5 SEL Check-In Activities for Your Classroom

Social emotional learning is essential for students’ academic and life success, but most professors feel like they don’t have time for it. Here are 5 quick, easy check-in activities to bring social emotional learning to life in your classroom.

by Dr. Liza Johnson, Ed.D., Director of Personal Empowerment at the University of Dubuque and founder of EQ Development Institute



Not a Single Hand

I start my college course on social emotional learning with the same survey, every semester:

“Raise your hand if you received an in-depth education on how to identify, understand, manage, and intentionally use your emotions?”

Typically, not a single hand is raised. In spite of ample evidence that social emotional learning is essential for academic and life success, it’s rarely a focus in the classroom, from pre-K to college.

Emotional check-ins are a quick, effective way to bring social emotional learning to life. Here’s an overview of what check-ins are, why they’re important, and 5 practical check-in activities for you to try.

Special event for #SELDAY

What are Check-Ins?

Check-ins are a process where students are invited to stop, pause, explore, and appreciate their emotions. It normalizes talking about feelings, and empowers students to view their emotions as assets. According to research from UCLA led by Dr. Michelle Craske, the simple act of acknowledging our emotions helps calm the amygdala and reduce the intensity of the emotions we feel. By naming our emotions, we feel more in control. We are less likely to experience an emotional hijack when we name our feelings, and students can create space to make intentional choices about how to move forward.

For this reason and many others, the simple activity of check-in is vital to practice in every classroom from preschool to college. Check-ins help us learn to recognize emotions in ourselves and others, and offer the opportunity to practice navigating emotions and building strong relationships. Plus, and maybe most importantly, a check-in sets the ideal context for learning. Carving out a small amount of time at the beginning of each class for check-in will reap large benefits in students’ overall learning and performance.

Here are 5 practical check-in activities for you to try in your classroom:


5 Practical SEL Check-in Activities


1. Explore The EQ Feeling Chart

A way to help students communicate what they are feeling is using the EQ Feeling Chart (part of the Know, Choose, Give workbook). Download this free resource and provide a copy for every student. Next, ask students to pair up and check-in with each other using the EQ Feeling Chart. Provide the following questions for students to use during their discussions.

What are some of your feelings right now?

Where are those feelings coming from?

What else are you feeling?

Come back together as a whole class and ask some students to share what they notices.


2 Choose Emotion Emojis

Using emojis can be a fun way to express how students are feeling. Have students draw or share an emoji based on how they are feeling. As an option students can use their phones to search emojis or provide a sheet with emojis for students to choose from. Next, ask for volunteers to share their emoji based on how they are feeling.

Download the EQ Feeling Chart

Want to try out the EQ Feeling Chart Check-In? Just fill out the form and we’ll send you a PDF version to print out for students:


3 Do a Body Scan Meditation

Incorporating meditation or mindfulness into the classroom can help bring calmness and awareness, and even maximize students’ potential. Here’s some more information and a sample body scan meditation from Headspace, an app started by an ex-monk that specializes in meditation.


4 Go for a Gallery Quote Walk

In this activity, students can pick a quote that expresses how they feel in the moment. Display eight quotes – here’s a random sampling from Goodreads – around the classroom to create eight stations. Have students disperse around the room to read each quote. Once the students have read all eight quotes, have each student stand by the quote that reflects how they are feeling. As an option let students create or pick their own quote if there is not one that resonates with them. Next, ask for volunteers to share their quotes and how that reflects their current feelings. 

5 ‘What’s my emotion?’ Game

Using the EQ Feeling Chart, have students identify how they are feeling individually. Next, ask a student to demonstrate how they are feeling through their body language and facial expressions only. See if the whole-class can guess what that student is feeling.

5 Creative Check-In Questions

If you don’t have time for an activity, try these simple SEL questions. These come from participants of Six Seconds’ EQ Educator course:

  • Can you think about the most kind person you have ever met? What made this person so special?
  • A campfire has lots of parts, like rocks, wood, match, fire… what part matches your feelings today?
  • What item in your refrigerator represents your feelings at this moment?
  • If you imagine that a time of challenge means you are on one side of a river: What’s on the other side?
  • If you had a teacher or someone else who really supported you — what did they do that worked so well for you?

If you have social emotional learning questions or activities that work well in your classroom, please share them in the Comments section below!

More Social Emotional Learning Resources

Check out these articles and videos to learn more about SEL and Six Seconds’ commitment to this work:

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