No matter what grade you teach, the spring season is almost positively filled with tests and assessments. Some schools are hunkering down for state standardized tests, while older students focus on college entrance exams. Others yet are gearing up for yet another round of finals at the end of the year. We know how to support our students’ learning during this time. But how can we support them socially and emotionally? According to top research, SEL activities for testing season are the answer.
How are SEL and testing related?
SEL is often called a soft skill, while tests are highly recognized in academia and the career world. However, the two areas are more related than most people think. In fact, SEL skills have long been proven to increase test scores, due to their ability to lower stress levels and boost self-confidence.
This means that SEL isn’t something that belongs in the aftermath. As you prepare for exam day, or week, social and emotional skills require attention just as much as math, reading, and science.
Activities for SEL and testing
How, exactly, can you prepare your students for testing with SEL? Focus on activities and practices that bring calmness and confidence.
#1: Help children learn to label their emotions
For younger students, texting anxiety may be a brand-new feeling. Children may not understand why their stomach feels funny the morning before a big exam, or why their hands are shaky or sweaty. Set up an emotional vocabulary activity with posters, flashcards, or a word wall. Include terms like stressed, worried, flustered, discouraged, and disappointed. Also add goal words like motivated, proud, and equipped.
Once students understand the emotions they’re experiencing, addressing them becomes much simpler.
#2: Teach mindfulness through breathing activities
Before it’s time to test, try one or two of the following breathing activities. Share that students can use these patterns to calm down whenever they need to, including before, during, or after their exam.
- Animal breaths — breathe out with a soft hiss like a snake, or picture your breath pushing a little bumble bee in swirly motions as you exhale.
- In through your nose, count to three, out through your mouth, repeat.
- Circle breathing — one half of the circle is your inhale, and the other half is your exhale. Go slow — how big can you make your circle today?
#3: Create affirmations with your class
Brainstorm testing anxieties, and combat them with affirmations as a group. Write them on the whiteboard at the front of the class and leave them up for students to read when they’re struggling. Some starting points:
- I am prepared for this test
- I can do hard things
- I am filled with the exact knowledge I need
- My practice will pay off
- My test result does not reflect my self-worth
You may also want to consider redesigning your classroom to lower stress levels. Try to turn off the ceiling lights if possible. Open the windows to let sunlight in or bring in a few floor lamps to replace the fluorescents. Run a diffuser or wax warmer with relaxing scents. Play soft background music. Offer snacks and mental breaks for learners as needed. Offer sensory items, such as squeezy balls or tactile puzzles for physical stress relief.
Last but not least, consider providing your students with an outlet for their feelings. Give them a way to check in with their own emotions daily, as well as a way to share their challenges with others.
All in all, SEL activities for testing season can make a great impact on not only your students’ exam scores, but also how they feel throughout the process. Try out a few of the activities listed above or some of your own. And don’t forget to let us know how it goes!