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Ways To Teach Social-Emotional Learning Skills Online

Image by B Ban from Pixabay

Social-emotional learning provides students with the opportunity to develop key life skills. Even as learning moves online into virtual classrooms, it's essential that you create an inclusive, respectful and inviting class community. Despite the distance, there are still ways to effectively teach these core skills, whilst creating a supportive learning environment in which students can thrive.

Be A Role Model For Kindness, Empathy And Compassion

As with many other aspects of social and emotional learning, children learn from example. If you want to teach your class to be more compassionate, kind and show empathy, then begin by displaying these traits yourself. Remember that you are a role model and display the type of attitudes and behaviors you would like your students to show.

Be mindful of how you respond to your students, including your tone, facial expressions and body language. Students will pick up on this and will likely mirror it. Take opportunities to show kindness and compassion yourself and it will encourage and motivate your students to do the same in return. Consider giving shout-outs to students at the end of each learning session, offering digital rewards or points and displaying kindness and positivity in your written communication as well as verbal praise.

Establish A Positive Virtual Class Culture

Whether you are in a physical classroom or in a virtual online setting, it's essential to establish a positive class culture. Remind your students that your expectations are the same, even if your lessons have moved online. Establish online etiquette and classroom rules, just as you would for a physical classroom. Most importantly, make sure that you are consistent in your approach.

Setting clear boundaries and expectations will ensure that all students feel safe and supported during their learning, even if the learning environment has changed. This will encourage students to build trust and positive relationships and connections with you and each other.

You could ask students to collectively share ideas for ways in which they could show each other kindness and consideration online. For example, students could create a shared code of conduct for their virtual classroom, such as raising their physical or virtual hands when they want to speak to avoid interrupting others.

You could also take 10-15 minutes at the start or end of each teaching day to ask pupils how they are and encourage them to share their feelings. You could use the opportunity to teach students to meaningfully listen and respond appropriately, kindly and be supportive.

Explicitly Teach SEL Skills

Sometimes the most effective way to teach students how to be kind, compassionate and empathetic is to explicitly teach them social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. Set aside designated time to teach students to understand and recognize their emotions. Encourage them to explore and identify their feelings and to consider what impact these may have on other people around them.

Despite the move towards an online classroom, many games can still be practiced virtually. For example, you could ask students to each display a facial expression or adopt a chosen posture, whilst other members of the class discuss what these non-verbal cues signify. Encouraging students to think about the impact of their behavior on others can help them to become more reflective and develop their self-awareness skills.

Stories or scenario cards are another great way for encouraging students to consider situations from another person's point of view and help to develop their empathy. Discussing situations from a character's perspective can help prompt more critical, self-reflective behavior and understanding.

Similarly, exercises where students have to act out a scenario will help them to develop more consideration and greater awareness. This can be especially effective if students take turns to act out different characters within the same scenario. This can still be achieved either through small group virtual sessions or whole class sessions. Alternatively, hot-seating characters can be another useful strategy.


Provide students with a range of activities which they can work on as a whole class, in small groups or independently to support them to develop key SEL skills. Use a combination of fictive and real-life scenarios to encourage them to make connections to their own lives and behaviors. As far as possible, try to make the activities as easily accessible and inclusive as you can. Above all, model the expected behavior yourself and reinforce it within your virtual classroom consistently.

Guest Blogger:

Katherine Rundell is a successful writer at Australianhelp, where she regularly writes about teaching, including ways to improve online teaching and learning. When not writing, Katherine enjoys spending time reading and doing yoga.



Internet4classrooms is a collaborative effort by Susan Brooks and Bill Byles.




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