4 Ways to Sneak in SEL at Every Grade Level: Part 4

Drink Water

Oh The River Is Wide

Sure. I know what you’re thinking. Why in the world would Laura waste an entire blog post to talk about water. Drinking water is good for us. Everybody knows that. I know, but bear with me. I have included this in my SEL series because despite how easy and simple it is, drinking water might be the most important. Think about your day at school or at work. Is water readily accessible? For you? Is it convenient to go fill up your cup or water bottle throughout the course of the day? Do you just stick to coffee or soda? How picky are you when students want a drink? Do you mark each time they get one to keep track? See it as an escape from class? Get annoyed at the disruption? As you ponder those questions, which are all based on my twenty-three years in the classroom, I have a few easy ways to make sure you and your students drink water and why you should.

The River It Touches My Life Like the Waves on the Sand

This may be the easiest of the four that I’ve written about to adapt into your daily routine. Let students drink water when they need to do so. Dehydration has negative effects on the brain’s functions, and students generally go all night without drinking water since they are (or should be) sleeping. By making sure students drink water to start their day can go a long way to improving their cognitive function and how they feel about themselves.

And All Roads Lead to Tranquility Base

How This Looks At Each Grade Level:


Build in a water break for every student at the very beginning of class. Trips to the water fountain also incorporate movement, so this can be an awesome two for one activity when students get wiggly or have trouble paying attention. If students have water bottles, you can still have them all stand up, stretch and drink or combine the drinking with any quick physical activity of your choosing. Getting drinks or refilling water bottles can also be used as brain breaks too. Look for ways you can maximize the time away from instruction by combining some of these strategies.

Where the Frown on My Face Disappears

Middle/High School

At this level, teachers are pickier about students leaving the classroom, but you can still incorporate water breaks and movement just like in the elementary classes. Sometimes a student needs to go out of class to get a drink at the fountain or refill his or her water bottle to have a few moments away from class to help settle their emotions. You can also use a large water cooler with a spigot in your classroom. Students can get drinks or refill water bottles from inside your classroom. Just the brief movement for students to get up and walk over to the cooler can be just enough to help them refocus. A hydrated brain is a happy brain.

Take Me Down to My Boat on the River


Our brains get as much benefit from water as our students. We like to wake up, plug in or turn on our coffee pot, drink coffee all morning until noon, and then we might switch to soda, tea, or some really good adults might drink water by that point. But after a dry period during the night without consumption of water, this cycle doesn’t give our brain the precious fluid that it needs to survive. Drink a glass of water when you first wake up in the morning. I chug mine because I am not good at sipping water when I can sip coffee, Coke Zero, or tea. We should also keep a water cooler, bottles of water, or a big mug of it in your classroom. When you hydrate your students, don’t forget about yourself.

And I Won’t Cry Out Anymore

Why This Works

It has been well established that when we’re thirsty, we have a harder time staying focused. Dehydration can impair a student’s (or adult’s) short-term memory function and the recall of long-term memory. Our students’ ability to perform mental math, like calculating if they’ll be late for school if you hit snooze for another 15 minutes, is compromised when your fluids are low. There’s also science behind the effectiveness of making water available in order to build it into our daily habits. If it is easy to do, we are more likely to do it. So, whether or not you walk your class to the water fountain or have a water cooler inside your classroom, you are making the water an easy choice. The more often we choose it and offer it as a choice to students, the higher the probability that we all choose water. When that happens, we all win.

Partial lyrics are from Boat On The River by Styx.

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