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Little Justice Leaders Blog

5 Simple Activities to Practice Social Emotional Learning with your Students

by Shelby Kretz

Most teachers have heard about the importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL), but do you know how to connect SEL to social justice education? 

Social and emotional learning refers to developing important self-awareness and interpersonal skills. These skills are extremely important for social justice advocates to learn as the work can be challenging and overwhelming at times. In addition, it is important for social justice advocates to be self-aware, have strong interpersonal awareness, and have other important social and emotional skills. Access to SEL is an aspect of mental health care that should be standard for all young people to learn and practice. 

It can feel overwhelming, but you probably already practice SEL every day. Each time you give feedback, have a reflective conversation, practice empathetic listening, and connect with another person, you’re practicing SEL. Additional attention on social emotional learning can be tied into many of the things you already do with your learners, and it does not need to be thought of as something extra. Just like social justice, social emotional learning can be tied into the activities, lessons, and everyday conversations we are already having with kids. It isn’t an extra – it’s a core part of raising kids who are oriented towards social justice.

Before jumping in, remember that you should be participating in the learning experiences! Everyone can learn and grow in this work, and when you participate, you are actively modeling how to engage in this work for your students.. Show them that you are also working on deepening your self-awareness, social-awareness, empathy, relationship skills, self-management, goals, and more. 

To get started, here are five simple activities to work on social emotional learning and social justice with your students: 

  1. Come up with a list of as many emotions as you can think of together. Try to push yourselves to keep coming up with even more ideas! The more specific, the better. There are so many emotions we feel, and naming them is the first step towards starting to identify and understand them. You can do this as a class or in small groups. 
  2. Connect sensations to emotions. Use your emotions list to create feeling cards, where you write down each feeling on different index cards. Have one student describe physical sensations (what you feel in your body) related to an emotion and have another student hold up the name of the emotion that aligns with those sensations using your feelings cards. Notice what sensations might overlap with multiple feelings, and how it might take some practice to identify feelings based on sensations. 
  3. Read a story, and have your students identify one character that may be experiencing some form of conflict or challenge. After reading the story, have them create an art piece, piece of writing, or digital design that represents the experiences and feelings of that character. 
  4. Role-play together! Come up with a character and a challenge they are facing. Then, have a student act out a scene of that character talking about their experience. Have everyone else practice empathy when listening to someone’s scenario. You can do this in pairs, small groups, or as a class. 
  5. Write a thank-you letter to someone who has shown compassion towards you. Each student can write their own letter, and they can describe how they felt and why that kindness was so important to them. 

These five activities will help you start engaging in Social Emotional Learning with your students, but don’t stop there! Push yourself to integrate SEL and social justice into your classroom activities on a regular basis. 

Want even more ideas for engaging in SEL and social justice in the classroom? It’s packed full of tips, ideas, and hands-on activities to engage in with your students. We have just a few left! You can order yours here before they sell out. 

Special thanks to our box leaders who helped create this content:

Tre’ Gammage (he/his) is an expert in adult social emotional skill building and identifies as a young Black educator, husband, and father in Columbia, South Carolina. He is passionate about creating opportunities to grow, lead, and experience, and facilitating purpose/making it easier for people to do what they love. You can learn more about his work at seleducators.com, on Instagram and Facebook @tregammage, and on YouTube @seleducators.

Portia Richardson (she/her) is an Anti-Racist Educational Consultant who specializes in social and emotional learning curriculum development, trauma informed care, and restorative practices. She identifies as a millennial black mom and wife. Portia is a public school educator dedicated to tackling issues of trauma and educational inequity in her community through the development of Social Emotional Learning resources and opportunities for students and adults. You can learn more about her work at www.tumainidc.org and on Instagram @iamportiarichardson and @tumainidc.