George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Emotional Intelligence: Putting Theory into Practice

Social and emotional learning may seem difficult to teach, but there are activities out there that can help.

February 22, 2001

A stoplight picture reminds students to calm down, think, and go with a peaceful solution to conflict.

Credit: Edutopia

The following exercises illustrate how teachers and students put emotional intelligence theory into practice:

Creating a Community of Learners

What it looks like: Students and teachers gather at the start of the school day to greet each other, to share personal feelings and accomplishments, to set classroom rules, to play together, and to get ready for the class day by previewing what's to come.

What it accomplishes: A feeling of family, trust, and confidence is built that creates a more comfortable school climate that in turn promotes bonding to school and academic achievement. Students feel more able to take risks and to admit and seek help when they don't understand something. It improves listening and speaking skills and patience.

Self-Awareness and Empathy Exercises

What they look like: Students see the name of an emotion ("sad," "proud," "frustrated," "glad") on a piece of paper and then act out the emotion to other students, who guess what it is. They look at pictures of people and "read" their faces. Or students might pass around a stuffed animal (for moral support) and talk about how they're feeling that day.

What they accomplish: Students able to identify their feelings are better able to take action to control them, which in turn makes them better able to work with others cooperatively and get along. When people don't know the source of a feeling, they tend to blame others for their reactions. Appropriate responses require understanding the feelings of others.

Cooperative Learning

What it looks like: For an assignment on creating a multimedia presentation on California missions, for example, students might share research duties and then split up such other tasks as writing, creating compatible art, and using the computer for layout. Or, small groups of high school students might be asked to come up with remedies for societal problems such as peer pressure to have sex or use drugs, overpaid athletes, or school reform. Full class discussion then springs from the conclusions of the smaller groups.

What it accomplishes: Greater productivity, better interpersonal relationships that lead to a more comfortable school environment, acceptance of different points of view, faster learning, greater retention.

Conflict Resolution

The "I-message"

What it looks like: A three-part statement that includes describing the offensive behavior, the feeling, and the effect of the behavior. "When you talk to me during class, I feel angry because it prevents me from finishing my work on time."

What it accomplishes: It eliminates name-calling and dead-end complaints. It provides a non-accusatory environment for changing offending behavior and reduces the risk of violence. It encourages communication.

Active listening

What it looks like: The listener paraphrases, echoes, summarizes, and encourages the speaker in neutral terms that neither evaluate nor judge. ("You're feeling angry because your friend hit you."

What it accomplishes: It gives the speaker a chance to make sure that his message is coming across clearly, which in turn helps de-escalate conflict and aids the speaker in working through the upset.

Peer mediation

What it looks like: The two disputing sides agree to work towards a solution with a neutral party. All agree that what is said will not leave the room. They speak without interruption or insult, looking directly at each other. The peer mediator guides the discussion with clarifying questions and "active listening." In seeking a solution, the peer mediators asks questions like, "What do you want things to be like?" "What would it take to make that happen?" They come to a written or verbal agreement, which is restated at the closing of the meeting.

What it accomplishes: Prevents violence, name-calling and long-term misunderstandings that poison a classroom or a school.


What it looks like: Teachers involve students in setting classroom rules, from general ones such as advocating respect and honesty to more specific guidelines, such as those that spell out consequences for class misbehavior. Students discuss real events like the Holocaust or the civil rights movement and then examine their own potential for prejudice or passivity or inhumanity or intolerance. Students read great literature and discuss the emotions, moral decision-making, and conflicts in the book. They suggest ways in which the characters might have made poor choices and might have responded more appropriately and relate the situations to their own lives. Students are given hypothetical situations and then asked to think of ways to respond. (For example, "You're in a park, playing with friends and a gentleman comes up and offers you ice cream." "You and your best friend are sitting together and the friend says you can't play with his toy."

What it accomplishes: Students get a chance to anticipate uncomfortable or dangerous situations and to think about responses to ethical dilemmas that may crop up in their own lives.

Community Service

What it looks like: Students take action to help someone else or to work on projects that benefit the community. First graders might visit senior citizens, third graders might collect money for a food pantry, high school sophomores might develop nature trails in conjunction with their studies about local wetlands.

What it accomplishes: It builds empathy and confidence in students, makes connections between what they are studying and real-world issues, and makes learning more satisfying because it makes a difference.

Dropout Prevention

What it looks like: Senior buddy programs in which high school seniors are paired with freshmen. The program can range from a formal class in which the two groups of students do exercises that foster cooperation and trust or they can be informal meetings in which the students just talk. What it accomplishes: It gives younger students a personal connection to school, which in turn makes them more interested in what's going on both academically and socially at school.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use

George Lucas Educational Foundation

Edutopia is a free source of information, inspiration, and practical strategies for learning and teaching in preK-12 education. We are published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.