Social Emotional Learning Activities for Upper Elementary and Middle School Students

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has been found to promote academic success and increase students' commitment to school. Generally, there are five key components that make up social emotional learning. These competencies include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision making. 

Today, I'd like to focus on ways to help students develop self-awareness. Self-awareness includes one's ability to recognize emotions, have an accurate self-perception, identify strengths, develop confidence, and show self-efficacy. 

Researchers have found that a student's ability to control his or her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors can be linked to academic success. So, let's take a look at some easy ways to help students develop an awareness of their individual characteristics and personal emotions.

All About Me - A - Z

This activity helps students to define and identify a variety of aspects about themselves. They'll create a list about themselves with a characteristic, quality, or emotion for each letter of the alphabet. 

Materials: Piece of paper, pen or pencil


  • - On a piece of paper, have students create two columns. (Or grab a ready-made poster here.)
  • - Have them write all the letters of the alphabet in each column. 
  • - Then, challenge them to write something about themselves for each letter. For instance, they might write "gregarious" for G or "curious" for C. 


  • - Share your own A to Z list with students first.
  • - Create a class list of emotions and descriptive words to get students started.
  • - Assemble students' finished lists in a class book.

Moment of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a great way to build self-awareness. Since mindfulness is all about paying attention to the present moment, it's a great way for students to pause and reflect on how they are feeling, what they are thinking, and what they need in the present. It's simple to do too! 

Ways to take a moment of mindfulness:

  • - At the beginning of class, have students close their eyes and take several deep breaths. Ask students to pay attention to their breathing.
  • - Share a mindfulness quote with students to help focus students' thoughts during a moment of mindfulness.
  • - Pause during instruction and have students do a self-awareness check. Encourage them to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings.

Reflective Journaling

Reflective journaling is a powerful way to help students become self-aware. With targeted writing prompts, students can develop insight into their feelings, make sense of their experiences, and build clarity on their thoughts. When students write about their own experiences and feelings, they become more self-aware.


  • - A notebook and/or computer, pen or pencil, writing prompts
  • - A list of writing prompts that spark self-reflection, these might include: 
  • --- Write about a time when you were proud of yourself.
  • --- List ten things that make you feel excited.
  • --- Reflect on how you have changed this year.
  • --- What is something that you find challenging?
  • (Check out a set of 10 engaging prompts here.)


  • - Have students respond to their prompts as if they are writing a letter to themselves..."Dear me..."
  • - Read students' responses and respond to their writing in the margins. Add questions and positive notes at the end of their writing to build connections and spark further reflections.
  • - Schedule a time each day or week for journaling to make it an intentional part of your classroom community.

Growth Mindset

There are many ways to help students develop a growth mindset. When students develop an understanding that all forms of intelligence are malleable, they are inspired to work toward success. That's why it is so powerful to infuse lessons about growth mindset into instruction. Giving students a moment to reflect on their own mindsets builds self-awareness.


  • - Short lessons or articles about Growth Mindset to help students understand the differences between a fixed and growth mindset.
  • - Series of questions about students' own mindsets.



  • - Share and display inspirational quotes about growth mindset. (I particularly love paper desk tents. They are an easy way to display quotes right on students' desks.)

Emotions Skits

Researchers have noted that there are at least six universal emotions. These include happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust. Help students investigate and demonstrate these universal emotions by challenging them to write a short play or skit that involves a character or many characters experiencing one of the universal emotions.



  • - Review the six universal emotions with students. As a class have students brainstorm what each emotion looks like (how people look when they are experiencing that emotion) and sounds like (what people might say when experiencing that emotion).
  • - Brainstorm situations where people might feel each emotion. Encourage students to share personal situations when they felt a certain way.
  • - Divide students into small groups. Secretly assign each group an emotion.
  • - Challenge students to write a script that their small group could act out for the class that demonstrates that emotion.
  • - Have small groups perform for the class. Have the audience identify the emotion prevalent in the skit.

Self Check-In

Daily feelings check-ins are a great way to build self-awareness. When students are given the opportunity to assess how they are feeling and share their emotions with others, they begin to know themselves more fully. Self check-ins also help normalize feelings. 

  • - Paper with an open grid shape
  • - List of feelings

  • - Pass out the gridded paper to students.
  • - Have them fill the grid with different emotions.
  • - Then, have students display the grid on their desks.
  • - Have them place a token or shape on the emotion that shows how they are feeling at a particular moment.

  • - Once students can recognize their feelings, help them to develop strategies for regulating their emotions.
  • - Encourage students to track their feelings over an entire school day. Then, discuss how feelings change in different situations.


I hope you've found a few ways to help students develop self-awareness. Incorporating lessons that target social emotional learning is essential in today's classrooms. If you're looking for ready-made resources, check out this set of 10 SEL reading passages and this set of 6 Self-Awareness Activities

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

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