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SEL Spotlight

2 Active Strategies for Developing Self-Management Skills

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Helping students develop effective self-management strategies can be a game-changer when it comes to improving classroom climate and academic outcomes. Because there is a big physical element to self-management, active strategies are by far most effective to develop the ability to manage stress and control impulses.

Today we share two of our favorite activities related to Self-Management. The first activity helps with impulse control by making students more aware of the energy level in their body and empowering them to control it any time they need to. In the second activity, we share an active breathing exercise that can be used to help the body calm down and re-focus the mind.

Impulse Control: Practicing Energy Modulation with Favorite Dance Moves

When it comes to managing impulses, students need to become aware of the level of energy in their body. In gaining this awareness, they will become empowered to control that energy so they can respond appropriately to different situations and environments. In this activity, students practice controlling their energy level while having fun moving their body.

Part I: Prepare

Start the activity by asking students to consider this prompt:

“Impulse control means slowing down and taking time to think before you act or react to something. What is an impulse that is hard for you to control?”

You can help them generate ideas with some examples that apply in the classroom or at school. Consider having students start by turning and talking with a partner and then inviting a few volunteers to share with the class.

Next invite students to get up and stand in personal space. Encourage them to stretch their body by reaching up to the sky, touching toes, and coming up on a slow count of 8.

Now ask students to think of a favorite move – this could be a dance move like flossing or the dab (or whatever is cool at your school this month!), a favorite athletic movement such as swinging a bat or air-tossing a basketball, or any other creative physical expression.

TIP: Each dance in EduMotion’s SEL Journeys program has 4 simple steps. All of these make great choices for this activity!

Part II: Activate

Once students have decided on their own favorite move, it is time to start the energy modulation activity:

Step 1: Speak in a calm and even voice and invite them to try the step 4 times with medium energy. Let them know that this is “neutral” or “50%”.

Step 2: Now encourage them to add a bit more energy by increasing speed, exaggerating the movement, etc. Take it to 75% and then all the way to 100% – full energy!

Step 3: Now ask them to bring it back to where they started – 50%

Step 4: Now see if they can slow the movement down, moving in slow motion, taking it to 25%, and then all the way to 1% where they are barely moving at all.

Once they are in slow motion, invite them to slowly take a seat. Keeping a very calm voice, congratulate them on being able to control their energy. Have them quietly reflect on how controlling the energy in their body is something they can choose to do any time.

Part III: Reflect

Conclude the activity by asking students to think back to the impulses that they said were hard to control. Encourage them to consider how slowing down their body in those moments may help them out. Help them to make the connection between how their body feels impulses and how they can take the driver’s seat to control those physical reactions. 

See It in Action

In this video, Dancing with Class teaching artist Chris Van Houten demonstrates a version of this impulse control/energy modulation activity. You can even use this video to lead the activity with students if you like! This is a flexible game that leaves lots of space for improvisation and customizing to the needs of your students. 

Stress Management: Active Breathing to Calm Down

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, “Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand.” Some of the most common physical effects of stress include increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure. For this reason, deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body.

Even at a very young age, students can benefit from intentional breathing exercises. In fact, it’s great to make a habit of leading students through breath work on a daily basis, especially after periods of heightened activity such as lunch and recess, or right before a period requiring more intense academic focus.

One of EduMotion’s favorite breathing exercises involves choosing a personal focus word to softly say on the exhale. Many people lead this activity using the word “peace” on the exhale because the sound of the word matches the sound of exhaling. For students, however, the opportunity to choose their own word offers an opportunity for them to personalize the activity in a way that is meaningful to them.

Part I: Prepare

Start the activity by reminding students that everyone gets upset, worried or overly excited at times, and this causes our body to feel stress. Ask them to identify things that cause them to feel this way and think about how they can help themselves calm down.

Next, invite them to sit or stand in a way that feels comfortable for them. Explain to them that in this exercise, you’ll invite them to breath in slowly as they think or softly say the words “I am…” Then, as they exhale slowly, they can choose a word that helps them relax, such as “calm”, “peaceful”, “focused”, “kind”. They will think or softly say that word as they let the air out.

Part II: Activate

When students are ready, provide the following prompt:

“Gaze down or close your eyes and try three deep breaths repeating “I am…” on the inhale, and your own relaxation word on the exhale.”

Model the activity by taking your own breaths and exhaling while softly speaking a calming word. When finished, invite them to slowly lift their gaze or open their eyes.

Part III: Reflect

Once students are re-engaged in the classroom environment, talk to students about how they can try this way of breathing any time they need to calm themselves down. Remind them of this activity often and encourage students to do it individually when needed.

A Note on Student Agency and Trauma Sensitivity

In both of these activities, students are provided opportunities to make choices and choose movements and words that are meaningful to them. This can go a long way towards engaging more reluctant students to find a way to participate that feels comfortable for them. It also opens the activities up as an opportunity for creativity and self-expression.

Keep in mind that stressful moments in the day can be triggers for students who have experienced trauma. By keeping the rules of these activities flexible with choices, such as the option to either close eyes or simply gaze down, you can help create a safe and supportive environment that makes these activities comfortable for all students.


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Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen is a visionary educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts, and physical education.

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