social emotional learning activities
Sep 14 2023
Updated at: Jul 10 2024

37 Social-Emotional Learning Activities and Games for Teachers and Students

Positive Action Staff
Schools are becoming increasingly diverse, with more students integrating from various backgrounds each year.

Educators must provide students with the structure and support they need to succeed academically and in life. A strong SEL foundation offers precisely that.

Social-emotional development activities offer a safe and supportive environment for students to learn prosocial behavior. The games encourage healthy relationships that reinforce empathy, sharing, and compassion. Even incorporating one social-emotional activity into a lesson plan can make a meaningful difference in a child's life.

Preschool Activities (for ages 4-5)

1. Start with a Check-in

Begin the day with a friendly connection. Check in on each child with a simple greeting and ask how the student feels that day.

2. Finish with a Check-out

The same positive mentality applies at the end of school. Have students reflect on their day, discuss what went well, and set goals for tomorrow.

3. Reward Kids for Kindness

Take a page from Have You Filled a Bucket Today? The book encourages people to be kind to others. Write down messages of appreciation and compassion, put them in a bucket, and read them at the end of the week.

4. Encourage Show and Tell

Seeing is believing. Show and tell gives young students a way to learn about different cultures and backgrounds while realizing what they have in common.

5. Teach Appreciation

The Journal of Happiness found gratitude improves happiness in children before age five. Teaching kids to say thank you and rewarding hard work can boost their gratitude levels.

6. Teach Apologies

Apologies are essential at every age. Demonstrating how to give one ensures children have the tools to mend and repair relationships.

Kindergarten Activities (for ages 5-6)

7. Make Story Time a Teachable Moment

Reading aloud allows you to explore social and emotional moments with your class. Get started with a series of picture books for your social-emotional library.

8. Develop a Buddy System

A buddy system makes a school feel more inclusive. Pairing students for social-emotional learning activities for elementary events gives kids someone to call a friend and a sense of belonging.

9. Let Students Talk

Give children a chance to talk in structured social-emotional learning activities and unstructured environments. There are many ways to promote dialogue and boost their understanding and self-confidence.

10. Play Games

Playing promotes creativity as children improve their sense of imagination and physical skills. Social-emotional learning games maintain this healthy development.

11. Sing the Feelings Song

Help children connect their feelings with an emotion. A song about feelings lets them recognize sadness when they see tears and happiness when they notice smiles.

12. Promote Active Listening

Social-emotional activities require listening and cooperation. Use the SLANT strategy, where students sit up straight, listen, ask and answer questions, nod their heads, and track the speaker.

Elementary School Activities (for ages 5-10)

13. Work in Groups

Working in groups happens at all stages of life. Group activities develop students' leadership skills and help them uncover their strengths so that they can contribute to the teamwork.

14. Teach New Words

Learning new words provides a foundation for comprehension. Giving your class a word of the day allows them to express their ideas more eloquently.

15. Create a Peace Place

Everyone needs time to decompress. Create a dedicated Peace Place where students can go if they feel upset or someone hurts their feelings.

16. Build an Anchor Chart

Anchor charts capture the most important parts of a lesson. The visual aid reinforces central teaching points and creates a culture of literacy.

17. Role-Play

Role-playing lets children understand what it means to stand in someone else’s shoes. The beneficial exercise also spurs their imagination and creativity.

18. Assign Responsibilities

According to researchers at Michigan State, giving kids age-appropriate responsibilities requires communication, role modeling, and choice offering, all three of which supplement social-emotional learning activities.

19. Have Daily Affirmations

Too often, we let negative thoughts undercut our mindset. Daily affirmations encourage mindfulness and validation of our values and self-worth.

20. Join Big Brothers Big Sisters

Social-emotional learning games do not start and end with the school day. Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds can join Big Brothers Big Sisters and have a year-round mentor.

Middle School Activities (for ages 11-13)

21. Turn Conflict into Resolution

Every conflict presents a learning opportunity. Once students recognize the need to mediate, they can work through these six distinct stages to establish an agreement.

22. Monitor Student Progress

Keep tabs on your class as each student progresses through the academic year. Reward the top achievers as they surpass their learning goals and milestones.

23. Hold Class Meetings

Regularly organizing class meetings lets students share their ideas and concerns. It also develops leadership and public speaking skills.

24. Write a Journal Entry

A journal entry creates a safe space for students to jot down thoughts and feelings. Spark kids’ imaginations with different challenges, like writing lists or creative prompts.

25. Manage Stress

The American Institute of Stress reports that 77% of people experience stress that diminishes their physical well-being. Help people de-stress with a wheel of coping strategies.

26. Create a Vision Board

Impart purpose with this visual tool. Creating a vision board helps adolescents take accountability for their actions as they strive to achieve their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.

27. Read a Book

Transport your students into a different world through the power of reading. Some literary recommendations include In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner and Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo.

28. Celebrate Diversity

Our multicultural society has made celebrating diversity more important than ever. Have students share family stories or recipes that introduce others to unique lifestyles and heritages.

High School Activities (for ages 14-18)

29. Meditate

Meditation forces people to slow down and turn their attention inward. While it strays from traditional social-emotional learning activities, mediation allows students to acknowledge their community and self simultaneously.

30. Be a Mentor to Younger Kids

Teach students to think about others by becoming a mentor. High school students can partner with grade-schoolers who need a helping hand in academia and life.

31. Talk with Strangers

Talking with strangers opens us up to different ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds. Challenge your students to speak with one new person per day. They’ll quickly see we’re not so different from one another.

32. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness includes internal and external awareness. Practicing it comes with a long list of benefits, like lower blood pressure, less chronic pain, and stress relief.

33. Share a Quote of the Day

Give students something to think about with a quote of the day. You can open up the classroom to discuss and have students share their thoughts on the quote's meaning and significance.

34. Have a Yay of the Day

The headwind/tailwind asymmetry supposes that people disproportionately focus on the negatives in life, instead of the positives. Turn that theory on its head by having kids write a “yay” moment they had every day.

35. Assign Interview Projects

Interview-based projects teach communication skills while fostering the exploration of different cultures. Bonus points if students interview people who do not share the same background.

36. Write a Poem from Another Person’s Perspective

Let your class choose someone they don’t know and write a poem from their perspective. The exercise provides a hands-on way to empathize with other people’s experiences.

37. Encourage Artistic Expression

All social-emotional learning games do not require speaking or writing. Some students may benefit from expressing themselves through painting, sketching, or sculpting.

How to Use SEL Activities in Schools

Positive Actions provides teachers with the resources and tools they need to integrate social-emotional learning into the classroom. Our curriculum comes with actionable steps to promote prosocial skills and relationships. Best of all, it fits in any learning environment and only takes minutes to implement.

Positive Action has everything you need to get started. The comprehensive system makes it easier than ever to teach social-emotional learning games. Take the next steps by checking out different social-emotional learning curriculums and start seeing a positive impact on your students.