5-Minute SEL Activities You Can Do Every Day – Virtually or In Person


Barbara Gruener

by | 01.21.22

Barbara Gruener is a teacher in Friendswood, TX. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraGruener.

I returned to the classroom last year as a junior high Spanish teacher after many years as a school counselor, and I’m struck by how vital SEL is for both students and teachers – now more than ever. When I think about SEL, I think about embracing opportunities to treat our students like the human beings they are. That’s why I devote at least five minutes every day to connection, community and mindfulness. And whether your class is virtual, in person or hybrid, I encourage you to try these three activities throughout this year: Good News, Mindful Movement, and Hot Seat.  

Daily Connection Activities that Take Only Five Minutes:

I remind students about our shared goal for these five minutes – whether it’s just to get moving or to open up and connect with each other. And each day, I also give them choices –  genuine flexibility around when and how they engage in the activity. 

Both of these elements are valuable, and both have a positive impact on our classroom culture, every single time. Every activity helps students create the classroom culture they want to see: affirming their experiences, feeling safe in their learning environment and supporting their voice and choice. 

  1. GOOD NEWS: Every Monday, I invite students to share “good news” – or really, any news at all. Sometimes they’re a little slow to start sharing, and I might say, “Oh, y’all, I know there’s something. Wasn’t there a puppy? A baby?” I tell them, “In our class, ‘good news’ doesn’t have to be ‘good’ in the usual sense. The good thing is that we’re sharing something with each other to connect as a school family.” Often, I’ll share a bright spot in my life while also acknowledging a struggle  – and often that shared vulnerability prompts them to remember something they’re willing to share with their classmates, too.
  2. MINDFUL MOVEMENT: Tuesday through Thursday, we start the day with five minutes of stretching. I give students five yoga poses and ask them to choose at least two, and if they’re not excited about the poses we have to choose from, then they can do another kind of stretch. And if that’s still not feeling inspiring or accessible to them that day, I kindly ask them to move for five minutes any way that feels good to them. Again, every student knows the reason behind the activity – to get some increased blood flow to the brain, practice movement that feels meaningful to them and use their own agency to get their brains ready to learn.
  3. HOT SEAT: Every Friday, a few students are on the “hot seat,” in which our goal is to get to know each other a bit better as a school family – before we just jump on into conjugating verbs.  I pose a set of eight questions to learn more about them, and the students choose which questions they want to answer. The first four questions are very chill, surface level questions. What’s your favorite sound?  Who’s your favorite superhero? But then five, six, seven, eight are a little bit heavier. Last week, one student chose to answer a question about jealousy and how he navigates it. By giving students the chance to choose their own level of participation, they’re also learning how to assess their own feelings, trust their assessment and make the best choice that works for them at that moment. 

Why It’s Worth Making Time

As teachers, we have so much to do with our students, and sometimes we can feel like we don’t have even five minutes to spare. My students and I have a lot of Spanish to cover, and earlier in my career, I would have spent every single one of those minutes on our content. 

But I’ve learned that carving out five minutes actually isn’t a “loss” of time at all. Because after just five minutes of stretching, connecting or learning just a little more about each other as a classroom family, everyone’s brains are in the right place to learn. What’s more, their hearts are a little happier. So I’m going to get those minutes back times two – and all my students are going to have these tools for life. 


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