8 Fun Social-emotional Learning Games For Middle-school & Elementary Students

Social and emotional learning holds similar significance as academic performance in the lives of students. This is especially true for elementary and middle school students because their young minds are constantly developing the skills that help an individual regulate their emotions and thrive in a social environment.

Activities and games are a fun way of integrating social-emotional learning with academic learning. As kids learn and absorb more when they get involved in hands-on activities and games, educators must use them as much as possible to imbibe these vital skills in children in a fun and engaging way. 

In the following section, we have enlisted our favorite SEL games which kids will, without a doubt, enjoy playing while practicing key emotional and social skills within their classroom premises. 

Fun games to promote social-emotional learning [SEL] in little learners

1. Let’s Play Scrabble

While Scrabble is a one-on-one game, you can convert it into a team game by creating small teams for 2 or 3 students. Let students play the game using seven letter tiles to form words on the board. The team which scores the highest by making as many words as possible wins the game. By modifying this favorite board game into a team game, you will give students a chance to work on skills such as teamwork, taking turns, and partner interaction, along with vocabulary and literacy skills. 

If you wish, you can also do some vocabulary-building activities with your students to boost their command of the language. 

2. Feelings Card Game

Feelings Card Game

The first step to creating self-awareness is to let kids understand the different emotions they experience in their day-to-day lives. This card game encourages kids to identify their emotions and talk about them without hesitation. 

You need a pack of Uno cards to play this card game. Assign respective feelings to every color in Uno cards. Blue could indicate sadness, green for calmness, yellow for nervousness, and red for anger. Kids can begin playing the game as usual, but each time they take a card out of the deck, they must see the color, tell which emotion it corresponds to, and share a story about when they experienced that emotion and how they dealt with it. 

3. Coping Strategies

Coping Strategies

Kids can cope with overwhelming emotions only when they know how to tackle them at the right time. To help them get better at this, educators can teach them simple coping strategies they can practice in times of need. For this game, you need to print sheets with a 3 x 2 grid on them. Each section of the grid must have different coping strategies written on it. This way, there will be a total of six strategies. Examples include –

  • Take a walk
  • Use a stress ball
  • Talk to a friend
  • Take 100 deep breaths, etc. 

Give one sheet to each student and a dice to share between two students. Let the first student roll the dice and perform the coping strategy mentioned on the number that appears on the dice. Now, the next student takes a turn and repeats the game. The student who completes all the strategies first wins the game.

4. Identify Social Cues

Identify Social Cues

Social cues are signs that help us understand how others are feeling so we can respond accordingly. Kids take time to develop this understanding and therefore, through this game, you can make them aware of common social cues they must understand when interacting with others. 

  • Divide students into two groups.
  • Make chits with different social cues written on them. 
  • Ask a student to come forward from the first team, pick up a chit, and enact the social cue mentioned in it.
  • The rest of the team members must guess the social cue and share what they will do if they find someone displaying that cue. 

Be the judge and declare the team that gives the most correct answers and explanations as the winner. 

5. “Be Kind” Scavenger Hunt

"Be Kind" Scavenger Hunt

Prepare a scavenger hunt for your students by collating 25 acts of kindness on a sheet and make multiple copies sufficient to give to every student in the class. Include simple gestures like donating books to your local library, hugging your parents, offering a meal to the homeless, smiling at ten people in a day, etc. Set a time limit for this game’s completion. Say, for example, students must complete all the tasks within one week. The first three students who finish the kindness scavenger hunt get a reward. 

6. The Emoji Game

 The Emoji Game

Emojis are a great way of teaching students different emotions one person can experience. Knowing how you feel when you experience certain emotions helps raise self-awareness and self-management. To play this simple game, print large-sized emojis and stick them on the backs of your students without telling them which emoji they are. 

Now, students must interact and ask questions to each other so their answers can help them identify the emoji placed on their backs. Students who think they have got the answers must get back to you and let you know the emoji they think they are. Note down the names of the first five students who correctly identify their emojis and give them a reward of your choice.

7. Word Pictionary

Word Pictionary

Pictionary is a popular game, and most students in your class will know how to play it. While most times this game is played at an individual level, you can change it into a team game by dividing your students into 2 or 3 groups. 

  • Let one student from each team come forward. 
  • You can now give them a word prompt without letting other members know about it.
  • Now ask these volunteers to explain the word to their teams by drawing pictures on the board. 
  • The team that identifies the word first receives one point.

This game is a great team-building activity when students work together to find solutions, use appropriate communication skills, and learn how to respectfully disagree during the game. 

8. Empathy Jenga

Empathy Jenga

Empathy activities and games build empathy in children. Here is a game that teaches students how to show empathy in different situations. You will need a few supplies, such as a plain Jenga set, a marker, and ten index cards to play this game.

  • Mark numbers 1- 10 on different blocks of Jenga.
  • Take ten index cards and number them from 1 to 10. 
  • Write different empathy-related questions on these index cards.
  • Let students begin the game of Jenga as usual. When students pull out their blocks, they must check if any number is written on them.

If yes, they must pick the corresponding index card and go through the question written on it. Some examples of questions that you can include are – 

  1. What should you do if you see someone crying?
  2. How can you make a new student feel welcomed on his first day at school?
  3. A student in your class recently lost their lovable pet. What would you say to help them feel better?
  4. One of your classmates forgot to bring their lunch. What would you do?

Listen to your students’ answers and discuss the right approach to dealing with similar situations in real life.

Final words

Social-emotional learning is serious work. But it is the job of parents and educators to find ways to turn serious tasks into enjoyable experiences so students can refine their skills without getting involved in monotonous learning techniques. We suggest you try out all the games mentioned above with your students, as and when you get time, throughout the school year. Along with SEL games, you can also incorporate social skills activities and a few online social skills games to create a wholesome learning experience. We are sure your students will have a great time, and so will you, as you see them learning and working on some of the most important skills necessary to lead a fulfilling life.

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