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What does social-emotional learning look like in fifth grade?

Social-emotional learning plays a central role in our work at Opal School – even in fifth grade.

We understand that when people find themselves in a situation that triggers strong emotions for them or for the people around them, there is great power in being able to name the emotions, understand how they affect us and the people around us, and to have tools, strategies and words to guide how to deal with them. 

In Opal 4 this year, social emotional learning has happened in many ways.  Sometimes we will do a whole group discussion on terms, definitions and strategies, like we did when we reviewed the roles in group dynamics.  Sometimes a teacher will meet with a small group of students who find themselves in a conflict and they will review applicable strategies and practice them.

Weekly class meetings are a forum for students to bring a problem to the group that needs a solution. 


The class agreed in the beginning of the year that problems that come to class meeting should be issues that you have tried to resolve on your own unsuccessfully that you need the class to support you with or issues that involve and affect the entire class.  Class meeting topics have ranged from telling secrets to crowding at the lockers.  On April 10, the class meeting topic was, "Talking behind someone's back."

The class was wondering when it was okay to go to a friend and quietly share what you are struggling with in a way that felt supportive to you, yet felt respectful to the people you might be talking about. 

The next day, the class acted out three different scenarios where the confidant responds to the frustrated friend in three different ways.  Following is “Scenario Two”:

Confidant Scenario Two
Characters:  Jane, Suzy, and Jane’s three other tablemates.

Jane runs over to Suzy and says the following to her in a whisper.  The three other tablemates are watching, but they can’t hear what Jane and Suzy are saying.

Jane:  I am so frustrated!  No matter how many times I remind my tablemates that their chatter makes it hard for me to get my writing done, they still talk!  I am sick of sitting with those guys.

Suzy (turns her body toward Jane and her back toward the three tablemates and speaks calmly):  Wow, is that still a problem at your table?  Do you have any ideas for how to solve it?  Because if you don’t, I have some ideas for how you can handle it, would you like to hear them?


After the skit was over, the class reflected on what they had seen through a group dialog.  They are naming the roles of the characters in the skit based on what they know about group dynamics.

HH:  This was just like last time, but instead of being a follower [and just agreeing with Jane and putting the tablemates down], Suzy offered ways to help.

NF:  In the first part, the tablemates were the protagonist and followers and Jane was the victim.  Suzy was a bystander.  When Jane is talking to Suzy, the tablemates didn’t notice they were victims, they were non-noticing victims.

TJP:  Now Suzy is an intervener.

UJ:  I agree with NF.  Suzy tried to fix the problem and not be a victim.  She wanted to encourage Jane and help her with her problem.

WK:  Jane was a victim, but she made herself a victim.

TJP:  Yes.  It’s her choice to be a victim.  Everybody has a choice in what they want to do.

RS:  Like if you’re a bystander, you can choose to intervene.  If you’re a victim, you can choose to go away.

TJP:  In the situation, whatever role you think would do the best to fit you, you take on.  It’s like instinct.  The instinct part is you just mold into the role that fits you.  It’s instinct, not thought.

SD:  You (Suzy) don’t think about it if you say something mean, you want to be on their side and support them.

TJP:  I want to explain why I go up to people when I am having a problem.  When I go up to people, it’s because I can trust them.  People you don’t normally hang out with – they can be pretty trustworthy.  I can confide secrets and they’re trustworthy.

The next week we got together to discuss possible solution language.  How will we deal with this issue when it comes up in the classroom?

The photo below shows a collection of ideas the class came up with:


This is the end of the dialog:

UJ:  If you find yourself engaging in rumors or gossip you can just say, “We shouldn’t be saying this about other people.”

AB:  You can’t spread a rumor.  Choose to follow or choose your own idea.

SD:  You can’t just hold in your anger.

NF:  If you want to be an intervener, challenge the original idea.  Ask them did they use the strategies that we used to have in the little circles in our classes when we were younger?  Let it Roll Off, Do-Over, Ask a Question, Clear Message… You could intervene by asking, “Want to play four square?” and, “Want me to help you talk to them?”  or you could ask the teacher for a new table for daily page.

EJ:  Here’s the problem the way I see it.  The cat and the dog are fighting.  The owner of the cat says, “Your dog tried to hurt my cat.”  The owner of the dog says, “Your cat started it.”  They get their friends to come take their sides and they start a war.  That’s how wars start!  Listen to what they’re saying.  Remind them that everyone has been rude, maybe it was an accident, maybe it was a bad day.  Everyone has been mean to someone.  Then help them solve it so it doesn’t turn into World War III.  This is when you want to say, “I know how you feel, I’m sorry that happened.  I want to get both perspectives.  If you want some support I can talk to them with you.”

JP:  I agree with EJ.  If you have something you did and you just want to move on you could say, “Fine, I started it.  It’s my fault.”


Levia:  JP has a great strategy.  Humor always helps.

KB:  An intervener can be a protagonist.  Like in the first skit, Jane went up to Suzy and she agreed, “They’re mean,” but [in the other] Suzy was intervener when she said, “Let’s go play four square.”  After she calms down you should go back to intervene, suggest a new idea.

Levia reads the solution language from the board

If you have something you’re upset about and it’s not insulting, go to someone and explain your problem.  Intervene for yourself.  Get a teacher if you need support and make a plan with your table group later.  Use facts not opinions unless it’s about how you feel.  “It made me feel disrespected not, “They’re mean.”  Make an I statement.  Be aware if you are engaging in rumors or gossip.

AA restates the solution language that we read from the board:  If you’re the listener, 1 or 2 depending on the person, then 3 Give yourself a smudge.  Get rid of your bad emotions, then 4 Support them and intervene.

UJ:  I have a trouble bunny.  I whisper my problems to it.

RC:  You can hold trouble air inside your hands.  Whisper your trouble inside your hands and then throw it out.

HH:  Then wash your hands!

And this solution language now lives on the wall in the classroom:

If you are the Listener

    1. Listen.  Really listen to the person without judgment.  Don’t attack other people.
    2. Take their mind off of it.  Calm them down.

  • Distract them, go play four square
  • Use humor to make them laugh

    3. Help them dispose of the bad emotions.

  • Write them down and rip them up
  • Write them down and show a friend
  • Throw a rock
  • Tell them to your Trouble Bunny
  • Whisper them into your hands and then throw them away or wash them down the drain
  • Give yourself a smudge

    4. Support them.  Intervene.  Steer them away from hating the other people.  Say, “I know how you feel.  I’m sorry that happened.  I want both perspectives.  If you want some support I can talk to them with you.  Are you making an assumption?”

    5. If you want to be an intervener, challenge the original idea.  Ask them did they use the strategies that we used to have in the little circles in our classes when we were younger?  Let it Roll Off, Do-Over, Ask a Question, Clear Message.

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