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Three Daily Practices to Promote Social Emotional Learning in the Classroom

by Model Teaching | June 9, 2020.

Most educators would agree that the social and emotional well-being of our students is an important contribution to their academic progress. It can even be argued that without their emotional needs being met, many students may not be able to fully interact with the academic content. Therefore, all classroom teachers would benefit from learning how to implement practices that encourage social-emotional growth. This does not have to mean sacrificing an hour a day to teach dedicated SEL lessons. It does not mean that you have to skip science or math or history in order to replace it with SEL. In contrast, true social-emotional growth and development can happen within just a few dedicated minutes a day, and through strategically planned activities that you are probably already doing in your classroom! This article will outline three specific strategies you can begin implementing right away.

Social-Emotional Learning

Strategy One: Daily Check-In

There are five components of social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, social awareness, and relationship skills. The first strategy we will discuss is a daily check-in and it focuses on the self-awareness and self-management components of SEL, as well as a bit of relationship building.

A Daily Check-In is simply a way for students to acknowledge their feelings and mood, and for teachers to get to know their students on a more personal level. There are several ways you can conduct a Daily Check-In, and you should find the one that feels the most authentic and natural to you.

  1. Individual Greetings:

Greet your students at the door each morning, or at the beginning of each class period if you teach multiple groups of students throughout the day. With a simple verbal greeting, and looking each student in the eye, you can most likely get a quick read on how they are feeling. If you detect that someone is upset or having an off day, you can pull them aside later for a private conversation. If you know of something special going on in their life, this individual greeting would be a chance to talk about it. Or you might decide to pose a daily question, serious or silly, that students respond to as they come in. This can also be a great way to build relationships with your students.

  1. Mood Meter:

A Mood Meter is a graphic organizer tool that was first developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence that allows users to identify their emotions. Students can use a mood meter to track their emotions over time and perhaps recognize patterns or use it as a tool to provide language for talking about their emotions.  You could have a Mood Meter posted on your whiteboard, along with individual magnets for each student. Students could move their magnet to the appropriate quadrant based on their emotions for the day.  Alternately, you could have students keep a daily log of their Mood Meter quadrants over a period of time, and perhaps journal about patterns they notice or particular events that happened that led them to a certain color quadrant. A Mood Meter is a great tool to encourage your students to become aware of their own emotions. You can download a mood meter at the end of this article for a ready- to- go resource to utilize in your classroom.

  1. Listening Circles:

Listening circles go by many names…sharing circles, community circles, healing circles, or even a class meeting. A listening circle can be a discussion about almost anything as long as students are listening respectfully while another student is sharing! You can hold daily listening circles, or perhaps just 2 or 3 per week in which students have an opportunity to share good things going on in their life or share struggles they are facing. Listening circles encourage relationship skills because listening respectfully is such a huge part of healthy relationships.

Strategy Two: Peer Interactions

Planning strategic and intentional opportunities for peer interactions helps to build students’ social awareness and relationship skills. You probably do one or two of these already, but with a bit more planning, they can be even more effective at targeting these two social-emotional learning components.

  1. Cooperative Learning:

Working in cooperative groups is an excellent opportunity for students to learn how to get along with others, how to solve conflicts and compromise, and how to work together effectively to complete a task or solve a problem. By varying your groups and providing students with detailed guidelines as to what they need to accomplish, you can ensure they will learn how to recognize and respect each other’s perspective, and it can even lead to forming new friendships.

  1. Peer Critique:

By teaching your students how to critique each other’s work, you are teaching them valuable social skills. They will learn how to give genuine compliments as well as constructive criticism. Begin by teaching them the art of compliments, which means not just saying, “Good job!” but instead pointing out a specific piece of the work that was well done. Once they have mastered that, you can begin teaching them how to offer constructive criticism and even how to make suggestions for improvement. Peer critique is often used for writing but can easily be adapted for any content area.

  1. Spreading Positivity:

Spreading positivity is an impactful way to brighten someone’s day. Once a week, you can randomly pass out post-it notes to students that has another student’s name on it. Their task is to then write a note to that person letting them know something they admire about them. When it is a student’s birthday, you can have them leave the room for a special errand or task, and while they are gone, pass around a paper on which everyone writes one compliment for the birthday boy or girl. Another option is to assign monthly buddies, and students are responsible for doing an act of kindness for their buddy at least once a week. These are all great ways to spread positivity, and at the same time, work on those SEL components of social awareness and relationship skills.

Strategy Three: Problem Solving Techniques

Students need to learn strategies for solving problems, compromising with others, and handling tough social situations. By teaching them these things you are building their social awareness and relationship skills, as well as responsible decision-making skills. There are several ways this can be done naturally in a classroom setting.

  1. Classroom Social Contracts:

Giving students a role in classroom management leads to increased self-management as they learn how to monitor and manage their own behavior, as well as increased social awareness as they learn how to navigate peer interactions effectively. One way that students can help with classroom management is by having your class create a Classroom Contract or Social Contract. This is simply a set of standards that students agree to abide by that address how they will treat each other and the teacher, and how they will address the inevitable conflicts that arise in a classroom. This can be done within the first week of school and begins with a simple classroom conversation about how they like to be treated. Once a set of guidelines is agreed upon and written on an anchor chart, each student can sign the contract to show their agreement.

  1. Peer Mediation:

This strategy is most likely most appropriate for 4th grade and older students. Students are trained as mediators and learn how to help other students work through a conflict. Then, when a pair or set of students has a conflict, they can meet with the impartial mediator to solve their dispute. The mediators are trained in any number of conflict resolution strategies, and this will vary by school or district, but most strategies involve a basic five-step process.

  • Step One: State what the disagreement is.
  • Step Two: Establish a common goal.
  • Step Three: Discuss options for meeting that goal and list any potential barriers.
  • Step Four: Agree on the best way to resolve the conflict.
  • Step Five: Make sure that each party knows what they are responsible for.

Not only does this give students the opportunity to build their relationship skills, they are also learning how to make responsible decisions. A student-friendly conflict resolution tool is available for download at the end of this article.

  1. Situational Role Playing:

A final classroom activity you can do to promote responsible decision making is by giving students frequent opportunities to practice making important decisions by setting up role-playing situations. This is a safe way to expose students to some of the “bigger” life decisions they must face and give them the chance to think through their options before they are really put on the spot! Some examples of big decisions for older students might include:

  • What to do when offered alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes with a group of friends you really like
  • What to do when faced with riding in the car of someone who has been drinking- but you have no other ride home
  • How to handle a friendship where a friend doing something you know is morally wrong- but your friend has never done anything mean to you

Some examples of big decisions that younger students might encounter include:

  • What to do when a friend asks to copy your homework
  • What to do when you witness bullying or are bullied yourself
  • What to do when there are treats available every day at lunch to buy

As you can see, social-emotional learning can be easily worked into your regular daily classroom routines. You do not have to always dedicate a certain hour of the day for SEL, nor do you need to eliminate any core subjects in order to work it in. Use these strategies to build SEL into your day, and watch your students thrive as they learn how to manage their own emotions, and how to relate to others.

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Social-Emotional Learning Strategy Plan

Social-Emotional Learning Strategy Plan

This tool will allow teachers to plan for three basic activities they can implement on a regular basis in their classroom to encourage the social-emotional growth of their students.

Instructions for Use: Use the template below to create a three-step action plan you can implement in your classroom to encourage the social-emotional growth of your students.

Mood Meter

Mood Meter

Students can use this Mood Meter to identify their emotions throughout the day and use it as a tool to discuss their feelings.

Instructions for Use: You can use this tool to think about how you are feeling. Find the word or words that best describe your current mood and think about what color quadrant it is on.  If you find yourself in the yellow or green quadrant, great! Think about what you are doing that is causing those feelings and make a plan for staying there. If you find yourself in the red or blue quadrant, think about what you can do to shift to the yellow or green. Make a plan for your own well-being. Understanding how you feel is the first step!


Conflict Resolution Student Tool

Students can use this resource when they have a conflict with another student to work through the five steps of conflict resolution.

Instructions for Use: Sit down with the person(s) you are in conflict with, and work through each of the steps of conflict resolution with the questions below.


If you are ready to see your students thrive as they grow in their social-emotional development, begin the planning process now. Complete our resource, “SEL Strategy Plan” to develop a plan you can implement right away in your own classroom. Incorporate the three strategies described above, and watch your students make connections with you, build strong relationships with their peers, and improve their real-world problem-solving skills.


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