How to Enhance Social and Emotional Learning in a Virtual Classroom

As concerns for student wellbeing rise, social and emotional learning is once again at the forefront of discussion. The CDC found that one in six children suffered from mental illness between 2014 and 2018, and nearly 30% of parents noticed that their children were struggling during the pandemic. To help students thrive in today’s virtual learning environment, we need to understand what social and emotional learning is, how it works, and practical to-dos to enhance SEL.

A student learning from home
A student learning from home

What Is Social and Emotional Learning?

CASEL referred to social and emotional learning (SEL) as an essential part of education and human development. It can be defined as a process in which the trio of school, family, and community work together to “establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation.” During this course, both children and adults can construct healthy identities, manage personal emotions, and maintain supportive relations, thereby co-creating thriving schools and harmonious communities.

Both children and adults can construct healthy identities, manage personal emotions, and maintain supportive relations, thereby co-creating thriving schools and harmonious communities.

SEL helps children perform effectively in school and life. On a personal level, SEL is great for managing emotions, formulating plans, making effective decisions, and tackling tough challenges. On a social level, it contributes to evoking empathy and building affinities. Children with strong social-emotional skills such as self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal communication are more likely to benefit academically, professionally, and socially.


More and more research also points out that schools that promote social and emotional learning are instrumental to the academic, professional, and social success of students. Keep reading for 7 tips on how to enhance social-emotional learning in virtual classrooms!


7 Tips to Enhance Social and Emotional Learning in a Virtual Classroom


1. Emotional Check-Ins

Emotional check-ins give students an opportunity to pause, reflect on, and share how they feel. Set aside some time each day and encourage students to describe their emotions in a safe environment. If someone is reluctant to share in front of a big group, you may conduct one-on-one check-ins or offer the option to express through drawings or quotes.


Although without the in-person connection, online learning often comes with many bells and whistles to make emotional check-ins fun. For instance, students can send emojis to articulate their feelings, write down their thoughts on ClassIn’s individual small blackboards, or create a drawing on the interactive board.


2. Apps, Games, and Websites

Take advantage of SEL-specific tools to help students practice social and emotional learning.

  • Breathe, Think, Do: this app teaches problem-solving, self-control, planning, and task persistence.

  • Sanford Harmony SEL App for Teachers and Students: this app helps create lesson plans and activities to strengthen classroom relationships.

  • Digital Gaming: games such as “consequences,” “circle of friends,” and “wisdom: the world of emotions” help deal with anger, stress, depression, etc. and foster cooperative and group learning.

  • Emotional ABCs: this website teaches students to identify their feelings and make decisions based on their emotions.

  • GoNoodle: this website uses movement and mindfulness videos to promote physical wellness, academic success, and social-emotional health.

A kid plays an online game
A kid plays an online game

3. SEL Activities

In a virtual classroom, you can actively and carefully design some brainstorming activities to promote SEL. Activities like student journals, interactive videos, or webinars are highly recommended. They can aid students in personally regulating emotions and socially interacting with others.

Journaling for mental wellness
Journaling for mental wellness

Some kids may not love journaling or sharing. Don’t worry! Self-reflection through art is another fantastic way to assist students in minutely understanding their feelings and creatively expressing them. Ask your class to paint their feelings or tell a story through what they’ve drawn. By using visual techniques and engaging sensory practices, virtual classrooms find a new path to promote SEL.


4. Collaborative Classrooms

A collaborative virtual classroom helps students understand the group in a socially interactive way, cultivating students’ self-awareness and cooperative consciousness. As a hub for social learning, these collaborative virtual classrooms comprehensively showcase diverse roles of individuals and how they interact with each other.


Collaborative classrooms give rise to group learning which plays a vital role in distance teaching. A diverse and inclusive virtual classroom allows students to self-reflect, work independently within a group, and eventually function as team members. Also, they interact with and learn from their peers in a cooperative way as they will do in society.

An interactive classroom on ClassIn
An interactive classroom on ClassIn

ClassIn, one of the most interactive and collaborative virtual classrooms on the market, is designed with 20+ teaching tools to promote SEL. Students can be divided into small groups, work on group projects, or even conduct lab experiments together!


5. Teach Mindsets & Strategies

For learners to fully incorporate social and emotional skills, teach them the mindsets and strategies to practice in the long term.


A positive mindset is an essential component of SEL. Pay attention to the words your students use–comments like “I can’t do this” or “I fear it” may suggest negative thoughts and emotions. During group learning or interactions, while making space for students’ emotions, encourage them to replace negative verbiages such as “never succeed” or “always challenging” with “I can cope with it” and “I will try harder,” etc.


You can also introduce effective strategies to help regulate emotions in virtual classrooms. These might include:


6. Involve Families

SEL is not just an individual endeavor. It cannot be done without the support of families and communities. For families, make sure that parents are up to date with their kids’ academic progress as well as social-emotional health.

Parents helping the student with distance learning
Parents helping the student with distance learning

Communicate with families about their kids’ emotions, behaviors, and social goals. Remind parents to give a helping hand when their children are frustrated and an encouraging smile when their children perform well in team works.


At the same time, educate parents on the value of failure. An appropriate degree of difficulty is necessary for children’s SEL. Just step back and let them experience struggles and growth.


7. Build Communities

Many characterize virtual learning with a sense of disconnection. Students seem to be isolated from their teachers and classmates, and parents are further separated from schools, which could spell big trouble for social-emotional health.


Educators can take steps to rebuild connections in virtual classrooms. Daily sharing is one productive way. Dedicate the first few minutes of each class to telling stories about your emotions and life. Let it become a routine and mark of your communities.


Setting eyes on the larger picture, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development of UNESCO referred to SEL as “learning that allows all learners to identify and navigate emotions, practice mindful engagement and exhibit prosocial behaviour for human flourishing towards a peaceful and sustainable planet.”


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*ClassIn is a leading edtech company that provides a one-stop solution for digital learning. ClassIn software enables interactive classrooms, in-school social app, lesson scheduling, homework management, and school management dashboard, which start free and scale up to meet our customers' needs at any stage of teaching. Today, thousands of schools and institutions around the world benefit from ClassIn's powerful and easy-to-use tools to teach online and offline.