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Social and Emotional Learning

5 Social-Emotional Learning Activities for High School Students

5 Min Read
Sel activities

Do you ever think back to your high school years? Now that my daughter is in middle school and starting to get a taste of what’s to come in the future, I find myself thinking about how high school students must be struggling during this pandemic.

There are no social gatherings for students to feel connected to their school or communities; no more school dances, no more crowded concerts, no more spirited sporting events. Without these, our students need to look to family, close friends, and teachers for advice and social skills to help them face the future.

As high school students get closer to senior year, they often feel pressured to make plans for their future—whether that’s going to college or planning for a career in a specific field. It’s daunting to them knowing that at 18 years old, they are legally considered adults and soon will be expected to be financially and socially independent. You, as their teacher, can help them figure out what’s truly important in their lives so that they can envision their long-term goals.

SEL Activities for High School

How can you ensure your high school students feel secure and confident enough to face whatever the world may throw at them? The answer is by helping them discover their passions by enabling them to tell their story, while teaching them to be empathetic and self-confident at the same time.

Here are five social-emotional learning activities for high school, with an emphasis on reading and writing. These activities are based on the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) core competencies, to help you mold your students into independent and meaningful contributors to society.

1. Self-Awareness

Students need to develop their interests and find a sense of purpose. Assigning a writing prompt with an anonymous peer review is a great way to get students thinking about themselves with an authentic audience in mind. This writing prompt and graphic organizer from the A Chance in the World SEL Collection in Writable will help students reflect on their lives by answering this question: How do teenagers form their identity?

You may also consider assigning this prompt with the novel The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph, a book on the HMH Into Literature novels list. This novel will help students understand what it feels like to discover their voice and be heard.

2. Self-Management

This competency is the quintessential emotional intelligence students need to be successful and self-confident. The key is to remind students to focus on their skills (and not their perceived deficiencies) in order to set meaningful goals and have the self-motivation and self-discipline needed to achieve them.

Overcoming personal problems or crises often teaches us a lot about our self-management skills. Assign this prompt: What can suffering teach us? Students' responses can be based on their personal experiences, or they can respond after reading a novel such as The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater.

3. Responsible Decision-Making

This competency involves making personal and social choices related to ethics, safety, and social norms, as well as considering the consequences of those choices. Skills related to this competency involve analyzing situations, recognizing and solving problems, and evaluating ethical responsibility.

This prompt, What allows people to persevere to overcome obstacles?, will help students dig deep and realize that every action has a consequence. They can base their responses on their own experiences or additional research. You may also assign the novel Ghost by Jason Reynolds, which teaches students that you can’t run from your past, but you should learn from it to make better decisions in the future.

4. Social Awareness

Help students understand that other people have different perspectives and are worthy of respect. Social awareness includes having empathy for others and appreciating diversity. These skills center around listening and working to understand other people.

Literary analysis is a great tool for teaching students about different points of view and empathy. Help students internalize feelings of empathy with this prompt: How can fiction shape our view of ourselves?

5. Relationship Skills

According to Harvard Medical School, strengthening social relationships is important for all of us as it leads to living a longer and more fulfilling life.

This writing prompt and graphic organizer from the A Chance in the World SEL Collection in Writable will help students analyze some of their closest relationships: How can you strengthen ties with family members? Use this as an open writing assignment, or assign this essential question prompt with the novel Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, a novel on the HMH Into Literature list.

You know the relationships you have with your students are what tips the scale when it comes to their engagement and learning. I hope these SEL activities for high school will inspire and appropriately challenge them to think about all the ways they fit into their communities and how they can get to know themselves better. When students are able to make meaningful connections with all of the people in their lives, they are more likely to realize their true potential and envision a future where they can see their own worth and make a difference in the world.

Here’s to helping them achieve their goals, find their passions, and figure out their dreams!


Explore more fun social-emotional learning activities for all grade levels.

Learn about HMH's embedded SEL curriculum for high school and how to help students thrive personally and academically.

Explore all of the SEL resources on Shaped.

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