October 5, 2022

6 Ways to Get Secondary Students Invested In Social Emotional Learning

John Burnett
A video screenshot of John Burnett

Educators are working hard to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of all students. At times, getting middle and high school students to participate in social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons can be difficult. They might be shy or not see the benefit of such lessons. In this blog and video, educators will learn how to help students get excited to participate in SEL classroom lessons. 

These are practical strategies that can make lessons more engaging and impactful. Additionally, these skills can be utilized by administrators, classroom teachers, and counselors who facilitate classroom lessons.

Do your secondary students moan, groan, or sigh when you present lessons?

Educators are competing against cell phones, technology, and video games for the attention of students in classrooms across the world. Over the past few years, some students attended school virtually, which allowed them to multi-task or complete work on their own terms. Therefore, transitioning back to in-person learning has presented some challenges for students and educators. 

Students are used to instant gratification and releases of dopamine with social media likes, hilarious TikToks, and video games. As a result, educators have had to find innovative ways to keep students engaged and focused.

What strategies can educators use to make social-emotional lessons more meaningful and engaging?

Here are some helpful, free, and low-maintenance activities educators can utilize in the classroom to get students excited and invested in social-emotional learning.

  1. Influencers can make a difference

In order to get students interested in character development lessons or social-emotional learning, it’s important for educators to appeal to the things that are relevant to students. Here’s what can be done! Find a celebrity, musician, rapper, YouTuber, influencer, athlete, or someone influential in students’ lives and show them that these people participate in activities like deep breathing and meditation.

Initially, educators can send out a Google Form and ask students about their favorite musician, artist, social media influencer, or athlete. They can then share a quote, article, or YouTube video of the influencer utilizing coping skills or sharing an inspirational message.

For example, Lebron James practices deep breathing during basketball games to improve his focus and performance. When students see these practical examples of these activities, they’ll want to do them, too.

  1. Incorporate student interests

It’s essential educators stay up to date on the hottest memes, jokes, and trends students are interested in. Try searching online to find trending songs, movies, television shows, or video games and share memes or gifs during presentations.

This practice appeals to students and they’ll secretly be happy that educators took the time to share things they like during lessons. This makes students feel comfortable and helps ease them into participating. Educators who try this tip might even hear students excitedly exclaim, “You know about this song/game/movie?!?” 

  1. Try making them laugh

One way to appeal to students and make them comfortable is to make them laugh. Try making jokes and using humor in lessons, even if they are “corny” jokes (as long as the joke is presented to them with confidence and a smile). When educators step outside of their comfort zone and use jokes and humor in their lessons, students eventually appreciate it and participate. 

It is also best practice to model the activities or SEL lessons for students. If comfortable, using silly voices, dancing, making jokes, and sharing personality and sense of humor are ways to keep students engaged. Just like when teaching core content, if educators are invested in social-emotional lessons, students will be invested, too.

FYI: The tactic may not work for all educators, as there are many different personality styles. With everything, do what’s best for you and your students. 

  1. What’s in it for me?

Students will want to know how these lessons relate to them. One way to encourage participation is to share how activities like positive affirmations, coping skills, and calming activities help students in their daily lives. Educators can search online and share the real-life scientific benefits of how coping skills like mindfulness meditation help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s also beneficial to share statistics.

For example, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31.9% of adolescents have any anxiety disorder. Sharing information like this makes it more realistic and relevant to students. Additionally, they will understand the importance of self-care and coping skills. 

  1. Give students choice 

Educators can share a list of coping skills with their students and allow them to choose what works best for them. Free coping skill examples can be found online on sites like Educators can then print these examples and give them to students. 

It’s best to let students pick what works for them. Give them options, because everyone is different. 

Encourage students to try out these skills the next time they feel stressed and share what worked for them if they feel comfortable doing so. One way to encourage students to utilize coping skills is to give extra credit on quizzes by asking questions like, “What’s your favorite coping skill,” or “what works for you?”

  1. All hands on deck

Relatable and hands-on activities are a great way to get students interested in participating in social-emotional lessons. According to research, the attention span of middle school students is about 12 minutes, so educators must chunk and break up lectures. It’s best practice to allow students to participate in hands-on activities. This increases engagement and ownership!

There are many creative activities educators can share in the classroom that encourage students to participate and actively engage. These activities often take more planning, but they’re worth it because students generally remember them more. 

Bonus tip

Pear Deck has some excellent resources for educators to use in the classroom to support student wellness. Pear Deck offers interactive templates and features for educators to incorporate into their presentations and lessons. For example, Pear Deck offers some helpful templates for daily check-ins, deep breathing prompts, gratitude, and ways to introduce different perspectives. 

These are amazing FREE resources that can easily be adapted and incorporated into any classroom lesson. Be sure to download your copy today and start using them in your classroom!

In conclusion

If educators are noticing students are not interested in participating in social-emotional lessons or even core content lessons, they can utilize one or more of the skills mentioned in this blog and video. By incorporating these skills in their daily lessons, educators can help increase students’ participation, retention, and engagement in lessons.