Focus on Five: Social Emotional Learning Activities for Remote or In-Person Learning

Social emotional learning activities are important at any time of the school year, but these activities feel especially necessary this year. We are going into winter and in many parts of the country, that means there is going to be less opportunities for mild weather days to get outside. Whether you are teaching in-person or remote, incorporating activities that allow students to learn social emotional skills is just as important as teaching academics. Here are social emotional learning activities I have incorporated in my virtual classroom…

1. Zones & Coping Strategies

The Zones of Regulation is a program that helps students describe how they feel and helps to teach students how to regulate their emotions. We make it part of our Morning Meeting (my colleague who I co-teach with and I) by having each student take turns to share what zone they are in and how they feel within that zone.  I also incorporated it as an informal check-in (“Thumbs up if you are in the green zone”) after students return from specialty classes or after lunch. Having students identify what zone they are in and how they feel is an invaluable life skill. While many students usually express that they are in the “green zone” (because we tell students it is easier to learn when we are in the green zone), often they are not sure how to express that they are in other zones.  Having teachers and staff model that sometimes they are not in the green zone is helpful for students (I say that I am frustrated and in the yellow zone when my internet isn’t working well).  I also emphasize that it is okay to not be in the green zone and there are ways to get back to the green zone. The coping strategies we are currently using in our classroom are described below:

Flower and Candle- This is just a different way to instruct students on taking deep breaths.  Students pretend to pick a flower with one hand and pretend to pick up a candle with the other hand. Students will “smell the flower” (breathe in) and “blow out the candle” (breathe out). 

Mantra- Students will touch each finger to their thumb on both hands while repeating a mantra, saying one word each time they touch a finger to their thumb. Our default mantra is “I am so strong” but you could come up with other mantras that are helpful for your students (e.g. “I am safe”, “I can do it”). 

Get Back on Track This is a video from Go Noodle that has students do different movements going from side to side and then going back to the center. It is a good physical metaphor for helping students get “centered” when they feel “off-track”. 

Switch It Up– This video encourages students to “go in a new direction” by changing their behavior through switching up the  movements.  This is used to demonstrate to students that switching movements and switching behaviors can be very similar. Check out the “SEL & Mindfulness” section of Go Noodle for more calming videos that incorporate coping strategies.  

2. Books & Share Time

We have incorporated Feelings to Share from A to Z and Bucket Filling from A to Z as part of our Morning Meeting.   I have found that the students seem to enjoy the alphabet themed books because most of them are familiar with the alphabet, it provides a structure and an obvious ending point. These books give us the opportunity to ask students questions about how they are interacting with others. We read Feelings to Share from A to Z last quarter and used the words we learned to create our own Zones of Regulation board to encourage students to use different feeling words besides “happy” or “sad”.  Since we focused the first quarter on ourselves and our feelings, we decided that the second quarter would be a good time to focus on how others feel through the Bucket Filling from A to Z book. I purchased this book on Google Books and took screenshots to create a slide deck. When I introduce two new letters for the week, I invite students to share about one of the letters. For example, I was for “Invite” and J was for “Joyful” so I asked students to share about a time they invited someone to do something or a time they helped someone and it made them feel joyful. This leads to follow-up questions, depending on each student’s level (“Tell me more. How do you think your friend felt? How did you know? Did you look at their face or did they tell you how they felt?”). I am really trying to emphasize that we need to pay attention to how others are feeling by looking at their faces and listening. 

3. Movement

There is something community building about doing the same physical movements at the same time, even though we are not together. Here are some movement activities that we incorporate during our remote learning school day:

Yoga- We do a yoga sequence each morning from the Yoga & Mindfulness Practice for Children Card Deck. It is important that students have a consent routine and doing the same yoga sequence each morning helps with this. Doing the same sequence allows us to help students take their skills to the next level by holding poses for longer, teaching coping strategies or having the students reflect on their day ahead.

Tik Tok Dances- We have been learning Tik Tok dances as part of our warm-up for Drama & Movement Time. We are currently reviewing the three dances we learned since the beginning of the school year. We also like to do the Tik Tok dances as movement breaks when needed. It is a fun, age appropriate way (for intermediate students and older) to practice imitation and gross motor skills. 

Fitness Challenges- I talked about The Twelve Days of Fitness in my last post (it was definitely a challenge!) and I noticed that it not only got students moving, it helped build our community. I made sure to call out students who were doing the moves and making sure my comments were team and community oriented (“We got this!”, “We’re doing awesome!”). We will be doing a Jumping Jack challenge for January. 

4. Social Skills

We all know how important it is to explicitly teach social skills and give students the opportunity to practice social skills. Here are a couple of ways we teach and practice social skills in our virtual classroom: 

Friday Class Lunch- Every Friday during remote learning, the 6th-8th grade cluster teacher and I host a Friday Class Lunch. We let the students in both of our rooms to log into a Google Class Meet with microphones on and they are able to talk freely with each other. While it can be noisy at times, it does give students in the remote setting a chance to practice their social skills. Alternatively, if you use Google Meet, you could have smaller social groups for lunch if you utilized the breakout rooms and had enough staff members to help monitor those breakout rooms. 

Communication Station- If you have read any of my previous posts, you might remember that “Communication Station” is a time that we work on different communication and social skills. Currently, we are working on asking follow-up questions using different wh- questions with direct modeling and practice opportunities for students. I like using Google Jamboards to record students responses, add visuals and to review questions and answers later. 

Character Education Trait- This is something we do at our school and we go over the character education trait each day with our students. We also try to work it into all the lessons that we do. This month, our character education trait is “Reflective” so we talk about being reflective by sharing at the end of a class session what we did or what we learned. We also incorporate being reflective with our yoga sequence.

5. Drama Time Games

We have a Drama Time class once a week during our special activity time.  Having students play games is a fun, interactive and emotionally safe way to teach students self-regulation and social skills.  There are so many games that you can play with students to target these skills.  Here are a couple that we have been working on this year: 

Emotional Spinner- When we would play this game in the classroom, we had the pictures of the emotions on a large dice and when students rolled the dice, they acted out the emotion on the dice. I would usually ask a them to share about a time they felt that emotion or what is something that happens that makes them feel that way (e.g. “What is something that makes you mad?”). For an online format, I created an online spinner and color-coded it with the same colors as the Zones of Regulation. Each week, I would review a different Zone (along with the green zone) and I would ask follow-up questions about coping skills they could use when they are feeling an emotion that is not in the green zone. This really lead to some good conversations and learning opportunities for individual students. If you want to create your own online spinner check out the post Using an Interactive Spinner During Teletherapy Sessions

Car Wash- During in-person instruction, my colleague and I would do “Car Wash” during Drama Time. Car Wash is a sensory experience for students that simulates what it would be like if they were a car in a car wash. We would say, “Here comes the water” and spray water from a spray bottle near our students’ head and shoulders. Next, we would say, “And the sponges” and use two sponges to apply deep pressures on our students’ shoulders, arms and upper legs (while the student was sitting down). Last we would say “And the wipers”, which was a large piece of paper cut into a fringe. We would lightly brush this fringe paper over our students as the final sensory experience in Car Wash. Since we are doing remote learning, we sent Car Wash kits home that included a little spray bottle, a sponge and a pom-pom for the “wipers”. We’ve guided students to explore each sensory experience individually, giving them suggestions on how to use each item (e.g. “We can spray the water on our faces, or on our arms”). After the guided experience, we have students do the whole Car Wash process at the same time and then share out their favorite part. I usually ask them follow-up questions like “Do you like to press hard or lightly on the sponge? Where do you like to press the sponge your body?”. It’s been a great way to have the students become more aware of what sensory experiences they like and it gives them a way to practice expressing what sensory experiences they prefer.

For more ideas for social emotional learning check out Social Emotional Learning Through Drama, Best Products to Use for Social Emotional Learning and Charades & Pictionary: Fun Games that Target Social Emotional Skill Building. As always, share your ideas below for ways you incorporate social emotional learning in your classroom. I hope everyone has a wonderful and restful holiday season. Stay healthy and safe! 

Holly Bueb
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