A New REALM: IFSEL’s Tips for Distance Learning

Check In

A New REALM: IFSEL’s Tips for Distance Learning

With many schools moving to Distance Learning during this pandemic, IFSEL is pulling from our collective and creative forces to support teachers to help students have virtual experiences full of human connection and joy in learning. 

We know that when it comes to Distance Learning there is an inequitable distribution of resources and tools. For our most vulnerable and disadvantaged, school closures pose many critical risks to the physical, social, and emotional health of our whole community.  

The team at The Institute for Social and Emotional Learning has created and curated ideas that, we hope, will address some of the social and emotional needs that students and educators are experiencing.

  1. R - Rituals
  1. E - Energize
  1. A - Appreciation
  1. L - Lighten
  1. M - Mindful


Start and end virtual class meeting with opening and closing rituals. Rituals provide a grounded and predictable form for connection - essential in a Distance Learning classroom. Repeated over time, rituals invoke meaning and create a space for students to enter each day. 

Check In

Invite students to sit back in a chair. Say: “Feel your feet on the ground for a few breaths.  Pull shoulders up to your ears and then gently let them fall back down. Again. Breathe some easy breaths with your own timing - in…. And then with the out breath.”Offer one of the following Check-in prompts at this point. Vary them throughout the weeks. Do every day, or every other day - whatever you feel is best to build buy-in.Say: “Let’s spend the next 8 minutes giving everyone 20 seconds to share how they’re feeling, and a little bit about why they feel that way, if they wish. It’s ok to pass.”

Emotional/Physical Well-being Check in - Metaphors

- What color or blend of colors best represents how you’re feeling today? Why?

- If your feelings were described by a specific shape or two, what would it be?

- If you made or used an Emoji that best represents your moods right now, what is it?

- Imagine the way an animal of your choosing looks, lives, moves; which one best matches your feelings this morning?

- Across our planet there are many landforms - geysers, streams, craters, mountains, hills, forests, valleys; which one or blend of forms represents your feelings at the moment.

For any of these check-in’s, students could find an image of their check-in (animal, emoji, landform etc.) and, when it is their turn, share it through the chat/message function of the online platform.

Emotional/Physical Well-being Check-in with specific materials or things from around the house

- Find a favorite item from their room or kitchen that provides a good memory or comfort for the moment.

- Create a drawing or sketch that uses line, color, shape, to represent your feelings.

- Showa piece of ribbon, scrap of cloth/fabric, buttons that make you think of the emotions you are having now. 

Emotional/Physical Well-being Check-in with items from Nature. 

- Ask your students to come to Check-in with something from Nature that resembles the emotions they are feeling that day.

- Leaves, rocks, collection of sticks, a flower blossom, etc.

- An image of a place from the natural world.You may also wish to design your Check-ins around their worries or excitement around academics, social experiences, etc.


Share a word that describes a quality you are feeling right now. Write it down on an index card and hold it up to the camera. Teacher reads them. Create a frozen sculpture pose to show how they’re feeling right now. 


Bringing energy for focus and on-screen effort during the learning sessions will challenge our students and ourselves.Pausing to be “off-task” for a few minutes can actually create more on-task behavior, not less, during the rest of the lesson.

Move, Dance, Stretch

Say: “Reach and stretch your hands up to the ceiling and imagine touching the roof, even the sky. Take in a big breath. Sweep your arms out to the side like you are pushing the air down or making a large arc like a rainbow.  Breathe all the air out and as you do, feel yourself get taller. Repeat a few times. Then, feel your feet firmly planted on the ground and stand for a few breaths. Imagine breathing in through your feet and pulling the breath up to your head and breathing out, back through your feet. Notice how you feel. When you are ready, sit back in your chair. Sit up tall and place both feet on the ground. Pull your shoulders up to your ears and then away from your ears.” 

Tree in Wind

Say: “Stand as if you are a tree. Deep roots. Many branches outward. At first, sway with a gentle breeze. Now, as the wind picks up, twist and bend, yet stay rooted.”

Appreciation and Gratitude

Gratitude and practices of appreciation have been shown to physiologically increase our sense of well-being. Being grateful can become a contagious mindset and will help connect your students to each other.

Individual Appreciation Share

Say: “Think over what we did and learned so far during the Distance Learning class today. What is something you are grateful for? Consider someone or something you’ve noticed who supported your learning, helped you to think differently, or kindly encouraged you.”
- I liked it how…- It was cool when...

- Thank you for the way that you…

- I miss seeing you… and… I am appreciating...

- Even though we’re not together…

Journal Writing Prompts for Gratitude

Say: “Choose from any of the following prompts and write and sketch your response for 10 minutes.”
Then, ask for volunteers to read aloud. 

- I assumed after we left school ..., and worried that..., but today I appreciated how…

- I have been surprised about how… and I hope...

- I want to appreciate and remember the time at school when…

- I’m really thankful that…

- Being away from school is  so different now and what I didn’t think about that I can appreciate is that I get to….


If your students come to know your virtual learning lessons as offering a few minutes of playful interactions, it will raise motivation, and help to keep the group bonded, all essential at this time.

Online Games

Goosechase (9-12) is an online scavenger hunt recommended from Hong Kong Academy, a school that is just now transitioning back to classroom work.

An online collaborative puzzle game is Edpuzzle (6-8).

GoNoodle (K-8) offers educational physical and mental health practices.


Have students use “snail mail” and write and send each other an uplifting, handmade card.  You can choose the person they will be writing to and send the name via email, or there can be a random selection done together, with students keeping the name of their persona surprise.


Take a laughter break. Do something silly like play “Sound Ball” in a pre-determined order from person to person or play a version of Pictionary using  


Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, aware of the emotions, sensations, and insights one is experiencing. Mindfulness is based in research and can help people feel more at peace, become less stressed, and shift perspective.

Walking Meditation

Invite students to stand up and find as mall or large open space near the computer screen where they can walk around. Play some music… maybe try Vitamin String Quartet… and ask them to notice placing their feet on the ground with every step…

Breathing Exercises

Remind or teach students a range of breathing practices they can do. Share videos or articles about athletes and celebrities that talk about the importance of breathing exercises, or tell students about your own preferred practices.  

Some examples:

- Diaphragmatic Breathing (Deep Belly Breathing)

- Long Exhale Breathing- Humming Bee Breathing

- 4-7-8 Breathing Instructions for all of these can be easily found online.   

The IFSEL Team is pulling together more resources and ideas and will be sharing these here and through webinars in the days ahead.

Learn More

A New REALM: IFSEL’s Tips for Distance Learning



3 - 6

Middle School

High School


The IFSEL team's curated ideas that, we hope, address some of the SEL needs of students and educators.

Learn More

A New REALM: IFSEL’s Tips for Distance Learning









3 - 6

Middle School

High School


The IFSEL team's curated ideas that, we hope, address some of the SEL needs of students and educators.

See More
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