Social & Emotional Learning to Create a Successful School Year

As a kindergarten teacher, we have the difficult task of creating a warm and loving environment where children feel comfortable and safe. This task on its own is daunting, but I've always found the most complex piece of this puzzle was finding ways to mesh together my kiddies who had never been to pre-school, daycare, or any other social setting before, with my other students who were used to socializing and classroom type environments (due to daycare, preschool, mommy and me classes, etc). Imagine how overwhelming this is to my little ones? A child who has spent majority of his or her day with mom is now thrown into a room with 20 something other children, who all want to touch his stuff, talk to him, play with him, etc AND there is an adult in the room that he is expected to listen to and it's not fact, mommy is no where to be found!

There are a lot of ice breaker type activities that can be done, and yes I do them and enjoy them, but I do not feel that those have a long term impact on the classroom environment, or the individual. What I have found to be the most successful long-term strategy, is carving out time in the beginning of the year to educate students about emotions. Teaching children how to properly identify and deal with emotions is crucial. By providing kiddies with proper vocabulary, and an outlet to discuss emotions, we are helping them grow into level headed learners. The ultimate key to my success has been proving to my kids that I will always listen to them when they are feeling a certain way, and by providing them with the tools to be able to identify how they are feeling, express it properly, and brainstorm ways to solve it (if need be).

So how do I do this with a group of 4 and 5 year olds? 

The first thing I do is read the book Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis. This book introduces the vocabulary for a variety of emotions and has wonderful illustrations.

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We have a group discussion about how we are feeling and I let them know that we are going to start learning about a lot of new words that help describe different moods.

Next, I plan out which emotions I'd like to teach first. I generally start with the popular ones like happy and sad, and save the unfamiliar emotions for later on in the unit.

There are some really great books available if you'd like to start with a read aloud. I love using picture books as springboards for group discussions.
Some of my top recommendations are below. You can click the photos to purchase them straight from Amazon!

Whether you choose to use a read aloud or not, each lesson runs the same way, so I prep my materials ahead of time. 

For each lesson I have ready:
*The wall poster
*The flash card
*Anchor chart image already on chart paper
*Facial Identification worksheet printed
*Differentiated writing prompt printed
-I print the two worksheets double sided-
*Student bubble map printed (for my fast finishers)

I start my mini lessons by showing them the large image from either the wall poster or the anchor chart. I ask students to guess what emotion the child is feeling. From there we have a discussion about it. Some key questions are:

*What makes you think that?
*How do you know?
*When have you felt that way?
*Do you like feeling that way? Why?
*How can we make someone feel (insert emotion)?
*What should we do if someone feels (insert emotion)?

As we are talking,  I add information to our bubble chart. The goal is to compile a list of words or events that answer the question "What makes you feel (insert emotion here)?"

The group discussions are THE most important part of the lesson. It is the time to teach socially appropriate ways to deal with emotions. For example, if we are talking about being sad and Brody shares that he feels sad when his friends don't share with him, I would ask my other students to brainstorm ways that Brody could solve that problem. I would also ask my students to brainstorm ways they could prevent that from happening again. These meaningful discussions are what we refer back to throughout the year.

After I feel like we have touched all of the important pieces of the emotion, I ask my students to complete an independent task. This allows me to informally assess each student. 

They are to identify the emotion by looking at a variety of pictures. This demonstrates whether or not they can identify social cues. 

Then I ask them to write about it. I have included differentiated writing paper to help meet the needs of your individual students but also to help you use this across the grades. One paper includes a traceable sentence starter which helps our beginning writers. The other paper is blank, allowing more advanced writers to do it on their own. 

Any fast finishers can grab a copy of the bubble map and either copy our class chart OR complete it using ideas of their own.

I continue this pattern each time I teach emotions, until I have completed all of the emotions in my unit. The unit includes:

After we have discussed all of the emotions, I do some wrap up activities, such as, providing them with different scenarios and asking them to identify the emotions within each one. I also make sure to display the wall posters, and I keep them there all year long.

To conclude the unit, I do have an assessment that I give the kiddies. It touches on everything we discussed in class. This helps me see who may be in need of some small group work for social emotional lessons.

This unit is not only good for whole group in general education classes. This is a great tool for any child who may suffer from a social deficit. You can also integrate this into small intervention groups. Two of my co-workers start each small group with a mini social emotional piece. They lay out the smaller flash cards and ask each child "how are you feeling today?" This lets students not only vent and clear their mind before getting to the more challenging academic piece, but it helps them get rid of some anxieties, work on language pieces (answering questions in complete sentences), practice good listening skills (while the other members are sharing), and more. I've found this to be extremely successful and an excellent way to start small group. I also offer a FREE Feelings Chart in my TpT store, if you'd prefer to use a chart rather than flash cards.

Take a peek at the product image from TpT:

If you think this is something your class would benefit from, you can grab your copy HERE!!

Michelle Vasilescu AKA Mrs V

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