10 Examples of Social Emotional Learning in High School

High school can be stressful. Learn how SEL activities can foster student success.

Social emotional learning in high school is now more important than ever. From racial injustice to the COVID-19 pandemic, many teenage students are feeling angry, frightened, or frustrated, and they may have a hard time vocalizing these feelings. On the other hand, they may also be struggling with how to enjoy moments of celebration when so much disruption has occurred in their lives.

At Naviance, SEL is a key capability in our CCLR framework, in our CCLR framework, and we know that integrating SEL activities into the high school curriculum can be exactly what students need in order to better express themselves, make sense of their world, and, ultimately, achieve their dreams.

What are Social Emotional Learning Activities?

Social emotional learning (SEL) is a framework for helping students develop critical skills around working with others, managing emotions, and more. Social emotional activities are rooted in the five core SEL standards. In high school, SEL activities help bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood and help prepare students for college and for life in the workforce. They are vital to helping students understand who they are and who they want to be — and key to helping them thrive in their postsecondary years.

Here are 10 examples of social emotional learning activities for high school students that can be seamlessly incorporated into your district’s curriculum.

SEL Activities for High School

1) Mindfulness

The term “mindfulness” is often associated with calm or total peace. But that’s not what it’s about. Mindfulness is a practice — meaning, something to be returned to again and again — that involves focusing on the present moment and accepting whatever is showing up. Doing this each day can help foster a feeling of centeredness, which in turn can result in reduced stress and more regulated emotions.

2) Goal-Setting

Even when the future feels unpredictable, setting goals is a powerful way for students to motivate themselves. Goal-setting aligns with self-management, and it helps set a strong foundation for a growth mindset — a key capacity that allows students to adjust and adapt when things blow off course. Setting goals, no matter how big or small they may seem, is easy and effective. 

3) Ice breakers

Finding ways to have kids share facts about themselves in a low pressure environment can provide welcome relief from school work, and it can also create an environment grounded in empathy. Stay away from cliché questions like “What’s one fun fact about you?” and instead choose questions that are more specific and engaging. “What’s your favorite fictional character ever, and why” is a great place to start. 

4) Stress Toss

Sometimes it helps to get physical. Ask your students to write down all of their expectations and insecurities on a piece of paper — and then have them rip it up and throw it away. This act can be a powerful release, as well as an important acknowledgement of everyone’s individual and collective negative feelings.

5) Story Time

Select a book that deftly explores a range of emotions through a character or characters. Then break the class into small groups and encourage students to identify an emotion the character felt and talk about how and why they can relate to it.

6) Motivation Identification

This one is deceptively simple: Have your students write down what motivates them and explain the reasons why. It’s a straightforward exercise but one that can help vastly improve students’ understanding of themselves. 

7) Word of the Week

Here’s an SEL and vocabulary lesson all rolled into one. Each week, affix a different word to the board that helps students identify an emotion. But instead of choosing “happy” or “sad,” try choosing less common words, like “elation,” or “exasperation.”  

8) Switch Perspectives

Discuss a book’s protagonist and antagonist. Create a series of questions for each and ask students how they think the protagonist saw the situation compared with how the antagonist saw the situation. This is a wonderful exercise in encouraging students to see different perspectives. 

9) Interest Presentations

Allow for five minutes at the beginning of class for kids to present on any topic that they are interested in. At the end of the semester, collect notes from students that share what they learned about each other through this process

10) Hold Office Hours for SEL

Letting your students know that you’re available to discuss more than just classwork can be a wonderful way to foster positive relationships with them. Host an office hour dedicated to SEL topics discussed in class.

Benefits of SEL in High Schools

Through SEL high school students come to know themselves as individuals during a pivotal time in their lives, and the results can be spectacular. A study from Washington state underscores this point. In the early 2000s, the Everett Public School system near Seattle had an on-time graduation rate of just 58 percent. In response and in partnership with Naviance, the district began to shift its learning model to one that incorporated SEL. On-time graduation rates began to rise. “When a foundation for social and emotional skills is established early on, students transform into effective adults,” said Becky Ballbach, Director of Student Support Services. Today the on-time graduation rate is near 96 percent — a dramatic increase since creating a more holistic approach to education that includes SEL.

SEL activities will differ depending on students’ ages. To learn more about Naviance’s SEL solutions, visit our SEL Resource section.

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