Social-Emotional Learning

How Virtual Social-Emotional Learning Activities Benefit Students

Kai Frazier
August 11, 2022

VR is taking the world by storm. Its ability to transport users to different environments and provide them with unique experiences makes VR an invaluable tool for education. As VR continues to grow, students are using it more and more for everything from math and science to virtual social-emotional learning activities.

While VR has primarily been used for entertainment purposes thus far, there are a growing number of educators who are beginning to explore its potential for supplementing traditional classroom instruction.

One of the most promising applications of VR in education is virtual social-emotional learning activities. These activities can help students develop a variety of important skills, such as empathy, teamwork, and communication.

By immersing students in virtual environments and providing them with opportunities to learn from others across the globe, virtual social-emotional learning activities have the potential to enhance students' development in a way that traditional activities cannot.

The Importance of Social Emotional Learning Activities

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a process through which students develop the skills they need to manage their emotions, set and achieve goals, feel empathy for others, and establish positive relationships. Students who participate in SEL programs learn how to:

  • Regulate their emotions
  • Resolve conflict peacefully
  • Make responsible decisions
  • Interact with other classmates more effectively

SEL skills are essential for students to succeed in school and in life. In fact, research has shown that SEL skills can have a significant impact on students' academic achievement.

One study found that students who participated in SEL programs experienced an 11-percentile improvement in academic performance. Additionally, students who went through these programs showed better attendance rates than those who did not participate.

The Five SEL Core Competencies

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a leading organization in the field of SEL, has identified five core SEL competencies that all students should develop:

  1. Self-Awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one's own emotions and understand how they impact thoughts and behavior. This includes recognizing one's strengths and limitations and having a well-grounded sense of self-confidence.
  2. Self-Management: The ability to regulate one's emotions, stay focused, and persevere in the face of challenges including stress and anxiety, academic integrity, and social media.
  3. Social Awareness: The ability to take the perspective of others, empathize with their feelings, and understand social norms.
  4. Relationship Skills: The ability to establish and maintain positive relationships with others. These include communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills.
  5. Responsible Decision-Making: The ability to make thoughtful and ethical decisions about personal and social behavior, taking into account the consequences of one's actions.

Each of these competencies is essential for students to develop in order to be successful in school and in life.

Social Emotional Learning Activities in the Classroom

Social-emotional learning is not a designated subject like math or English, but educators can still incorporate it into the classroom in a variety of ways. When educators create a positive and supportive classroom environment, provide opportunities for students to interact with one another, and model social-emotional skills themselves, they are laying the foundation for social-emotional learning.

This type of instruction can take many different forms, but all SEL activities share one common goal: to help students learn how to manage their emotions, set and achieve goals, feel empathy for others, and establish positive relationships.

Unlike traditional instruction, which typically focuses on one subject at a time, SEL activities provide students with an opportunity to develop multiple skills simultaneously. There are numerous curriculum-based programs and activities that can help students develop social-emotional skills. These include:

  • Class meetings: A regular time for students to come together as a group to share their thoughts and feelings, set goals, and solve problems.
  • Cooperative learning: An instructional approach in which students work together in small groups to complete a task or project.
  • Role-playing: A technique in which students act out different situations, such as resolving a conflict or giving a presentation, in order to practice social-emotional skills.
  • Journal writing: A reflective activity in which students write about their thoughts and feelings on a regular basis.

Approaches to SEL in the Classroom

There are lots of different ways that educators can incorporate social-emotional learning into their instruction. Here are a few approaches:

Embedding SEL into the existing curriculum

Social-emotional skills can be incorporated into any lesson or activity. For example, when reading a fiction book in class, students can discuss the characters' emotions and how they handle different situations.

When studying a historical event, students can discuss the different perspectives of those involved and practice empathy by imagining how they might have felt or what they would have done.

In these instances, educators may have their class discuss the emotions that different characters in a story are experiencing. This can help students develop their own emotional vocabulary and learn how to identify emotions in themselves and others.

They may also role-play different scenarios, such as how to handle a disagreement with a friend. This can help students practice the social-emotional skills they are learning and see how they can be applied in real-life situations.

Designating time for SEL activities

Dedicating some time each day, week, or month to social-emotional learning can help ensure that students have ample opportunity to develop these skills. This could involve setting aside time for class meetings, cooperative learning activities, or journal writing.

An educator who takes this approach may start each class with a short check-in to allow students to share how they are feeling that day. This gives students an opportunity to practice identifying and expressing their emotions.

The educator may then have students work together in small groups on a project, such as creating a skit about resolving a conflict. This cooperative learning activity allows students to practice social-emotional skills such as communication and teamwork.

Finally, the educator may end the class with a reflective journal prompt, such as "What was one positive thing that happened today?" This gives students an opportunity to reflect on their day and helps educators track the progress students make in developing social-emotional skills.

Incorporating SEL into schoolwide policies and practices

Creating a positive and supportive school climate is essential for social-emotional learning to take place. Schools can do this by promoting positive behavior, teaching conflict resolution skills, and providing opportunities for students to get involved in the school community.

For instance, schools can establish rules and expectations that are focused on positive behavior. They can also teach students how to resolve conflicts in a constructive way. And, they can provide opportunities for students to get involved in extracurricular activities, such as student government or service clubs.

Virtual Social Emotional Remote Learning Activities 

How do you teach SEL virtually? With Kai XR of course!

With the recent shift to remote and hybrid learning, social-emotional learning has become even more important. Virtual social-emotional learning activities can help students stay connected and engaged with their peers, even when they are not physically in the same place. A Stanford study even suggested that it could help close the achievement gap

Virtual reality has opened the doors for those with diverse learning needs to have a level playing field in the VR classroom and experience success. It has also created opportunities for social-emotional learning activities to take place in a virtual setting.

Some examples of virtual social-emotional learning activities include:

Virtual Social Emotional Learning Activities: Interactive Storytelling

Students can step into the shoes of a character in a virtual story and experience the events of the story from that character's perspective. This type of activity can help students develop empathy and understand the feelings of others.

For example, in the virtual reality field trip to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s memorial, students learn about Dr. King's legacy and untimely death. An educator may use his memorial, "I Have a Dream" speech, and life to teach students perseverance, hope, and resilience in the face of adversity.

Through the lesson, educators can also remind students that they should treat everyone with respect no matter their race, religion, or background.

Virtual Social Emotional Learning Activities: Cooperative Games

A 2019 study showed that VR was an effective supplement for young students who interacted with each other through VR gameplay.

In these programs, students engage with each other through collaborative social emotional learning online games. Cooperative games require teamwork and communication in order to complete tasks. Working together in the metaverse can help students develop social-emotional skills like: 

  • cooperation 
  • communication 
  • problem-solving

Many of our VR games for kids focus on social-emotional learning, including Kai XR's virtual field trips. When students practice critical thinking, explore new places, and cooperate with their peers in virtual reality, they can develop a greater understanding and respect for others while collaborating in a fun and immersive way.

Virtual Social Emotional Learning Activities: Classroom Discussions

Even though students are not physically in the same room, they can still participate in discussions about various topics. This type of activity allows students to share their thoughts and feelings about a topic, as well as listen to and understand the perspectives of others.

In metaverse classrooms, students can have discussions about what they are seeing and experiencing. For example, after Kai XR's "Dreaming in Za'atari" virtual field trip, students can discuss the Syrian refugee crisis and its effects on people's lives.

This type of virtual discussion can help students develop empathy for others and understand that there are many different perspectives on any given issue.

VR Social-Emotional Learning Best Practices

As is true with everything, there are some best practices to keep in mind when incorporating virtual social-emotional learning activities into your instruction. Since all classrooms are different, it is important to adapt virtual social-emotional learning activities to fit the needs of your students. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Choose age-appropriate VR experiences.

Make sure the virtual reality content you select is appropriate for the age group of your students. You wouldn't want to show a virtual reality experience with violence or complicated topics to young students, for example.

However, these themes may be impactful and appropriate for high school students who are able to handle more complex topics. The key is to know your students and select virtual reality experiences that are appropriate for their age group.

Select VR experiences that align with goals and objectives.

When you are choosing virtual reality experiences for your students, be sure to select ones that align with your goals and objectives. At Kai XR, we offer VR content appropriate for a wide array of classes and subject matter to meet all our educators’ needs.

For example, if you are teaching a lesson on empathy, you may want to select a virtual reality experience that allows students to see the world from someone else's perspective.

Likewise, if you are teaching a lesson on teamwork, you may want to select a group-oriented VR game that requires students to cooperate in order to complete tasks.

If you are teaching a lesson on resilience, you may want to select a virtual reality experience that allows students to see how people have overcome adversity.

Create a safe, inclusive environment.

When using virtual reality in the classroom, it's important to create a safe and supportive environment for all students. This means having an open discussion about the virtual reality experience before students put on the headset, as well as debriefing afterward.

Especially when practicing virtual social-emotional learning activities, it's important that students feel safe to share their thoughts and feelings. If they don't feel comfortable, they won't be able to get the most out of the virtual experience.

When it comes to running a classroom, creating an inclusive environment is crucial. SEL activities can help break down barriers and create a more supportive classroom community. However, students may not always be supportive of one another.

It is important to continuously moderate the virtual environment and check in with students to ensure that everyone is feeling comfortable and included.

Monitor students' reactions.

When discussing social themes, some students may feel uncomfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. A few things you can do to help them feel better are:

  • Have students write down their thoughts and feelings before sharing them with the class
  • Encourage students to share anonymously
  • Provide a list of resources for students to turn to if they need help processing the virtual or physical classroom experience

Use VR as a supplementary educational tool.

While VR's unique, immersive technology is incredibly powerful, it shouldn't be the only educational tool you use in your instruction. You can use virtual reality to supplement your existing lesson plans and activities.

For example, if you're teaching a unit on world religions, you could use VR to take your students on a virtual field trip to different religious sites around the world.

However, if you wanted to add an SEL component to the lesson, you could lead a discussion about cultural differences and offer room for debate between students.

Virtual Social Emotional Learning Activities with Kai XR

Our platform makes it easy for teachers to implement virtual social-emotional learning activities in their classrooms. We offer a variety of virtual reality field trips and lessons that focus on social-emotional learning, including "I Have a Dream" and "Dreaming in Za'atari."

At every grade level, our platform provides opportunities for supplementary virtual social-emotional learning.

SEL Activities for Elementary School Students

SEL instruction is paramount for elementary school students. It is during these crucial years that students learn how to develop positive relationships, learn positive decision-making, and manage their emotions.

For elementary school students, educators can use virtual social-emotional learning activities to teach positive behavior, such as how to be a good friend or how to resolve conflicts. These activities can also help students feel connected to their peers and the school community.

Some examples of our virtual social-emotional learning activities for elementary school students include:

  • Teaching children civic responsibility by visiting Martin Luther King Jr.'s memorial
  • Showing kids the importance of practicing hobbies and socializing by taking them to a 2019 NBA All-Star Game
  • Helping students understand the importance of caring for their environment with a VR field trip to the Great Barrier Reef
  • Engaging kids with each other by playing virtual hide and seek in the metaverse

Virtual Social Emotional Learning Activities for Middle School Students

Middle school is a time when students are exploring their identity and trying to figure out who they are. It is during these years that students gain more responsibilities and freedom. Especially as social responsibility and interpersonal skills become intertwined, SEL activities are increasingly valuable to students’ curricula.

Virtual social-emotional learning activities can help middle school students develop the skills they need to succeed both academically and socially.

Some examples of our virtual social-emotional learning activities for middle school students include:

  • Demonstrate cultural awareness by creating a lesson plan around talking to Ruby Bridges' teacher
  • Empowering students to be agents of change on a VR trip to the White House

Virtual Social Emotional Learning Activities for High School 

High school is a time when students are preparing for the future. It is during these years that students learn are under the most pressure. They undergo significant personal development and make decisions on future plans, which is why SEL activities are vital for high school students

VR SEL activities are a great way to help high school students develop the skills they need to be successful in college and their future careers.

Some examples of our virtual social-emotional learning activities for high school students include:

Best Scholastic VR Experience with Kai XR

At each grade level K-12, virtual social-emotional learning activities can benefit students in a number of ways. These activities help students develop empathy, understand different perspectives, and set goals. They also provide an opportunity for students to connect with their peers and the school community. With virtual SEL activities, the sky is truly the limit!

Ready to come on board and explore the world of virtual social-emotional learning? Click here to get started.

Featured Image: Pexels

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In memory of my sunshine, Ky(ra) G. Frazier. Love you to the moon and back.