A teacher comforting a crying student
For Teachers

Useful Counseling Activities to Promote Social-Emotional Learning

By Carlete Metoyer, MA November 9, 2018

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has become popular amongst K-12 educators and even education service providers, such as American College Testing (ACT). SEL no longer resides solely in counseling offices; it has become a collective movement to ensure educators meet the needs of the whole student.

As a counselor for 10 years and teacher for three years, I understand the challenge of making an impact on students beyond their academics. We continue to try to help them in different ways because we know reaching students is the first step in teaching them. A student’s social-emotional health can have a direct impact on their academic performance.  

Social-emotional learning is an opportunity for collaboration between counselors and teachers. Many of the challenges that I face in the counseling office are similar to the challenges that teachers face in the classroom. Creative counseling techniques and activities can help teachers impact students’ social-emotional learning. Creative counseling gives students something to remember, and it affects their minds and hearts. 

Impact Therapy

Impact Therapy, founded and developed by Ed Jacobs, PhD, is a multisensory approach to counseling that engages both the right and left brain. Dr. Jacobs asserts counseling should not be boring and that the brain likes novelty. Using creative tools such as props, chairs, movement, and writings reinforce theory-driven counseling with a lasting impact on students.

Benefits of using creative techniques:

  • To focus your time with students
  • To make concepts more concrete
  • To heighten awareness
  • To dramatize a point
  • To enhance learning because students are often visual and experiential learners

Using these techniques has brought new life to my counseling sessions. Students walk away with an image to remind them of a concept they should practice. These techniques can have the same impact in the classroom as well.

Creative counseling activities for your classroom

Below are six activities that you can try with students as a way of connecting with them and promoting SEL.

Discussing worth vs. performance

Tool: Disposable cup
How to use:  When students enter the classroom for an exam and/or project, hand them a cup and ask them to write their names on them. Instruct them to place the cup in a safe place. Explain to students that the cup represents their worth and that their worth is not on the line while completing the exam or project. Once the exam or project is complete, return each student’s cup as a reminder that their worth is still intact. Use this tool to start a discussion with students on reasons why worth can be associated with performance, the negative thoughts/feelings that can result, and ways to change their thinking.

Reducing anxious feelings

Tool: Pinwheel
How to use: Teaching students deep breathing techniques during the height of anxious feelings can be difficult. You can, however, show them how to operate a pinwheel (which will accomplish the same task). When a student exhibits anxious feelings, instruct them to blow on the pinwheel to make it spin. Without noticing, they will start engaging in deep breathing to calm down.

Exploring team dynamics/Seeing and celebrating the best in others

Tool: Winnie-the-Pooh characters
How to use: The Winnie-the-Pooh characters represent some of the best and most challenging aspects of humanity. When each resident of the Hundred Acre Wood attempts a feat alone, it usually ends in failure. When the characters work together, they always achieve the best results.  The same is true with teamwork. Engage students in a discussion about each of the characters, helping them to understand how teams can work well together.

Correcting negative thinking

Tool: Plastic ants and a gelatin mold
How to use: Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) happen to all of us and they never occur in isolation.  For instance, “My mom wasn’t good at math, so I’m not good at math. I wasn’t good at math in elementary school, so I know I won’t get any better in high school. If I can’t understand math, I can’t go to college. And, if I can’t go to college, I can’t get a job!” That’s the snowball effect.  

The gelatin mold, in the shape of a brain, represents thinking. The plastic ants represent negative thoughts. Teach students to smash their ANTS with positive self-talk. When a negative thought comes up again, you and the student now have a common language to identify it as an “ANT.”  Then the student just needs to figure out how to smash it!

Building trust

Tool: Rubber band
How to use: Hold one end of the rubber band while the student holds the other. Pull the rubber band as far back as the tension will allow. Then inform the student that you will be releasing the rubber band (they will start bracing for the snap).  Count to three, and then gently bring the rubber band back to its original position. Explain to the student that relationships, including yours, can have tension, but you will not do anything to harm them.  

Analyzing the consequences of anger/Seeing people beyond their exteriors

Tool: Coke bottle, Sprite bottle, and a water bottle
How to use: The Coke bottle can represent cloudy thinking, preventing our ability to see/understand clearly. It can also represent anger. The water bottle can represent clear thinking or the calm version of ourselves. The Sprite bottle represents the appearance of thinking clearly and/or calmly, but if shaken up, it can make just as much of a mess as the Coke bottle. Use this tool to help students identify how they are feeling and the consequences of their actions based on their feelings.

Further exploration

There are no limits to the items that can be used for creative counseling. These methods and activities can be incorporated into content-specific lessons as well as social-emotional learning projects or units. For more information about Impact Therapy, visit: www.impacttherapy.com

Carlete Metoyer is the founder of CSM Counseling Solutions, LLC, which provides professional development, instruction, and consultation to counselors. She has been a school counselor in Texas for 10 years and currently serves as the lead counselor for a 6A high school. Carlete has worked in inner-city, suburban, rural, and online schools, giving her a broad perspective of student needs. She has also worked in the private sector as well as healthcare. Carlete is currently completing her internship to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

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