Middle school is a time of transition. For many students, it can mean moving to a different school building for the first time in their academic career. For others, having a schedule and shifting between classrooms (each with a different teacher) throughout the day is a significant change. Not to mention, students are also moving from childhood into adolescence.
This is why middle school students need support from their educators—not just in academic learning, but in social and emotional learning as well. Building students' self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy (along with conflict resolution, responsible decision-making, and positive relationship skills) is especially important for middle schoolers. Competency in these areas will help them succeed now and in the future; SEL skills support academic performance and are strongly linked to improved well-being and mental health outcomes.
The following SEL activities for middle schoolers address CASEL's five core competencies of SEL.
- For teachers, consider how you can use these SEL activities during the school day, whether within academic lessons or during morning meetings, advisory periods, homeroom, or transition times.
- For school and district leaders, share these resources with your middle school teams and classroom teachers as inspiration for incorporating social-emotional learning throughout the school day.
- How to Handle Bullying (Social Awareness, Responsible Decision-Making)
- Compassionate Letter Writing (Self-Awareness, Self-Management)
- Planning to Persevere (Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness)
- Trusting My Inner Compass (Self Awareness, Self-Management, Responsible Decision-Making)
- Relationship Building Through Movement (Social Awareness, Relationship Skills)
- SEL Competency-Building Toolkits (Self-Efficacy)
Pro Tip: Through Panorama's Playbook, schools and districts that partner with Panorama can access research-backed lesson plans and interventions from leading social-emotional learning curriculum providers such as Everyday Speech, Camp Kindness Counts, Second Step, Take 5! Institute, CATCH, Transforming Education, and many others!
1. How To Handle Bullying
Courtesy of Everyday Speech
Overview: This interactive activity will guide students through a set of scenarios to help them understand how to approach bullying as an ally and up-stander. Students can work through a variety of scenarios and build responsible decision-making skills when it comes to navigating a bully.
Instructions for Implementation:
“It's important to know how to handle bullying, even when we aren't the ones getting bullied. We try to be an ally and an up-stander when we notice others getting bullied.”
Pro Tip: Because of the virtual nature of this activity, you can give students flexibility about when and where they complete this activity, whether in or outside of school. You can ask students to share answers at a class meeting or during a transition time as part of a broader discussion or circle.
2. Compassionate Letter Writing
Courtesy of Camp Kindness Counts
Overview: Practicing compassion provides the opportunity to show kindness toward ourselves and others. This activity strives to show participants how different it feels when we use kind words and actions toward ourselves instead of using negative self-talk. Research suggests that practicing compassion towards ourselves can help cultivate compassion towards others. Through reflective letter writing, participants will build empathy skills and self-compassion to enhance self-management.
Instructions for Implementation:
Introduction: “Let’s learn about compassion. What do you think compassion means? To some, compassion is showing kindness, patience, and understanding. How can you show compassion to yourself? One way could be to do something that helps you to feel special such as reminding yourself of things you are good at doing, or calming yourself down by taking a few slow, deep breaths! Can you think of other ideas? Today, we are going to practice compassion by writing a letter!”
Activity: Think about a friend or someone you care about. Imagine them having a hard time and think about what you could say or do to help them feel better. Write a letter to them to help them feel better.
- Do you feel it is kind to help someone you care for when they may need help?
- Do you think it is important to also help yourself when you need the help?
- What types of things help you feel better if you are having a hard time?
- Does it help to talk to someone, get a hug, play outside, read a book, or take some deep breaths?
Now let’s practice showing compassion towards ourselves. Read the letter again but now with your own name instead of the person you wrote the letter to!
Reflect: How does the way you talk to a friend who is having a hard time compare to the way you talk to yourself? Do you usually take care of yourself the same way you take care of a friend? Are you a good friend to yourself? What are some ways you can be a better friend to yourself? Why is this important?
Pro Tip: Use this activity as a creative writing exercise or in connection with social studies or literature study. Instead of asking students to write letters to their friends, consider asking them to express compassion for a character in a novel you are reading, or figures from a historical period you are studying.
3. Planning to Persevere
Courtesy of Second Step
Overview: Goal-setting and creating simple plans are positive ways to handle disappointment and can help students develop a growth mindset. Students develop a goal and simple plan for a historical or contemporary figure who persevered in the face of disappointment.
Instructions for Implementation:
- Tell students about prominent historical or contemporary figures who persevered in the wake of disappointment – such as Thomas Edison or Helen Keller.
- Discuss how persevering and achieving their goals affected both the people individually and society as a whole. Consider what would have happened if they had simply given up!
- As a class, in small groups, or individually, choose a well-known person to study in more depth. Find out what setbacks or disappointments the person had to overcome and how they did so.
- Have students select one setback or disappointment and create a goal and simple plan the person could have used to help him or her persevere. Goals can follow the SMART goals model (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound) or be simple statements. Encourage students to make plans that are simple and follow an order that makes sense.
- If students complete this activity individually or in small groups, invite students to share their goals and plans with the rest of the class.
Pro Tip: Use this activity with a real-life figure or a fictional character from a novel you are reading. This can even be used to help with story or character planning for creative writing exercises. If you are a math or science teacher, consider using this exercise with a scientist or mathematician whose work you may be studying!
4. Trusting My Inner Compass
Courtesy of Take 5! Institute
Overview: Integrating the wisdom of mind and body, students practice using their “inner compass” – a felt sense of what is right and true - learning how to access information that can help them to stay safe, set healthy boundaries, and make wise choices.
This capacity-building activity strengthens mindfulness, and the ability to tap into inner wisdom. It helps students to access the power of inner knowing, paying attention to the wisdom of the body, as well as the mind. And it helps them learn to trust their inner experiences.
Instructions for Implementation:
Use the following to guide your conversation:
- We know that our bodies are full of energy – on a physical level, that’s what “runs” us. But our bodies are also full of information. And that information can help us to stay safe, set healthy boundaries, and make better choices. Some people call this their “inner compass.”
- Think of a time when you “just knew” something. You might have had a gut feeling … an actual “body feeling” that you paid attention to. Or you felt guided by your own “inner voice.” You didn’t really need to think about it; out of the blue, you realized that you knew just what to do.
- How would you describe that “inner feeling?” Or that sense of “inner knowing?” How did you know to trust it?
- Notice where you carry this feeling in your body, and how it feels inside you.
- Describe a time that you noticed sensations in your body, or thoughts in your head, that helped you pay attention to what was happening around you, and when you knew just what to do.
Not all students may be able to describe a time when they experienced an inner felt-sense. But having a conversation, sharing experiences (yours, too) and thinking about nurturing this inner capacity will help students to pay attention next time they notice sensations in their body, or a sense of ‘just knowing.’
Pro Tip: Challenge students to express this feeling of “inner-knowing” through drawing or writing. Use this activity as a poetry or essay writing prompt in a creative writing lesson.
5. Relationship Building Through Movement
Courtesy of CATCH SEL Journeys
Overview: In this lesson, students will explore a guiding question focused on teamwork and then engage in movement by learning a new dance and discovering its cultural origins. After engaging in movement, students work in small teams to create a new or revised sequence that expresses personality traits of the group. Dance provides students with an active way to engage in teamwork and explore how each group member brings different strengths and plays an important role. Collaborating on a dance also develops communication skills.
Instructions for Implementation:
Introduction: Being part of a team means being able to rely on each other to accomplish something together. That means you need to do your part because your teammates are relying on you.
Have you ever been let down by a member of a team? What can you learn from this when thinking about your own role on teams?
Today’s challenge is to work with your group to create a movement sequence that expresses the personality traits of the members of your group.
Get Moving: To get warmed up, try out some new ways of moving with the SEL Journeys Dance of the Month. (You can sign-up for free by clicking on the "Activate Your Account" button on the right side of the screen.)
Respond and Connect: After engaging in movement, split students into teams of 2-4 students and revisit today’s big idea with the following activity:
- As a first step, think about how you would complete this sentence: "A positive word or phrase to describe me is ...." Now take a moment for each group member to share their answer.
- Next, help each other come up with a gesture or pose that captures the personality trait each person shared.
- Now, you can add these traits to the steps from today’s dance, or you can make up your own steps. You can take another look at the steps to get some ideas. Think about how you can add personality traits to these moves, or decide if you want to make up entirely new moves.
- Now work with your group to make a movement sequence that expresses the personality traits of each group member. Once you have a plan, rehearse it a few times together. If time permits, groups can volunteer to show their final sequence to the rest of the class and explain how the new dance expresses the personality traits of the group.
- Final Student Reflection: How did it go with your team? Did you do your part to contribute ideas? Did you learn something new about your teammates?
Pro Tip: Consider using this activity as an icebreaker when beginning a new team project to help groups of students share about themselves and get to know one another.
6. SEL Competency-Building Toolkit
Courtesy of Transforming Education
Overview: This toolkit includes professional development resources designed for educators seeking research-based strategies to help students build self-efficacy
TransformEd's self-efficacy toolkit provides educators with a variety of resources and strategies to support the development of students’ self-efficacy.
The toolkit includes:
- More information on what self-efficacy is and why it matters
- An animated short video about self-efficacy that can be shared with students and parents
- A video in which students describe what self-efficacy looks like in their everyday lives
- A range of strategies teachers can integrate into their practice at all grade levels
- A facilitator’s guide (including an abbreviated guide for a 45-minute session)
Pro Tip: Share these resource kits with your colleagues as a way to learn more about these competencies and build strategies within your teaching teams.
Get-to-Know-You Questions: Discover asset-based, inclusive questions that invite student conversation and connection.
Quick Check-in Questions: Use these questions to connect with students about their well-being and social, academic, and emotional needs.
The Two-Word Check-In: Enhance emotional awareness and builds community with this simple classroom exercise.
"Rose, Bud, Thorn" Activity and Worksheet: Support goal-setting and self-reflection with this exercise that prompts students to identify positive moments and pinpoint areas where they need support.
SEL for Elementary School: Bring SEL into your elementary school classroom with these 6 activities.
SEL for High School: Discover five SEL activities for your high school students.
Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum Programs: Learn more about curriculum for elementary, middle, and high school students and how you can bring them into your school district.