Social Emotional Learning Activities For High School

13 Powerful SEL Activities

At Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City, California, students in the weekly, 90-minute Habits, Community, and Culture (HCC) class engage in a variety of activities to learn the Habits of Success and develop social and emotional learning (SEL) skills while learning about their community. Summit has designed an HCC curriculum for students in grades nine through twelve and has hired two full-time teachers for HCC. However, Summit’s academic teachers also use some of these activities to help students develop social and emotional skills and to strengthen their connections with them. All of Cady Ching’s courses, including biology and AP environmental science at Summit, begin with opening exercises. “In my freshmen classes, we perform them every class period,” she says.

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1. Mindfulness is a state of being. Mindfulness has a variety of benefits, ranging from increased working memory to stress reduction. Here are two methods by which Aukeem Ballard, a teacher at HCC, encourages mindfulness:

Allow your pupils to visualize and experience what stress looks and feels like inside their bodies, and then invite them to release the stress they are experiencing. According to Geoffrey, a 12th-grade student, “the mindfulness practice gives you the impression that the stress is leaving your body.”
The use of noise isolation is important because there is a range of sounds that your kids will hear while in your classroom, ranging from students strolling down the corridor to construction noise outside. Instruct your pupils to concentrate on a single noise and describe it to themselves, as well as recollect the last time they interacted with it.
Read Ballard’s “When Mindfulness Feels Like a Necessity” for additional suggestions.

A close-up of two high school pupils who are standing back-to-back and have their eyes closed in the background.
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Students at Summit engage in mindfulness exercises.
2. Identify the emotion you intend to bring to class: Ask each kid to identify the emotion that they are experiencing. Classmates will learn how they and other students are feeling, what different emotions look like, and how to better communicate with their peers based on how they are feeling as a result of this activity.

3. Have your pupils write down their expectations and insecurities, then cut them up and toss them in the trash. This emotional check-in should take no more than 3 minutes. Acknowledging how your students are feeling at the beginning of each lesson allows you to recognize their learning difficulties as well as create a safe environment for your students to overcome them.

Encourage your pupils to offer examples of when they have displayed both a growth mindset and a fixed mindset during the class period.

Introduce a quote that is relevant to what your kids are learning or that they have shared experience with—for example, an act of violence in the community—by introducing a quote every day. You can guide a whole-class conversation, divide students into pairs, or ask each student to respond to the quote with a single word. This provides students with the opportunity to reflect on their ideas and experiences, as well as whether they agree or disagree with the quote and the opinions of other students, as well as insight into the thoughts and sentiments of their classmates.

6. Where we originated from: Ask your students to bring in images of themselves as babies. At the beginning of class, project one infant image and ask your students to guess who it is. After that, ask the student who is being featured to discuss anything about their childhood.

7. Begin with the positive: Have each student tape a sheet of paper to their back, then walk around the room and write positive traits about their classmates on their backs. 8.

Allow two students to begin class with a three- to five-minute presentation—and then come up with two or three discussion questions—that are based on their respective areas of interest. The presentation must be connected to the course material and take place in a real-world setting. To add visuals and boost engagement, many students include a video, but this is entirely optional, according to Ching Allow the rest of the class to work in pairs for one minute to discuss their questions, after which they will be allowed to present their findings to the entire class. This activity provides your students with insight into the interests of their classmates.

SCHOOL SNAPSHOT Summit Preparatory Charter High School Grades 9-12 | Redwood City, CA Enrollment 388 | Charter, Suburban Per Pupil Expenditures Summit Preparatory Charter High School Grades 9-12 | Redwood City, CA Enrollment 388 | Charter, Suburban Per Pupil Expenditures


9. Participation in a circle: Small groups are an excellent way to foster active listening. Assign your students to arrange their chairs in a circle so that everyone can make eye contact with one another. You can encourage a deeper discussion about what a student contributes by asking questions such as “Why did that student share what they did?” or “What perspective is that student coming from?” to help students develop empathy.

When addressing emotionally sensitive matters, it is critical to establish ground rules to create a safe environment. When it comes to discussing race, Summit adheres to the Courageous Conversation protocol developed by Glenn E. Singleton. Throughout the process, there are four agreements to keep in mind: be connected, endure discomfort, tell your truth, and expect and accept a lack of closure. From School 21, here is an example of primary school discussion rules for your consideration.

In a big circle of seats, high school students are engaged in a classwide conversation about various topics.
Students at the Edutopia Summit gather in a circle to participate in a whole-class discussion.
10. Compose a poem from the viewpoint of someone other than yourself. Make your students choose someone they are unfamiliar with. Consequently, individuals come to learn that they do not “need to be best friends with someone to sympathize with them,” as Ballard argues.

11. Engage in a conversation with someone you are unfamiliar with. Assign your pupils to pairs with a student they are unfamiliar with and offer the pairs five questions to ask each other about themselves. Students introduce their partners to the rest of the class, speaking as if they were their partners, while the rest of the class keeps their gaze fixed on the student who is introducing himself or herself. Because “people are invisible sometimes,” says Ballard, “this exercise encourages students to see one other more clearly.”

12. Take part in interest and identity-based bingo games. As an alternative to creating squares filled with numbers or vocabulary phrases, design cards that contain information about your kids’ lives. For example, “I like to read” and “I was born in a faraway country” are among the phrases on Summit’s bingo cards, according to Armando, a ninth-grade student.


13. Expressions of gratitude, apologies, and realizations: Have your pupils form a circle and express their gratitude, apologies, and realizations to the rest of the class. Students in Ballard’s class have spoken about the following topics:

I’d want to express my gratitude to Brenda for her assistance in guiding the dialogue in our small group.
I’d like to express my gratitude to everyone for their dedication to this course.
Please accept my apologies for having my headphones on for more than half of the time.
Encourage people to express genuine and timely apologies. Apologizing for something that occurred a long time ago has less impact than apologizing for something that occurred that day or that week, according to research. Inform your students that they do not need to identify the person to whom they are apologizing when they express regret for what they have done.

Encourage kids to use terms that are beneficial rather than detrimental. The following is something Ballard frequently says: “Appreciations, apologies, and this should be something that you honestly believe will be useful for people to hear.”

When they hear anything that resonates with them, instruct your kids to snap, clap, or shake both hands together. According to Ballard, “we snap to let people know that we are listening to them without interjecting our voice into their narrative.” When students hear something that is emotionally charged from a peer, they shake their hands. “Let’s shake it up for that,” says Ballard, who is frequently the catalyst for this.

In Janet’s words, “when we pay attention to each other, not only does it develop a feeling of community, but it also makes us more able to understand other people.” Janet is a 12th-grade student. “If you can understand individuals when they are younger, you will be able to work more effectively with them as adults.” This will have an impact on how future generations will be. “People can be more welcoming and helpful to one another,” says the author.