Empowering Young Minds: 5 Innovative Socio-emotional Learning Activities For Elementary Students 


For the longest time, education curricula across the globe, including the US, have prioritized academic excellence above other learning facets. However, the need for a curriculum that supports excellence in spheres of life is among the factors that gave rise to social-emotional learning in American schools. 

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a methodology that instills self-awareness, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, self-regulation, impulse control, and empathy. Research shows that SEL increases classroom conduct and attitude by 9%, lowers emotional distress by 10%, and improves overall achievement scores by 11%.  

Therefore, the earlier students engage in social-emotional learning, the better. So, below is an overview of five practical social-emotional learning activities elementary teachers can execute to empower their students. 

1. Mindfulness Exercises 

Mindfulness is a conscious/deliberate mental state whereby one is aware of one’s prevailing internal and external environment, including emotions. Its primary function is to help individuals develop self-awareness and self-regulation.  

Self-awareness entails accepting the self and circumstances as they are rather than how you’d prefer them to be. On the other hand, self-regulation entails curbing reactionary or impulsive behaviors such as physical violence and unsavory outbursts. 

Mindfulness’s effect on self-awareness helps improve and enhance mental well-being. One study review shows that mindfulness induces mental relaxation, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety.  

The highlighted emotional and mental health benefits explain why mindfulness exercises are crucial social emotional learning activities for elementary school kids. Below is a highlight of some ingenious mindfulness exercises elementary school guidance counselors and teachers can teach their children. 

2. Breathing Exercises 

Breathing exercises help elementary school children to destress and practice self-restraint to avoid indulging in antisocial behavior. Such exercises encourage participants to focus on their inhales and exhales rather than the urge to indulge in their emotions. Moreover, the calming effect of inhaling and exhaling helps students observe their feelings calmly and establish triggers. 

Tools like breathing exercise cards with instructions on different breathing techniques help elementary school students across different grades to practice mindfulness for social-emotional learning. Moreover, mindfulness breathing exercises are practical for all school guidance counseling tier levels (classroom, group, and individual sessions. 

3. STOP Mindfulness Technique 

STOP is an acronym for a mindfulness approach. It stands for S-stop, T-take a breath, O-observe, and P-proceed. It reminds students to stop before acting, take a step back, observe their prevailing emotions and the circumstances, and only proceed to act while calm. The STOP mindfulness technique helps de-escalate situations by instilling restraint. 

4. Goal-setting 

Goal-setting is crucial for social-emotional learning because it helps cultivate a growth mindset. A growth mindset encompasses the belief that anyone can acquire skills and abilities provided they put in consistent hard work and time investment. Consequently, individuals with a growth mindset are always open to learning and are undisturbed by what others perceive as failure. 

Besides a growth mindset, planning/organizational skills also result from goal-setting. Goal-setting for social-emotional learning entails breaking down bigger goals into manageable tasks. The manageable tasks help students learn to stay organized and manage resources (especially time) without getting overwhelmed. 

Also, goal-setting helps build resilience/perseverance through self-discipline, inherent motivation, and impulse control. The above attributes help students overcome the desire for instant gratification and focus on their goals. 

Elementary school teachers can use goal-setting techniques, including teaching students to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) goals. They can start with simple weekly goals before challenging the students to develop more challenging annual and long-term goals. 

Second, teachers can use tools like vision boards to help students set their goals. Moreover, they can include self-improvement goals to encourage students to work on themselves and change one undesirable trait at a time. 

5. Journaling 

The US mental health crisis is prevalent among adults and children, creating the need for child-friendly coping techniques in school curriculums. Journaling is among the strategies recommended to promote adolescent competency via social-emotional learning by improving mental health.  

It is a reflective, introspective writing style that helps individuals examine their emotions, triggers, and other factors that may help them monitor and improve their mental health. 

Journaling’s primary function in elementary schools is a student coping mechanism. Varieties of journaling include: 

  • Gratitude journaling: Have students write down what they’re grateful for daily or weekly. 
  • Intuitive journaling: asking reflective questions and seeking answers from your inner wisdom 
  • General journaling: for all kinds of expression, including drawings 

The SEL-friendly journaling styles highlighted above are nowhere near exhaustive. Teachers can encourage or guide students towards a specific style based on the circumstances and preferred expression style. 

6. Talking About Feelings 

Putting feelings into words helps one understand and express them to loved ones for support. Therefore, discussing feelings in a classroom or group setting is a powerful SEL tool. 

Teachers can use emotional cards to help learners, particularly younger learners, find the vocabulary for various emotions based on intensity. Besides emotional cards, conversation cubes are also helpful in sparking conversations around feelings. Also, books with emotions as themes can help steer conversations on feelings. 

7. Positive Self-talk 

Self-talk is the tone your internal dialogue takes, whether positive or negative. While positive self-talk fosters self-esteem, motivation, optimism, and confidence, negative self-talk has the opposite effect. Teachers can encourage positive self-talk among students through positive affirmation tools. 


Socio-emotional learning supplements academic capabilities to nurture holistic individuals. Moreover, it creates a conducive environment for students and teachers by reducing incidences of antisocial behavior. Elementary school educators can use the ingenious SEL learning activities recommended above to achieve both goals. 

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