4 Ways to Sneak In SEL at Every Grade Level: Part 1

Social Emotional Learning (SEL), or teaching the whole child is beginning to gain a more prominent foothold in education. Starting it in your classroom may seem daunting, even though you understand the value and research behind it. It was for me, but as I begin to see benefits, sometimes immediately, then as I do with anything, I dive right in with both feet. 

What does SEL look like in the kindergarten classroom? In 8th grade? What about at the high school level?It can be challenging to find ways to intermingle SEL with your content. Time is always a factor, and the standards that we teach dominate our thoughts, but here is the first of four ways you can sneak SEL into your classroom at any grade level.

For There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done


A whole class break can be really helpful on days when students are especially active or having difficulty focusing on learning. One that is easily adaptable at each level is the Rainbow Walk, which moves the body and rests the mind. Students struggling with anxiety, anger, and depression can find great benefits with this activity or any movement activity that fits your style or students.

The instructions are very simple:  Take a walk with your class, and have students look for something that goes with each color of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. As the teacher, you decide how long the walk lasts. It might be just a short walk or it could be extended. You keep looking for items of those colors, in order, until the end of your walk.

Lay Your Weary Head to Rest

How This Looks At Each Grade Level:


With Technology: Students with iPads or tablets can take pictures of items they find for each color, or create a video using either the device’s video feature, or a software/website like Seesaw or Flipgrid.

Without Technology: Students record on a premade chart. How they record can be different for each grade level or the student’s level of ability. They can circle items, draw pictures, or write sentences. Older elementary students could do a sketchnote of the walk and then add color to their sketchnotes once they return to class. Students can just point out what they find as they discover it. Discuss with students what each focused on for each color and ask about similarities and differences.

Middle/High School:

With Technology: Students can take pictures or videos with their phones, iPads, or tablets of each item they find for each color. They can also make a podcast or record their voice impressions of what they see for each color, or collect their observations on a digital spreadsheet. High school students could use Snapchat to take the pictures and add a quick caption, or just take pictures and add captions later using any program that easily combines text and images.

Without Technology: Students record their colored items either by using a graphic organizer, chart, blank printed spreadsheet, or create sketchnotes. Discuss what students focused on for each color and ask about similarities and differences.

Content Note: If you desire to tie this with your content, you can have students write about what they saw, tell about what they saw, or present what they saw on the walk. The walk can take as little time as you desire as long as each color is recorded at least once.


It would be ideal if you could do this activity along with your class. Elizabeth Merce, Kindergarten Teacher and community college Adjunct Faculty, suggests that for the younger grades, you might want to take them out in small groups so that they can focus, since taking a whole class of kindergartners outside is a challenge all by itself. Taking any age group outside would require your complete focus on the students as well, which is why at some point during the day, you should try to take a Rainbow Walk for yourself. It could be done simply on your way to the bathroom when you are finally able to take that needed break. Maybe you can observe colors on the way to lunch, or the parking lot on the way out the door. Whenever you can sneak it in, it will help you get grounded, and that will help you deal with the rest of your day, evening, week.

Don’t You Cry No More

Why This Works

A Rainbow Walk is a grounding exercise. Grounding, to put it simply, is a technique that helps keep someone in the present. It is important to redirect students back to the here-and-now because grounding skills can help students manage overwhelming feelings, intense anxiety, and sadness. The Rainbow Walk forces students to focus on either specific items inside or outside the classroom that represent each of the colors. This focus on things outside their own anger, fears, and worries can help students regain their mental focus, which then helps them become ready to learn.

Next week I’ll feature another important but easy way to sneak in SEL into your classrooms. 

Headlines are comprised of partial lyrics from Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas.

Headlines are partial lyrics from Carry On Wayword Son by Kansas.

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