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Social-Emotional Learning Small Groups

Guided small group time for social-emotional learning


For many students, school has often been a safe place and one where they find structure and community. With the shift to remote and hybrid learning, students are in even more need of that stability and connection. To help students maintain some structure and build their social-emotional skills, embed daily social-emotional small groups into your schedule.

During these guided social-emotional small groups, take ten minutes to allow students to connect and build relationships and trust with each other outside of the academic content. This small-group time is kept solely for social-emotional learning and development as students need to be able to rely upon a safe space to process their feelings and emotions. When creating and introducing these small groups, ensure that you roll out a set of clear guidelines for how they will engage in the group, including how they will participate and share, norms to follow, and one of the most important guidelines: ensuring anonymity. Remind students that everything said and shared in the small group is meant to stay within the group as this is key to building and maintaining trust. It takes a fair amount of vulnerability to participate and share, so be patient with students as they build trust with you and with one another.

Tips for structuring SEL small-group time:

  • Provide structure and routine to the time by sharing a new question each time. Be sure to post the question on a slide for students to read.
  • Give students thinking time before asking them to answer (consider 30 seconds to one minute).
  • Model by answering the question yourself.
  • Limit the small groups to no more than four students to allow for each student to have enough time to process and share.
  • If a particular question brings up difficult feelings for a student, don’t force them to answer. Follow up with this student privately to see how you might support them and help them to process individually.
  • Always thank students for sharing.

Questions to use during SEL small-group time:

  • What is one of your strengths?
  • How do you contribute to our classroom community?
  • How do you show up as a leader?
  • Tell about a time when you’ve been successful. What made you successful?
  • Tell about a time when you’ve failed at something. What did you learn from the experience?
  • Describe a time when you needed help.
  • Describe a time when you helped someone.
  • What is something you’re good at?
  • For a more comprehensive guide for SEL discussion prompts, see CASEL’s SEL Reflection Prompts.