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amber's students working on SEL squiggles

April 29, 2020 | 0 comments

SEL in a Squiggle

Amber Chandler discusses the popularity of social emotional learning activities including fun and easy ways to properly incorporate SEL in the classroom.


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Social Emotional Learning Activities: What Can I Do with A Squiggle?

Social emotional learning is all that anyone seems to be talking about lately in education circles. Don’t get me wrong. I love that we are talking about meeting the needs of students, but I am a little worried that just like “differentiation” a few years ago, teachers can experience fatigue from what I’ll call “theory overload.” In theory, it is great to know all of our students, take their emotional temperature often, provide supports, and be trauma informed. However, in that very loaded prior sentence, there’s not an ounce of direction about how to do these things! In the next several blogs, I’m going to attempt to drill down to some practical tips and a “squiggle” lesson plan that educators can use right away. 


social emotional learning activities: learning sel with a squiggle chameleon
A cool chameleon from one of Amber's students.
What social emotional learning activities do you use in class?


I’m the adviser to a middle school online literary arts magazine called The Voice. Since I’ve moved to the high school, I don’t know the kiddos who show up each month to share their art, music, photos, etc., so I always try to do an activity to build community in some small way. Last week when we met, I gave each student a squiggle (I just googled “squiggle” online and came up with this one, but there are tons. I couldn’t find the original squiggle lesson, but I’m sure art teachers have been doing this for years). I placed a box of crayons on the table, and told students they had 30 minutes to turn this squiggle into art. They could use only the crayons and a pencil. That’s it. 

“Can we use our markers?” a boy with long bangs and a messenger bag asked as he and his friends started digging through their things for their Copic markers that distinguished them as the “real artists” of middle school. 

“Nope. We’re doing this to create something, but I want everyone to come from the same place, to use the same tools. Cool?” I asked. 


social emotional learning activities: another one of amber's student's fantastic drawings
Another squiggly masterpiece from Amber's students!


Social Emotional Learning Activities: Let's Talk Results!

Everyone set out to work. Someone pulled out their phone and as the playlist began, the conversation became easier. As I walked around and chatted, I learned a little more about each student. When we finished, I gathered everyone around to look at our gallery of art. As was the intention of the activity, the resulting pictures are so different. I took the time to talk about how middle school is tough sometimes. Everyone is the same on the inside, like the squiggles. There’s only so much that can be done to deal with the limitations of middle school: hormones, bad skin, anxiety and silliness. Ultimately, a middle school “squiggle” is basically the same for everyone. 

We then spent some time talking about why their pictures were so different. These small conversations were building CASEL’s competency of “self-awareness” while also building the competency of “relationship skills” as we learned how to elaborate on compliments. I explained to Kaylee that instead of just saying that her friend’s picture was cool, she could elaborate on why it was cool. When she did, we talked about how building each other up felt good for both people. 

This was fun little way to demonstrate how social emotional learning activities can produce some awesome conversations, great artwork and multiple opportunities to focus on SEL skills in practical ways. Give it a try and share your results!


Did you miss out on Virtual Conference 2020? Check out Amber’s free, on-demand webinar: Tips for Success: Creating Classroom Communities


amber's webinar