How can you make social-emotional learning fun for elementary students?

First, let’s refresh our memory on what social-emotional learning (SEL) is. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as the process through which students learn how to:

    • Develop healthy identities
    • Manage emotions
    • Achieve personal and collective goals
    • Feel and show empathy
    • Establish and maintain supportive relationships
    • Make responsible and caring decisions

(To learn how SEL improves academic performance, read: What Is Social-Emotional Learning?)

There are many ways to make learning life skills fun and engaging for young children. Here are some activities to try:

Studies Weekly Well-Being Emotion Words for Social-Emotional Learning Activities

Social-Emotional Learning Activities

Recognizing Emotions Matching Game

Divide the class into groups of four or five students. Give each group a set of cards that have facial expressions or scenarios and a separate set of cards that have emotion vocabulary words. Ask each group to try and match the emotion with the correct facial expression or scenario.

After students complete the activity, discuss as a class:
What emotions were the hardest to identify? Why?
What are some questions you can ask someone when you aren’t sure what they are feeling?

Empathy Building Blocks

Hand out a piece of paper that has different geometric shapes on it. Have students write in the middle of each shape one way they can practice empathy; younger students can draw pictures instead.

Ask students to cut out each shape and piece them together to “build” a unique structure. Give students a chance to share their ideas and final products in small groups.

Growth Mindset image for Social-Emotional Learning Activities

Growth Mindset Selfie

One of the concepts students learn in SEL is how to develop a growth mindset where they believe they can improve through hard work.
Ask each student to think of one thing they’d like to do better. Have them write it down then draw a picture of themselves doing their goal. Have them share their “selfies” with the whole class or in small groups.

Conflict Resolution

Present your class with different scenarios where someone is upset with another person. Ask your students to write about each scenario from the perspective of each person involved. Discuss as a class why it is important to consider someone else’s point of view when resolving conflict.
Prioritizing Responsibilities

Ask students to write down 10 responsibilities they have. Then, have them number their responsibilities by order of importance, one being the most important. Call out numbers 1-10 in random order and have students share their responsibility that corresponds with each number.

Child Feeling Anxiety

Create an Anxiety Go-to Emergency List

Discuss as a class what students can do to help relieve feelings of anxiety. Have each student create a list of some things they’ll do when they feel anxiety. Encourage students to be creative and share some of their ideas.

Positive Self-Talk

Another coping strategy students learn through SEL is how to build self-confidence by thinking and saying good things about themselves (i.e., positive self-talk).

Give each student a piece of paper and ask them to write down the good things they are going to start telling themselves. Have them share their ideas in small groups.

Studies Weekly Well-Being with Social-Emotional Learning Activities

Implementing Life Skills into Student Learning

When it comes to integrating life skills into your classroom instruction, CASEL experts recommend using a research-based program. Their research shows that students who receive high-quality, evidence-based instruction achieve higher test scores, exhibit less disruptive behavior, have more motivation, and feel less emotional distress. In a follow-up analysis, they found that the benefits of learning life skills can last up to 18 years, regardless of student race, socioeconomic background, or school location.

Experts at CASEL also recommend having students learn self-awareness, empathy, and resilience throughout the school year. With a life skills curriculum, students can practice these skills every week.

Focusing on life skills also helps you create a safe and supportive learning environment where students feel welcomed and respected. As students learn about respecting differences and having a growth mindset, they will feel comfortable being themselves and taking academic risks.

Studies Weekly Well-Being Curriculum Anxiety Article with Social-Emotional Learning Activities

Studies Weekly’s Life Skills Curriculum

Studies Weekly Well-Being is a research-based 32-week life skills curriculum for preschool through sixth-grade students. Aligned with the CASEL framework, it gives teachers the tools they need to help children develop essential social and emotional skills so they can thrive in school and in life.

Topics Covered:
  • What is Well-Being?
  • Identifying and Demonstrating Emotions
  • Empathy
  • Resilience
  • Developing a Growth Mindset
  • Dealing with Change
  • Overcoming Fear
  • Asking for Help
  • Building Social Skills
  • Learning to Collaborate
  • Dealing with Conflict
  • Communication Skills
  • Decision-Making
  • Critical Thinking
  • I Can Take Care of Myself
  • How to Handle Worrying
  • Beat Big Problems
  • Losing Something and Grief
  • Taking Care of My Body
  • Caring for My Mind
  • Choosing My Actions
  • Moving My Body
  • Good Citizens
  • Tools to Feel Better
  • Confidence
  • Get It Done!
  • Trust
  • Your Attitude
  • My Time
  • Digital Citizenship
  • I Can Show Respect
  • Choose Your Life

Each week includes an age-appropriate SEL activity to show your students how to apply what they learn to real life.

On our digital learning platform — Studies Weekly Online — you can access multimedia resources to help keep students engaged.

To see samples of Studies Weekly Well-Being, visit

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