRRR Out of Anger by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovskis: 5 Steps to Taming That Temper, the Anger Pledge, and 6 Steps to Solving Anger Problems.
Biff Poggi, a football coach in Baltimore, Maryland, offers wonderful inspiration for his team. Get students thinking about the practice of empathy using Coach Poggi’s Golden Rule, a worksheet from the book Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School by Naomi Drew, M.A., and Christa M. Tinari, M.A. Prior to using the worksheet, put the word empathy on the board and do a 30-second pair-share on the definition. Have students share their understanding of the concept. It is important to clarify the difference between sympathy and empathy since the two concepts are often confused. (Consider watching Dr. Brené Brown’s RSA Short on the difference between sympathy and empathy. The video has adult concepts that aren’t appropriate for middle school students, but it can help you understand the difference and may spark an idea for a lesson or role play.)
Pass out the Golden Rule worksheet, read the story aloud, and have students answer the questions either individually or in pairs and share their responses with the class. As an extension, have students brainstorm ways they can reduce exclusion and improve their school climate. To get a better take on students’ views of their school climate, use this survey from The School Climate Solution by Johnathan C. Erwin, M.A.
Discuss RULER Scenarios
Teaching skills to boost emotional intelligence (EQ) in students can reduce anxiety, depression, and bullying in schools. The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence has developed the RULER acronym, which helps define the aspects of EQ. RULER stands for “Recognizing emotions in self and others, Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions, Labeling emotions accurately, Expressing emotions appropriately, and Regulating emotions effectively.”
For students in middle and high school, kick-start a lesson on EQ by using the EQ Quiz for Students, a free download from the book Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students by Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., and Steven E. Tobias, Psy.D. This short inventory will get students thinking about how they manage their emotions. Spend some time creating fictional scenarios with realistic situations, or have students create the scenarios themselves to practice RULER. For example: Jorge meets Lucy while participating in the school play. They become great friends, and eventually Jorge finds out that Lucy would like to be a couple. Jorge now has his first girlfriend! They talk on the phone, go to movies, and hang out with friends. A few months later, Jorge finds out that Lucy no longer wants to be his girlfriend. Using the RULER acronym, have students process Jorge’s potential emotional reaction and circumstances. Brainstorm strategies for expressing emotions appropriately as well as healthy self-talk for regulating difficult emotions.
Free Spirit offers a wide range of free downloadable resources to accompany our books. Browse all our free resources online. And visit this page to watch our highly attended free webinars for professional development opportunities.
Please share your favorite SEL activities in the comments section of this post.
Liz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.
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