Social-Emotional Learning for Lower Elementary Students

As educators, we are responsible for more than curriculum instruction. We are also responsible for equipping our students with the tools they need to be well-adjusted and successful members of a global community. A large part of this is social-emotional health. This can seem like a big undertaking, especially when considering the age of some of our youngest learners. From personal experience, I can say that my second graders love when we do social-emotional learning activities. It is the perfect age to begin conversations about our feelings and the students just soak up all of the strategies we learn. 

Identifying our Feelings

One main focus of social-emotional learning (SEL) is being able to identify our feelings. This can be tricky, especially for young children. There are many different activities teachers can do to help students identify how they are feeling. One of my favorite activities is placing “How am I feeling?” charts on my students’ desks. When they come inside the classroom, students indicate how they are feeling that day. You can design the chart to have emojis, photographs, or words, listing different emotions. Then, as part of your morning meeting or daily conferences, you can ask students to share which emotion they’ve selected. Students can also keep a daily journal or make their emotions into a bar graph. Eventually, students will get accustomed to identifying their emotions on a daily basis and the exercise will hopefully help them to identify the events that led them to feel such emotions. If you are teaching virtually, this can all be done via a Google Form. Overall, this is a nice quick way to start your day with some SEL.

SEL Resources

After students have identified how they are feeling, they may require strategies to help them cope with their emotions, especially any negative feelings they are experiencing. There are a wealth of SEL tools and resources available out there that can help in this regard. Positive Action, CASEL, MindYeti, and GoNoodle are just a few helpful programs/resources that educators can use. Many of the resources teach students breathing techniques, which can be used anytime/anywhere, to help calm themselves. This is great for younger students who are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or nervous. For example, in one of the videos, I show my students an instructor helps students complete deep breathing by imagining they are smelling a delicious bowl of soup and then blowing to cool the soup down. That provides a nice visual for students while simultaneously helping students develop strong coping skills.


Other resources provide helpful content for self-awareness. In one video tutorial, an instructor uses a Hoberman Sphere to help students visualize deep breathing. The instructor then has the students identify people in their lives that bring them happiness and, on the flip side, people who may bring them stress. Part of the exercise includes wishing all of these people good wishes. Self-awareness activities like these can help students become more in-tune with their own emotions, while also helping them be more empathetic to their peers. Students of all ages can begin to recognize their emotions and learn strategies that can help them manage their feelings.

These are just a few of the SEL lessons/strategies that I utilize with my lower elementary students but SEL is not limited to only identifying and understanding our emotions or learning strategies to help us manage our emotions, rather it also can help build and maintain strong peer relationships, offer chances for goal setting, and more. I hope this year’s much-needed instructional shift to focusing on our students’ overall well-being and development continues to endure.

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Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.


About the Author

Chrissy Talbot

Elementary School Teacher