Social-Emotional Learning Skills: 10 Questions to Ask in the Classroom

At Ori Learning, we know that dedicated time for introducing and building social-emotional learning skills is the backbone of effective SEL programs. We also know that SEL skills are even more impactful when they are reinforced and practiced throughout the school day. But is there really time for this in core content area classes? What can teachers do to incorporate SEL skills across subject areas? The good news is it doesn’t require a ton of planning or professional development to give all teachers the tools they need to do it. 

Key takeaways:

  • Whether you have a dedicated SEL program in place already, or are looking to incorporate SEL into core content – there are quick and easy activities you can consider.
  • Particularly effective are questions that address students’ feelings about a given situation, prompt them to extract learnings from an event, or consider their motivations for an action.
  • Anticipate pushback from teens and be prepared with engaging icebreaker activities that put students in the right mindset for SEL.

10 Questions you can use to reinforce SEL throughout the school day

1. How are you feeling about this assignment, project, or test? 

Give students a moment to check in with themselves when they are tackling new material or substantial assignments. What feels easy for one person might seem overwhelming to someone else, and all of those reactions are completely normal. Teachers might also use this opportunity to discuss how a positive outlook can help future performance. If students feel nervous or overwhelmed, having a class discussion might help them to reframe the daunting work ahead as a challenge or adventure that they can take on together.

2. What do you think is the most important thing you learned this week? 

Each student arrives at school carrying different baggage every day, and sometimes the most important thing they learn won’t be academic. Educators can support and validate their experiences by giving students time to share what seemed most important to them personally. This is also a great chance for teachers to gauge a student’s social-emotional learning skills. Also how mentally prepared their students are to tackle new concepts and to honor the different values their students bring to school each day.

3. What grade or score did you work the hardest for this term?

By focusing on effort rather than results, students build their growth mindset. Often, the marks that students feel they worked the hardest for aren’t the highest marks they’ve received. This can be a great talking point to build resilience and work ethic while recognizing that process is often more important than outcome. “Easy grades” don’t often bring the same pride that hard earned marks do.

4. Which of your strengths did you use the most for this assignment? 

Linking strengths to schoolwork will help to reinforce for students that their strengths are honored and valued at school. It will also help to broaden student understanding of the strengths that support success at school. While math skills might help on a math test, so will “soft skills” like patience, resilience, focus, and confidence. Reinforcing these more abstract qualities and grounding them in a familiar context will enable them to work towards developing them in a more intentional way.

5. What are your personal and academic goals for this term?

Supporting realistic goal-setting and then allowing students time to make a plan to achieve those goals gives them a chance to practice not only goal-setting, but also self-reflection and prioritization. As they reflect on their academic goals, students cultivate a deeper understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and personal motivations, and thus assess their progress, make adjustments as needed, and take ownership of their learning experiences.

6. What is your motivation for this assignment? 

In order to be successful, students need to want to succeed. Giving them time to reflect on why their success is important to them can help give them the boost they need to prioritize their work and maintain a positive outlook. It’s also helpful for teachers to know when a student’s only perceived motivation is a passing grade, since this might allow the opportunity to help reframe the work ahead.

7. How does your work reflect your values this month?

It’s important for educators to recognize when a student’s energies are better spent on something other than schoolwork. A student who spent the week taking care of a sick grandparent or practicing for this weekend’s martial arts state championship might rightfully report that their schoolwork took a backseat to other values this week. That’s valuable information for teachers to have, and students feel validated when teachers recognize that schoolwork is not the only reflection of their values.

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8. As part of the SEL curriculum, what’s the most interesting thing you learned this week?

The breadth of interests that students come to school with can be a refreshing reminder of who they are outside of school. Honoring those interests and reinforcing the value of learning beyond the classroom helps students to feel confident in who they are and what they bring to the table. it sends a message that learning is not confined to the classroom walls

9. What mistakes have you made on this test or assignment, and what SEL skills have you used to manage them?

Students build problem solving skills and resilience by recognizing their ability to overcome obstacles and mistakes. They can build core SEL competencies by managing emotions, reframing their outlook, and recognizing mistakes as opportunities for growth.

10. What mistake did you learn the most from on this project?

Mistakes don’t have to be a bad thing. Celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities by asking students to think about how they’ve learned and grown from their past mistakes.

More on social-emotional learning skills

SEL encompasses a set of skills and competencies, which is part of a larger framework and approach that cultivates multiple skills essential for emotional intelligence and interpersonal effectiveness.

There are 5 core competencies that are taught in SEL:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship skills
  5. Responsible decision-making

SEL interventions are structured programs or strategies implemented in educational settings to promote students’ social and emotional skills. Examples include curricula focused on emotional regulation and activities promoting empathy and teamwork.

Implementing SEL skills in your curriculum: Key considerations

It’s important to note that social-emotional learning doesn’t happen within a bubble. Teachers can leverage the work their students are doing in SEL to improve their academic performance, strengthen their relationships, and build community in the classroom across all subject areas.

Along with these questions, you can deepen the impact of SEL by incorporating mindfulness techniques into your teaching. You could encourage students to pay close attention to their environment at least once a day and take a non-judgemental and non-reactive stance to situations in their life. Doing this will help build mindfulness awareness into daily actions and decision-making. 

As you start exploring ways to implement SEL in your day-to-day teaching activities, you should anticipate some pushback from students (especially from teens). To start on the right foot, you need a quick and memorable activity or lesson that demonstrates SEL is an exciting and relevant subject, brought to life by an insightful and relatable educator.

You will find everything you need to make a strong first impression in our engaging ‘Icebreakers for Teens’ life-skills lesson. Get access to it completely for FREE by clicking the button below. 

Icebreakers for Teens: A Life Skills Lesson in 15 Minutes or Less

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Jon Izak

Jon Izak is the founder and CEO of Ori Learning.