SEL & PE: Top Strategies for Strengthening Students’ Mind-Body Connection

Caylie Gaccione
Curriculum Specialist
Blog on November 29 2022

Social-emotional learning is a term that we hear all the time in education. It’s something that we try to incorporate into day-to-day instruction and also sprinkle into extracurricular activities. With full plates of new curriculum and various instructional pushes, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what our students need and how to best provide them with meaningful experiences. Of course, SEL initiatives can be included in all subject areas, but a physical education class is the perfect place to foster those skills and provide our students with opportunities for reflection, collaboration, and so much more!

Why SEL?

Before we dive into specific strategies, it’s important to understand the real importance of SEL and why it should be a key component of what we teach our students.

  1. Social-emotional learning helps individuals better understand emotions, feel emotions, and show empathy towards others. By teaching students the importance of this at a young age, they are more likely to carry these skills with them far beyond the classroom and into adulthood.
  2. SEL also includes managing emotions, working towards goals, maintaining positive relationships, and responsible decision making. These are all vital skills that can help our students become well-rounded individuals.
  3. Through SEL initiatives, student behaviors, achievements, attitudes towards learning, and overall classroom communities are able to be improved.
  4. SEL isn’t necessarily a designated subject, but it can and should be a cross-curricular approach to make academic lessons more relatable and even more manageable.

SEL in our PE classes

Social-emotional learning and physical education work seamlessly together. The goal is to encourage physical (and mental) activity while helping students build SEL skills organically. Think: mind-body connection! SEL can help to boost confidence, enhance teamwork, build relationships, and so much more, all in a PE class. Further conversation surrounding the SEL and PE experience emphasizes to students how physical health can impact us.

Whether students are attending PE class once every few weeks, once a week, twice a week, or more, the focus has shifted to encompass SEL skills. Of course, teaching students the fundamentals of sports and physical activity is still key, but it is also necessary to create opportunities for students to include SEL. The goal is to support an overall healthy life, whether physical, mental, social, or emotional.

Use your PE class as a chance to teach students how to navigate failure and success, working as a team, collaborating with peers, and recognizing emotions through all activities.

Top strategies:

1. Set individualized and group goals for PE class: Goal setting is the perfect way to promote student self-awareness and self-reflection. It allows for a verbal and/or written understanding of what it is that they would like to accomplish during PE class and beyond. Here is an example of a goal setting template that you can use with your students!

An example of a goal setting template that you can use to help students achieve.
There are tons of ways to help students set goals, this template included, which allows them to narrow down what they want achieve and set their minds to it.

2. Utilize the space that you are given: Whether you are physically in a gymnasium or using the cafeteria or classroom space, feel free to really make use of that area by having students complete different activities. For example, use the four corners of the room to represent different emotions and have students complete different physical and mental tasks to correspond to how they are feeling emotionally. 

An example of a game that you can play in the classroom to represent four different emotions.
Whether you are given access to a gym or not, it is important that you can be adaptable and utilize different spaces for SEL activities.

3. Tap into students’ interests: Use a student’s favorite characters or even social media as a driving force for PE activities. We know how much our students love social media apps like TikTok, so challenge students to create their own TikTok dance to share with the class

4. Have students take on leadership roles: Students can take turns leading the class in exercises or even completing tasks like gathering supplies, keeping score, and so much more!

5. Complete activities on a challenge board to create an engaging learning experience: Our main goal, of course, is to get students moving physically and mentally. A challenge board is the perfect way to combine these two concepts and have students complete unique activities.

An example of a challenge board that students can mark off as they complete each task.
A challenge board is a great way for students to complete tasks as they go, working their way up to ones that may be more difficult for them than others.

6. Use pre-existing PE lessons and sprinkle in SEL components: Remember, it isn’t always about reinventing the wheel! For example, choose a physical activity and then tack on a self-reflection component for students to share their thoughts and feelings about how they performed during the activity. They can include what they liked, what they can improve on, and so much more!

7. Look at the National PE Standards and SEL framework from CASEL: The National PE Standards provide ideas of what students should be able to do as a result of a highly effective physical education program. The CASEL 5 helps us to evaluate how SEL can be used in instruction. Take a look at these standards to ensure that your PE and SEL activities are comprehensive and effective.

Try out these strategies for strengthening your student’s mind-body connection, and watch as your student engagement soars with emotional and physical well being improving every step of the way! Be sure to check out our accompanying OTIS course, Integrating SEL Into Physical Education, as well as many other courses in the OTIS Course Library to learn about other pedagogical best practices and resources.

For more tips, tricks, and tools for teaching in and out of the classroom, check out more content on the Teq Talk blog or our YouTube channels OTIS for educators and Tequipment.

We also offer virtual professional development, training, and support with OTIS for educators. Explore the technology and strategies that spark student success — no matter where teaching or learning are happening!

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