Five Ways to Integrate SEL into Holiday Classroom Activities

Dec 20, 2019 · 5 min read

By Kayla DeMuth, Academic Designer

The holidays can be filled with joy and decorations, but also stress and difficult emotions. Because of this, it is a perfect time for students (and teachers) to find time to practice gratitude, support their communities, reflect, and learn to appreciate the people all around them. Bringing social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies, such as self-awareness and social awareness, into the classroom can provide students with outlets to practice their SEL skills, as well as use those skills to deal with the unique stresses that may come this time of year. Here are five ideas to help facilitate social and emotional learning in the classroom during the busy holiday season.


One of easiest ways that students and teachers can support their social awareness is to get involved with a local charity and give back to communities. You could find a local community shelter or food bank and have your students collect money or donate gifts. You could even invite a representative from a local charity to your classroom to speak to the students about their work and the people they help. Experiences like this, that focus on others’ needs above their own, help give students perspective.

Charities that are in particular need this time of year include:

Writing Prompts

Identifying and regulating emotions are important life skills, especially around the holidays. Students may really benefit from having time and space to anticipate emotions they feel during a holiday season and how they could best respond to these emotions. Journaling is an excellent outlet for this that easily fits into existing classroom procedures. Some ideas for writing prompts are:

  • What do you do when you don’t get what you want?
  • What are some difficult things you deal with during the holidays and how do you handle them?
  • What do you enjoy about the holidays?

Practicing Gratitude

Being thankful shouldn’t be just a Thanksgiving tradition, but one that students practice often. Along with the potential stressors of the holidays, this season also provides many unique opportunities to be thankful. You might want to construct classroom activities that draw students’ attention to positive aspects of their lives. One idea is creating a classroom list of things your students are grateful for and keeping it posted in the room as a reminder. You could also make a game out of it. Play a memory chain game where the first student says something they are grateful for. The next student should recite what the previous student said and then add another idea, while also not repeating anything. This can be continued throughout the classroom, creating a long chain of gratitude.

Learning about other Cultures/Traditions

There is such a variety of holiday traditions around the world, and even within the classroom, students may have different ways to celebrate the season. It’s important to respect and appreciate all these differences. To bring other cultures and traditions into the classroom and foster a sense of social awareness, you could have your students share about their own family traditions and the holidays they celebrate. Then, assign each student a holiday different than one they already celebrate to research and present to the class.

Classroom Note Exchange

Building a good classroom culture is an integral part of helping students feel safe and heard in the classroom. A great way to continue to build this is by doing a note exchange, like a Secret Santa, but with compliments. This in-class activity could include students drawing a name of another student in their class and writing them a note about things they appreciate about them. After exchanging notes and reading the note written for them, students could take a chance at guessing who wrote it. This could be a fun activity to go along with a classroom holiday party and would help students appreciate each other, building their relationship skills.

With a bit of creativity, incorporating social and emotional learning in your classroom during the holiday season can be not only beneficial, but also fun. Along with helping support your students’ social and emotional sides, you should also to take time for yourself. Set your grading aside and do something that brings you joy and de-stresses you. Hopefully these ideas help make your classroom a little merry and bright, while also helping students develop their social and emotional wellness!

Kayla Demuth has been with McGraw-Hill for one year as an Academic Designer for the middle school science programs. She comes from the high school classroom where she taught physical science and biology. Her time as an educator helped spark a passion in helping students realize their value and become the best versions of themselves. She now takes this passion and applies it to her current role by getting involved in research and training surrounding social emotional learning. Outside her job, she enjoys visiting new coffee shops and hanging out with her husband and one-year-old daughter.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.


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We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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