Social and Emotional Learning

5 Social-Emotional Learning Activities for Middle School

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As a mother of a sixth-grade student, I know how important social-emotional learning (SEL) is. As a middle school teacher, you know that anything social dominates students’ lives and drives their emotional states.

This is a delicate time for students; they are trying to figure out who they are, what friends really are, and where they fit in their school and home communities. They have conquered elementary school but are getting anxious about high school. This “stuck-in-the-middle” feeling brings new challenges every day for middle school students. You, as their teacher, are a source of guidance and comfort in this time of huge social and emotional growth.

SEL Activities for Middle School

How can you ensure your middle school students become the best versions of themselves? The answer is teaching them to be empathetic and self-confident at the same time. Here are five SEL activities for middle school, based on the CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) core competencies, to help you mold your students into thoughtful, successful people.

1. Self-Awareness

When I think of self-awareness, I immediately think of self-improvement. One of the best ways to improve is to have a growth mindset.

Display this “Habits of a Learning Mindset” poster in your classroom or on your remote learning resources site and start each day by picking a quality and asking each student to give an example that relates to them. For example, think about the quality of perseverance; tell me about a time when you learned from a mistake. The 12 qualities in this learning mindset poster will propel students toward a “can-do” attitude and empower them with positivity.

2. Self-Management

This competency is the quintessential emotional intelligence students need to be successful and self-confident. As stated in this blog post, 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.

Setting and achieving goals makes students feel good about themselves and allows them to pursue new challenges. Use the full free lesson plan from the Carmen Sandiego Fearless Kids web series, “Write a Goal-Setting Letter To Yourself," to help students build self-management competencies by setting and working toward a personal or academic goal.

3. Social Awareness

Respecting others, having empathy, and appreciating diversity are some life skills students need when it comes to social awareness. Use this Notice & Note social-emotional activity for middle school, which involves close reading with excerpts from A Long Walk to Water, to help students understand other perspectives and empathize with Salva, a Sudanese boy who must face some tough questions and hardships as a refugee.

4. Responsible Decision-Making

Educators often help teach students to make good choices and behave ethically. Assigning a writing prompt is a great way to get students thinking about their actions and social norms, along with the well-being of others. This writing prompt and graphic organizer from Writable’s A Chance in the World SEL Collection will help students reflect on their decisions by answering this question: What does it mean to face the consequences of your decisions? Think about assigning this essential question prompt with the novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, a book on the HMH Into Literature novels list.

5. Relationship Skills

Relationships with family and friends are the most important part of any middle school student’s life. Help your students establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships by giving them the ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.

This writing prompt and graphic organizer, from Writable’s A Chance in the World SEL Collection, 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.

The teacher-student relationship influences many aspects of a middle school student’s life. The more you give of yourself, the more your students will blossom. I hope these social-emotional learning activities for middle school will help you and your students focus on positive virtues.

Remind your students that it’s OK to feel scared or unsure sometimes because it’s those challenging times that propel us to grow emotionally. SEL boils down to helping students believe in themselves and being aware of the needs of others around them to establish that all-important balance of self-confidence and empathy.


Social and emotional skills are essential to personal and academic growth. Discover how HMH can support your social-emotional learning curriculum for middle school students.

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