Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

3 Social-Emotional Learning Activities for First Grade

By Sarah Maze, M.S. Ed., Guest Blogger

In the primary grades, we have an important responsibility to not only teach academic standards but also to train our youngest learners how to interact with others. Skills that pertain to social-emotional learning are a priority for developing a positive classroom environment. Keep reading to find out how you can incorporate leveled books to raise students’ awareness of these skills.

Social and emotional learning includes many skills. The California Department of Education lists the following goals of social and emotional learning:

  • setting and achieving positive goals
  • feeling and demonstrating empathy for others
  • establishing and maintaining positive relationships
  • making responsible decisions
  • understanding and managing emotions

Helping Others Find Their Belongings

Many teachers routinely help students with problem-solving when they lose an object or find an object that isn’t theirs. Encouraging students to return things to their owner helps them develop positive relationships with peers even though they may want to keep any treasure they find for themselves.

Another common situation that could arise in your classroom is teaching children to value others who may be different than them. Differences could be in appearances, abilities, languages, etc. Hameray offers books for each of these scenarios.

Whose Umbrella? is a book about a little rabbit who finds an umbrella. He searches to find its owner and the other animals tell him to keep the umbrella. However, the rabbit values honesty and empathizes that the umbrella’s owner will miss the umbrella when it rains. At the end of the book, a little girl returns for the umbrella and shares it with the rabbit. This narrative text provides a wonderful foundation to discuss how we must think of the feelings of others and not always go along with what our friends tell us.

Students can extend learning by sharing about a time they lost something (pencil, backpack, lunchbox, etc.) and how they felt. Train students to make eye contact when listening to each other and train them to ask questions such as, How did you feel when ___?

Following their discussions, students could make a flipbook. Fold a piece of paper in half and have them draw a picture of a time they lost something. Cut this picture in half and under one flap they can draw how they felt if someone helped them find it or if it was returned. On the other side, students can write how they felt if they never found the item. Model empathy through your words and actions before students share their experiences.

Forming Positive Relationships with Peers

Another narrative text that relates to establishing positive relationships with others is The Very Stinky Bug . This book is about a stinkbug who is lonely and tries to find friends. None of the animals want to be friends with the bug because he stinks. However, at the end of the book, the stinkbug saves the animals from being eaten by a bird. The other animals learn that even though the stinkbug is different, he can still be a good friend.

In the classroom, it’s important to train students to build positive relationships with their peers. After reading the fiction book for kids, ask students what feeling lonely means and what it looks like when someone feels lonely. Share times when you have felt lonely (moving to a new place, friends were busy with other activities, etc.). Talk to kids and role-play different ways to help others who may feel lonely, which can include:

  • offering an invitation for someone to sit with them at lunch
  • inviting someone to play during recess
  • getting to know someone by asking questions about their interests, family, etc.

Building Confidence at a Young Age

Well Done, Oscar! is about a family who goes to the beach, but the youngest brother named Oscar cannot participate in the activities with the other siblings. By the end, Oscar is able to help the family solve an important problem because he is little. This story is easy for students to relate to because most of them have experienced a situation where they were too young or small to participate.

Ask students to talk about their experiences. Then have students think of something they are good at helping with because they are young. Help them to see that each age has benefits and opportunities to help others. As an extension activity, students could draw a picture and write about something they can do at their current age.

Training students to think of others will help build a sense of community in your classroom. This type of environment creates a safe place for students to express their emotions. Using leveled guided reading books for social-emotional development will help train children to empathize with others, build positive relationships, learn with the support of their peers, and decreases the distraction of conflict between students. Be sure to check back often for more opportunities to promote social and emotional learning in your classroom!


Sarah is an elementary school teacher who has taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and fifth grade. One of her most unique experiences was teaching orphans in Tanzania, Africa for a year. If you like what you read here, be sure to read more by Sarah on our blog .