Social & Emotional Learning to Start the Year

  • by Randi Anderson
  • Aug. 3, 2020, 12:33 p.m.

This year, more than ever, we as educators have to address our student's mental health. No matter if we are in person or virtual, we must discuss how students are feeling, coping, and provide opportunities for socialization (in a socially distanced world). Here are some ideas I will be implementing with my students this fall.

Morning Meeting Time

Starting off the morning with a group chat is important to setting the norm of "we are a community of learners". This year I plan I am planning on my morning meeting in 4th grade agenda to look like this:

  • Ice Breaker (a game)
  • How are you Feeling Today? Check In
  • Agenda for Today w/ our class goals
  • Quote or Song of the Week
  • Read Aloud (about a character overcoming or dealing with an emotion or obstacle)


Read Aloud

Being read aloud to has calming effects on children (and adults). I remember being in elementary and looking so forward to relaxing after lunch / recess at our class read aloud time. Setting up a read aloud time in our schedules is so important. This year, I'm planning on at least 10 minutes of a read aloud time each day in my schedule.


Have a growth mindset phrase of the week

Each week I want to have a quote that we study and discuss. I am eager to see what my students are thinking and processing as we dive into a quote each week. Some quotes I want to use this year are

  • "If it doesn't challenge us, it doesn't change us."
  • "The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake- You can't learn anything from being perfect." - Adam Osborne
  • "It may not be easy, but it will be worth it."

Teaching Empathy

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Taking time to teach about empathy through read alouds, role playing, and discussions will help students be others minded instead of only self-minded. When we teach kids to have gratitude, we are in turn teaching them to be empathetic. Thinking of others is so important in life and we must actively model this for our students. This year I am planning on implementing a time gratitude by having a "I'm grateful for..." time of day to talk and write about 1 thing they are grateful for each day to share with peers.

Great Books for Teaching Empathy

  • Eggbert
  • Giraffes Can't Dance
  • Hey, Little Ant
  • Wonder
  • Chrysanthmum
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee


Play Music

Music has the ability to change the brain. In the mornings on the way to school, I throw myself a "personal pep rally" to get my mind and attitude positive for my students and colleagues. we can do this for students as they walk through the door or come into our virtual classroom / Zoom session. Have fun music playing as they arrive. Also playing calming music as they work is a great "take a deep breathe" opportunity for kids. Play a classical music playlist on low in the background.

Allow for Talk Time

It is so important that our students get a chance to socialize this year. They have been home for months now and some have not had much interaction with others, much less the outside world. Plan to give students a time to talk and connect with others in their class. For virtual classrooms, you can put them into breakout rooms on Zoom and have them chat about a question.

Play Games

Games change the brain as well and everyone likes to have fun once in a while. Play games to start the day off, middle of the day brain break, or day ender. I want my students to build relationships with their peers and myself on day 1 of instruction. I found this free game online called People Bingo. Students fill out their bingo cards with classmates' (and the teacher's) names by who can answer yes to each of the questions. For example, Who has a birthday in November? Students fill in a classmates name in that box on their bingo card.

Organize Class in Teams

Teamwork makes the dream work! Organizing students into Teams or pods is a way for students to connect and problem solve together. For virtual classrooms, this can be done through breakout rooms for each team. When students feel connected and have a common purpose they are working together to accomplish, they do better. This is also an opportunity for socialization. Students should have team responsibilities so that each member "pulls their weight" if you will. Responsibilities are also crucial for students to feel accepted and purposeful. 

Plan for Art Time

The arts are so important and we should allow for time to process emotions and new learning. Allowing time for students to draw, write, sing, create, and showcase their creations is crucial for their emotional well being. Don't be afraid to step outside the box and have students create a representation to something they are learning about this year. You will see some of your students flourish with a task such as this.