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How to add SEL support into your lessons with Hāpara Workspace

Improving mental health through social and emotional learning

Educators feel an increased urgency to add social and emotional learning (SEL) support to their lessons, but how to do so is not clear. SEL is not a concrete learning target. While there are frameworks in place, they’re relatively new and can be enacted in limitless ways, which is overwhelming. What to do?

Here’s a thought: teachers need SEL support as much as their learners do. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), it’s more important than ever to “demonstrate empathy and resilience, build relationships across distance, and call upon our collective resolve to strengthen our schools and our communities.” If we allow ourselves to make adjustments to not only what we teach but how we teach, we’ll have room to try out new approaches, gather feedback and share our findings throughout our communities. 

Where to begin? Here are some ideas for how to weave each of the five CASEL SEL support competencies into your daily assignments. These work as stand-alone lessons or embedded activities using Hāpara Workspace.


The first SEL support competency centers around teaching learners to recognize their emotions and thoughts to connect them to their behavior. This helps students identify their strengths and limitations. They also build confidence when they learn to make adjustments based on self-knowledge.

Stand-alone SEL activity

“What makes you special?” Ask learners this question via a quick Flipgrid response, which you can link to on your class Workspace. Give learners clear directions, starting with how long they’ll have to introduce themselves (90 seconds should be plenty of time). Learners can present artifacts from their life to share on camera, without actually having the items on hand. Flipgrid responses allow the user to showcase images, text, videos, and drawings as the user is speaking. 

Integrated SEL activity

If you’re learning about a historical figure, ask students to write a paragraph or list of character traits for that person. Naming these qualities helps students to recognize them more easily. (Keep a list of character traits on a Workspace resource card for students to consult.) You can include a Google Form on Workspace for this activity, or create an assignment and ask learners to attach their responses. 


The second competency asks learners to learn to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviors in various situations. Students who learn to manage their time, avoid distractions, and meet goals will find it easier to develop self-confidence.

Stand-alone SEL activity

A great addition to any Workspace is a general check-in form that students can complete each day. (See the one this teacher posted on their Workspace for a unit on rural poetry.) When you pair the form with the day’s agenda, as this teacher did for a science unit, it may give students food for thought as they identify their emotions each day.

When you use Workspace to create a new unit of study, add an SEL card where you can post a choice board with activities to strengthen self-awareness skills. Embed links to videos or articles within the choice board and give learners free rein over how they complete the assignment. Learners can create their own cards to turn in work, and other students can provide feedback. They can read the resources and complete the tasks during downtime in class or independently. 

Integrated SEL activities

You won’t find a better example of seamlessly blending SEL reflection into your students’ days than this set of check-ins on a Workspace that houses a unit on the first five presidents. One check-in link goes to a simple spreadsheet where students log their daily progress with colors. Red is used to indicate a student needs help, which gives the teacher a data point they can use to prepare for the next class. The second check-in link lets students be more specific in reporting their progress, which gives the teacher more information about how to support time management each day.

Social awareness

Focusing on social awareness means helping learners appreciate people and customs outside of their day-to-day world. Considering the perspectives and traditions of other individuals and groups before taking action shows empathy—a skill necessary for harmonious interactions.

Stand-alone SEL activity

Never underestimate the power of a feel-good activity to build class morale. Teach your learners the joy of reaching out to others. I always loved surprising a student by writing their name on the whiteboard. I then asked them to sit in front of it while a volunteer traced their shoulders and head. Learners would then write kind words inside the outline to share their wonderful qualities. There are other great ideas, and none of them are a waste of valuable instruction time. They are activities your learners will remember fondly for a long time. Consider taking a photo of each student sitting in front of their completed outline, adding it to a Google Slides presentation, and posting the link on a Workspace card so everyone can enjoy it.

Integrated SEL activities

While students know that mistakes are part of learning, that message may get drowned out by their fears around learning: the resulting grade, looking dumb, having answers different from their classmates. How can we make a shift that creates a safe space for expressing all kinds of thoughts? 

If engagement feels threatening, encourage wrong answers. Start by sharing your thinking on a low-stakes topic (age limits for trick-or-treating, best apps for listening to music, etc.). Start with your first thought, work out the details aloud, and then arrive at a good answer. Take feedback from your learners and adjust as needed until you feel confident. Then ask your learners to practice doing the same, maybe on a shared Google Slides document that you share with the class or small groups via Workspace. Make sloppy, public, no-shame learning the norm in your classroom.

Relationship skills

Developing relationship skills means building positive relationships with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures to build social and ethical norms for behavior. The end goal is for students to identify and empathize with people outside of their usual circle. This helps them refine communication and conflict resolution skills, while appreciating the unique perspective that collaboration brings.

Stand-alone SEL activities

The Better Arguments Project is a resource for teaching students not to stop disagreeing—but to understand different viewpoints and consider them when forming arguments. They offer free lesson plans on their website. One example is an exit ticket with questions to share at the end of class activities involving discussion. It’s also a great idea to gather age-appropriate resources in one place on your Workspace, like this example for kindergarten students. They can be accessed during down time or together as a group activity.

Integrated SEL activities

When a learning activity involves group work, set your students up for success by modeling positive behavior. They know relationship-building skills will be imperative in college and into their careers. They need tangible ways, though, to practice and reflect. Model ways to handle potential pitfalls found during group projects, and get your class involved. Show students how you use the class Workspace to start with learning goals, provide resources, assign tasks, collect work and provide feedback. When you’re done, use an existing handout for reflection, or come up with a list of reflection questions together. Learners can complete these questions on a Google Form linked to a Workspace. Or they can embed them in the group’s final presentation or paper.

Responsible decision-making

According to The Connecting Link, teens and young adults use the amygdala (the emotional or reactionary part of the brain) to make decisions. This often leads to action based on emotion rather than thinking about long-term consequences. The final SEL support framework element asks us to teach students to override impulse decisions with a pause for thinking. The goal is empowered decisions based on ethical and societal norms that consider a variety of outcomes.

Stand-alone SEL activities

Teach students frameworks for making decisions. Just like they learn to make outlines before writing papers, starting with a framework will guide them to weigh the pros and cons of a choice. Some frameworks exist to teach learners these skills: the SODA framework is one. Helping students think through problems and learn strategies for solving them leaves them more self-confident and empowered. There are several activities you can try in class. ICED is another framework you can use in class. Plus, there’s the oldie but goodie: the T-chart! There are a number of online mind map websites students can use if they’d like to complete this task digitally. Create a quick resource card on Workspace so students can find them quickly.

Integrated SEL activities

When planning a unit of study, consider using Workspace to teach your lessons. Give learners all of the articles, assignments, videos, and slides ahead of time. Then let them choose how to proceed. As a group with you leading the pacing? Or on their own, only checking in with you when they need help? Even if you prefer to do this on a smaller scale, it’s an excellent way to teach them to manage their time, set their expectations, and punt when they run into roadblocks.

Discover how a South Carolina school district supports SEL with browser monitoring.

Watch the video to hear why Highlights helps educators like Kathryn combine monitoring with social and emotional learning.
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