The Best Social Emotional Learning Activities are Discussions, Here’s Why

social emotional learning activities

What is social emotional learning?

Social emotional learning considers how we communicate and how we feel as part of the learning process. CASEL describes SEL as “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Benefits of incorporating social emotional learning into your classroom practice.

Already know the benefits of social emotional learning? Feel free to scroll down to see our social emotional learning activities that feature discussions. Or scroll down a bit more to see how Parlay incorporates social emotional learning into its processes.

There are lots of benefits to incorporating social emotional learning activities in the classroom, both for students and teachers, but in our opinion the most important element is how it helps to create healthy bonds of communication and collaboration between students. This then leads the way to building classroom community. For more about this we suggest you check out our blog Building Community in the Classroom – The Key is Communication.

A healthy classroom community makes students more willing and open to having dialogue and debates with their peers. When students feel comfortable with their classmates they are more capable in their ability to communicate and open to hearing opinions that differ from their own. Respect is an incredibly important feature of classroom communication, and practicing social emotional learning can really help to establish that and create a fruitful learning environment.

When social emotional learning activities are incorporated into daily practice there are visible benefits to the students and to the classroom community. These benefits come in the forms of soft skills (or interpersonal skills), such as:

  • Empathy for others – This is critical to active listening. When students have empathy for others they are willing and interested in what their peers or other people have to say.
  • Mindfulness & self-awareness – Students who are mindful and understand themselves are more prepared for tests, collaborative work, and active learning, to name a few. Students are more resilient when they understand their capabilities, this helps to initiate a growth mindset.
  • Open communication – Our favourite of the outcomes that come from incorporating daily social emotional learning activities is students’ ability to clearly communicate. When we understand one another things move more smoothly, there’s less frustration, and we’re able to talk about difficult subjects with ease.

Discussion-based social emotional learning activities.

One of the best ways to practice social emotional learning is to integrate communication activities into your class. To get started, here are a few examples of social emotional learning activities:

  • Show-and-tell. This is a low-stakes activity that gives students an opportunity to express themselves by sharing something about their home life or hobbies that they enjoy doing. Other students can ask questions and spark dialogue that helps students get to know one another.
  • Paired teach time or peer mentoring. Students are given a topic or different emotions/feelings that they must teach another student(s). This activity helps every student to learn through self-directed learning, it also gives them an opportunity to practice communicating ideas clearly and concisely to their peers.
  • Open-ended questions. This is rather straightforward, but sometimes that’s the best kind of activity. All you need to do is ask your students a low-stakes open-ended question. Have your students write down their thoughts and then have a discussion with the whole class. A great example of this kind of discussion and questions can be found in the Parlay Universe. Within the Parlay Universe is a collection called Social and Emotional Development, here you can find discussions like:

social emotional learning discussions

There are lots of other examples of discussions that can be used for social emotional learning activities, here’s a great link for more ideas: The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies – Cult of Pedagogy.

Parlay supports and establishes SEL.

Parlay has incorporated mindfulness throughout the program. We did this because we believe it is incredibly important for students to be aware of their part in the learning process, as discussions require active participation. As we mentioned earlier, it can benefit the learner’s ability to participate and take action while communicating with others. When students are self-aware and are open to how they are feeling, they are more willing to participate and this is key to open and honest classroom discussions.

Parlay’s unique and structured approach to student-driven discussions helps teachers implement instructional practices that align to the SEL Core Competencies outlined in the CASEL Framework. Here’s some insight into how we’ve broken it down and incorporated into the Parlay discussion practice:

Relationship skills

In Parlay, students get regular practice engaging with the ideas, opinions and perspectives of their classmates. Building effective communication skills, and working together to explore complex topics lies at the heart of every Parlay discussion.

how it works parlay

Social awareness

In a Parlay Online RoundTable, students submit a unique idea and then answer guided feedback questions as they learn to engage with their classmates’ perspectives. After a RoundTable, class summaries and data visualizations encourage class-wide reflections focused on balanced discussions and valuing every perspective.


In a Parlay Live RoundTable, students must “tap-in” before joining the discussion. This creates a classroom culture where the norm is self-control – allowing others to finish their thoughts before contributing your own ideas. Here is a Grade 8 class self-directing a group discussion about the environment on Parlay.


In addition to a wide range of features that integrate SEL competencies directly into instructional practices, Parlay has a growing collection of discussion topics for teaching SEL, here are some more examples of the types of discussions you can find there:

Restorative practices

Restorative practices help us understand and improve relationships between communities. Work in this field has the capacity to: reduce crime, violence and bullying, improve human behaviour, strengthen civil society, provide effective leadership, and restore relationships. Parlay’s RoundTable activities provide teachers with a formal “Discussion Circle” where they can promote SEL and implement the strategies of Restorative Practices.

Integrating social emotional learning into the Parlay tool we believe helps ground the discussion practice in useful and actionable habits which will make discussions easier and more natural for students. To learn more about this download: Social-Emotional Learning and the Parlay Platform.

Social emotional learning activities are key to the learning process.

Discussions are in our opinion one of the most important social emotional learning activities that can help your students (and you!) practice becoming more socially and emotionally aware. It goes without saying that learning using discussions can be a little tricky at first, but once you’ve broken the ice this activity can really liberate your students and get them learning more about themselves and others through collaborative learning and communication.

If you’d like more resources and support on how to incorporate discussions into your classroom visit our Resources page, or head straight to our E-Book – The Definitive Guide to Discussions.

Happy teaching!