Social & Emotional Learning

Explore Social and Emotional Learning

As our students are navigating change, adjusting to online learning, and supporting their families during this public health crisis, our students’ Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills are being tested every day. This week, we will bring you resources on teaching the 5 Core Competencies of SEL.

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How can we best teach and support students during stressful times?


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From our adventures with middle schoolers, we regularly witness just how much self-awareness affects our adolescent friend’s self-image and self-confidence. Marc Brackett, Ph.D., the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, argues that we all need to be emotional scientists. According to Brackett, “We need to remake education so that it includes emotional skills”. By teaching our students tools to build self-awareness, we can help them grow their ability to handle stress, persevere through obstacles, and achieve their goals (like completing online assignments on time)! We hope these ideas and resources help you support your students and help your students grow their SEL.

Introduce Self Awareness

AMLE recommends making mindfulness a regular practice in our classroom (real or online). Introduce mindfulness to your students with this short animation or with this video from some of the NBA’s and hip-hop’s biggest stars.

Build Self Awareness

Practice self-awareness through creative writingThe goal of these quick writing prompts is not grammar or formatting. The goal is thoughtful reflection.

Our favorite is the Daily 10 Word Rap: Have students describe their day, their neighborhood, or their mood in just 10 words. This is a great connection point to talk with students about stressors and supports.  If you want to kick it up a notch, record yourself rapping your own 10-word story (the more embarrassing your rap skills the better!) For example: Sky grey. Body heavy, drained. Sunshine is too far away. 


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Social awareness is the ability of our students to empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and understand social and ethical norms for behavior. Building social awareness is about connecting students to a wider world and guiding them to discover empathy and understanding for others. Warning: This can be awkward for middle schoolers! So remember, like learning to walk, it’s okay that learning to empathize is a little clumsy and awkward.

Introduce Social Awareness

Start a conversation with your students about social awareness. Watch students share why social awareness is important for them and then have your students reflect on their social awareness skills.

Build Social Awareness

Our students are constantly traveling to different worlds. (And, no, we don’t mean via daydreaming). Students spend their days switching from their school world, to their home world, and to their online world. Now that the school world is on pause, teaching our students to bring empathy into their online world is more important than ever.

Here are 3 ways to help students build empathy online. Our favorite is teaching empathy through storytelling like StoryCorp’s Student Voices Project. Students can listen to stories from across our country and the world. Then they can record their own podcasts to tell their story.


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Regulating emotions and behaviors can be challenging and impacts life both in and out of the classroom.  For students, it may look like forgetting a pencil every day (organizational skills) or putting their head down and “checking out” (stress management). CASEL indicates that self-management impacts impulse control, self-discipline, self-motivation, goal setting, as well as the behaviors listed above.

Introduce Self Management

Start a conversation with your students about self-management. Share this introductory video to explain self-management.

Build Self Management

According to CASEL, goal setting is not only a component of overall success, but it also helps increase the ability to practice self-management. As students’ lives are changing both in and out of the (virtual) classroom, taking time to reflect on goals can help to create a road map forward. Here are two tools to help your students set and achieve goals:

  • SMART goals are a straightforward way to set realistic goals both in and out of the classroom.
  • Reverse Planning helps students breakdown goals into achievable tasks by starting with their big goal at the end of a timeline and working backward to create steps to success.


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Relationships, or at least how we act within our relationships, look different today than they did a few weeks ago. Despite the changes to how we interact, they remain an important piece of our lives. CASEL indicates that communication, social engagement, relationship-building, and teamwork facilitate the creation of healthy relationship skills.

Introduce Relationship Skills

Relationship Skills are a primary SEL competency and a key tenant (collaboration) is also defined as a 21st-century skill. The following article shares 5 Strategies to Deepen Student Collaboration.

Build Relationship Skills

4 Ways to Foster Positive Student Relationships in Middle School.  Invite students to take part in the 2 minute talk to practice listening, communication, and overall relationship building. An offline version could involve a parent/caregiver, sibling, or friend.

  • If you could create an award for anything what would it be and why?
  • If you could only eat one food for a month what would it be?
  • What is the greatest life lesson you can share?
  • Who inspires you?
  • What are your 5  favorite possessions?


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CASEL’s definition of responsible decision making is well-written, well-thought-out, and, well, really long. When I asked a 7th grader what she thought this definition meant, she nailed the summary by defining it as “Being safe, being nice, and thinking before you do something!”

As educators, we are always modeling and teaching responsible decision making, but our students sometimes still struggle because they lack the social and emotional skills to make a good decision. Today, we adventure in the specific skills and activities that can foster responsible decision making.

Introduce Responsible Decision Making

Engage your students in real-world conversations about decisions they are making every dayStart a discussion with Common Sense Media’s Teen Voice videos about digital footprints and online interactions. Or have students read about making good decisions even when angry and share their cool-down strategies.

Build Responsible Decision Making

Try these 3 activities for easy ways to add responsible decision making into your online classroom or go deep on Restorative Justice practices and decision making.

Lesson Plan Idea: A research project on how our community can make the responsible decision of helping each other. 

  • Start with a BIG research question like “How will the Corona Virus Crisis affect people’s income and stability?”
  • Provide them with curated resources about the BIG question.
  • Help students build empathy by playing an interactive game about money struggles.
  • Assign students to journal about their findings, feelings, and ideas to help people in our community.

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Thank you and Adventure on! – The TomTod Team

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