Effective middle school SEL activities for your classroom and school

SEL is such an important topic in schools these days, but all too often, the focus seems to be on elementary. It’s fairly easy to find articles and resources aimed at elementary teachers and those who work with kids in the K-6 space. Then when you start looking for material aimed at older students, it becomes more of a challenge to find middle school SEL activities. 

Yet, middle school students need good SEL. Studies like this one tell us just how important it is to promote social-emotional learning during this crucial time in a student’s life. It’s not always easy, but when teachers and schools make this a priority, students benefit—both emotionally and academically. 

Here are a few middle school SEL activities to try out in your classroom. And, as you look at these, just remember you probably already have a good understanding of what your students are talking about and dealing with on a daily basis. So use this expertise and incorporate it as it makes sense. By working SEL into your classroom routines, you can be confident you’re helping students grow in important ways. 

Work on mini goal setting with your middle school students. 

As students grow older, there’s a lot more emphasis put on long-term goals. However, this can make students feel overwhelmed and anxious. So instead, explore the value and opportunity to set short-term goals. For instance, you might ask students to set one study goal each week, either silently or out loud. It might be something simple like showing up to class on time or turning in 75% of their assigned work. Each student’s goal will be different. But by setting small milestones, you’re giving students something more achievable to conquer. This can work extremely well for a lot of students, and it will help them build confidence a little at a time. 

Work on mini goal setting with your middle school students.

Talk regularly about the importance of good character, and reward it!  

Character development is a great lesson at all ages. When kids are younger, you can use cards like these to help kids understand what’s important to them and what they stand for. As kids get older, you might forgo the cards, but you can still talk a lot about the same themes and how we have a chance every day to show our character. In your own daily interactions with them, be sure to recognize good character in your students and call it out. For a good character moment, you could give them a shoutout or even reward them with something small like a Jolly Rancher or piece of gum. This might seem small, and they might not act like this matters, but it’s a great way to show kids that you’re watching and that their actions do matter. 

What Do You Stand For? Character Building Card Game


Plan reflection time in your classroom. 

We know taking time to reflect works for all ages. It helps us gather our thoughts and then process and plan. It can be hard to make time for reflection during class, but even one minute at the beginning or end can help. You can encourage students to use a reflection journal like this one. Or you might even just hand out quick Post-it® notes and do reflections on those. If daily reflection doesn’t work, try just five minutes a week. You could even have a designated day. Encourage students to really take time to focus and reflect during this time. They might even work on setting their mini goal during this moment as well. 

SEL Reflections Middle School Journal Kit


Practice peace and positivity. 

This one can be pretty challenging when you’re working with teenagers, but it can go a long way in building strong, respectful relationships with your students. CASEL is a leader in SEL education, and they give an overview of being peaceful and positive right here. In your own classroom, think of this as a mantra you talk about with your students. Commit to being peaceful and positive yourself, and ask them to do the same. By reinforcing this even in your own tone, actions, and responses, you can help it become more natural for them as well. 

If you’re feeling brave, model self-awareness for your students. 

Self-awareness is big at this age, and it’s not an easy subject to tackle. However, if you’re willing to put yourself out there a bit, you might be able to help your students make great strides in this area. Think of ways to talk about your own self-awareness as you encourage them to do the same. For instance, you might talk about how you don’t always have the cleanest desk, but you’re trying to work on it. Then talk about the benefit you get when you are able to recognize that and improve upon it. When you’re willing to be a little vulnerable, it helps students see how and why it’s not so bad to try this themselves. 

Middle school SEL activities are so important. Just like math or science, it deserves a place in the school day. As an educator, you know this and probably already practice it on a regular basis. So keep up the good work, and know that what you do really matters. Thanks for your hard work! 

For ways to help with SEL, explore Cloud9World™ curriculum offered by Nasco Education. This program looks at middle school SEL in a unique way through character traits and a decision-making lens. 

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