Hello there, teacher friend! This week’s topic was so much fun for me, and I know it will be helpful for you too. We’re going to talk about social emotional learning for primary grade students. I’ll share three strategies you can start using in your classroom now plus a free resource for you at the end. And by the way, these strategies work in person or virtually for distance learning!
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara Gruener, who is an expert in social emotional learning. You can find more about Barbara at her blog HERE. Now, read on for the strategies! If you’d prefer to listen to the podcast version, it’s HERE, but grab the free downloadable toolkit at the bottom of this page before you head that way!
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What is social emotional learning?
Teacher friend, we all know content is important, right? However, especially in primary grades, these students are developing as humans into the little people they will become. We know it’s important to focus on the whole child.
As Barbara points out, content-based learning provides only about 30-50% of what a child needs. We also need to talk about, practice, and model feelings. Social and emotional skills are meant to grow students’ hearts and nurture their social and emotional growth. Learners need to make relationships first to help them take on content.
Now, I’m going to share three social emotional learning strategies, which are really routines, that you can use to connect with your students by heart. As Barbara described these strategies, “They’re simple, but they’re simply powerful.” Ready? Let’s go!
Social Emotional Learning Strategy #1 – Daily Emotional Barometer
For our first routine, think about the weather. We use barometers to gauge what the weather is like. An emotional barometer gives students the chance to answer, “What is your weather?” You may describe happy as sunny, angry as stormy, etc.
This strategy has multiple benefits. One is that it gives students permission to share their feelings, which is excellent practice. The more you use this routine, the more comfortable children become sharing their feelings. It also gives you an idea how ready your students are for learning. This is a great way to pick up on students who may need a little extra encouragement or help that day.
Step 1: Gather Visuals
Our learners just love good visuals. You can always create your own. To save yourself some time, in Virtual Classroom Survival Guide (find that resource HERE), we provided 18 emotional pops you can print and put on popsicle sticks. Then students have options to hold up when you ask how they are doing. Barbara also suggests you can put them on ceiling tiles and let students move to the one they’re feeling that day.
Sometimes students label certain emotions (mad, sad) as being BAD. (Maybe we do that too!) Let’s use this opportunity to educate students that it isn’t a negative thing to feel a certain emotion. As Barbara said, “All feelings are important. All feelings are valuable.” What we will do is teach our students ways to manage their emotions.
Step 2: Put it On the Schedule
Make an effort to be intentional with the daily barometer. Our students pick up on what we consider important. If they can see that we value talking about our emotions, it will legitimize their need to do it. One natural time is when you talk about the day’s weather outside. Another time is when you greet students at the door. The most important part is to do it every day.
You can do this using a feelings check in. Show a cue and ask if they’re feeling that way, or if that have felt that way already today. Students can give a thumbs up or down, or even a sideways thumb if they aren’t sure what that emotion is. When a teacher asks about a range of emotions over several days, this also helps learners with the vocabulary of the emotions. This is another opportunity for us as teachers to know if someone might need checked on individually.
A second way you can implement this is to choose one student each day to be a Feelings Friend. Choose an emotional pop and ask, “Who’s feeling like this today?” The Feelings Friend can keep an eye out then and through the day to see if any classmates need a little extra support.
You may think they can’t do this at age four and five, but they definitely can! Besides helping recognize their own feelings, this is invaluable practice for students to learn to empathize and care for others. It’s a great way to build classroom community!
Social Emotional Learning Strategy #2 – Keep a Feelings Journal
Barbara shared that she knows a student who, in primary, was able to express how he felt when his friend was moving away because of the feelings journal. For primary students who aren’t writing yet, you can use a blank page so they can draw. In the toolkit download below, you’ll find a blank page for the journal and a list of prompts you can use.
When students are able to write, you can use this in a center or during writing time. Journal entries can be based on that day, or you can use them as a way for students to share what causes them to feel certain emotions. For example, “I feel sad when…”
Another way to incorporate this into regular instruction time is when you read stories as a class. You can connect it back to the feelings journal. Have students imagine what that character would draw for a feelings page for a certain part of the book.
Don’t forget that it’s very important to model. For instance, you could use an anchor chart and tell students in the morning how you personally feel that day. This gives students permission that it’s okay to share their feelings, because you (their awesome teacher!) do it. 🙂 Students can even guess why you’re feeling a certain way. This is a great way for them to get extra practice in relationships and understanding their peers.
Social Emotional Learning Strategy #3 – Create and Use Classroom Mantras
What is a mantra?
Thirdly, to help students regulate their emotions you can use affirmations, or mantras. Barbara explains them like this: “A short phrase… they can use to help regulate their emotions.” Students can use mantras to help calm themselves down or help them remember they can do a certain thing. An example she gives is, “We are surrounded by greatness.” You can even have a class mantra you start the day with every day like, “I am strong. I am capable and lovable.”
We’re going to believe our thoughts. What we think, we end up believing. Thoughts become feelings, and feelings are real.Barbara Gruener
Put Mantras Into Practice
Now that we understand how much mantras can impact our students’ emotions, let’s look at how to put them into practice. To make this more tangible for students, you can show them how to tap it out on their arm as they say it. This encourages crossing midline (let’s engage our kinesthetic learners and use some active learning here!) and helps them imprint this on their hearts.
One of my personal favorite mantras comes from the movie The Help. It is, “I am kind. I am smart. I am important.” Affirmations, or mantras, can really transform your thinking. Imagine giving our students the ability to regulate their self-talk at this age. It is a habit that can certainly empower them through their entire lives.
To get started with mantras, you can check out a list of suggestions in the toolkit download. This strategy will take a little time to get started, but once it is a routine, it’s very quick and powerful.
There are many options for how to use mantras. You could have a different one every day, one for every day of the week, or let a student pick one for each day. Keep in mind it’s good to pick mantras that work well for your class. This strategy would be even more personal to students if they were given the chance to help brainstorm classroom mantras.
You’ve got this!
I hope you feel empowered to help your learners in not just their content, but in social emotional learning as well. Our goal is for students to become literate in their emotions, understand the importance of feelings, and gain the ability to regulate and share their emotions.
Difference maker, if you can connect to your students hearts, content will come that much easier! I want to make it as simple as possible for you to incorporate social emotional learning in your daily routines, so here is a free toolkit download packed with examples and tools ready to go.
Like the idea of using routines in your classroom? Believe me when I say they have revolutionized the way I teach. It’s beneficial for my students, content retention, and my morale! Never sell yourself short, teacher friend. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to give your best to your students! Have you checked out the post all about routines? You can find it HERE.
All right, teacher friend! If you haven’t joined our Facebook community, head over HERE and ask to join. We’d love to have you on board! Until next time, keep being a difference maker!