Incorporate SEL into Routines & Rituals: Optimistic Closures to Class and Meetings

Diverse group of high school students sits in a circle talking and smiling.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.


These activities are designed with everyone in mind. Students and adults alike are a part of the lifelong learning process for developing and using strong SEL skills that foster a collaborative environment, in which the fullness of each person’s identity is acknowledged and elevated.

Optimistic Closures

An optimistic closure is not necessarily a “cheery ending,” but rather is a way to highlight an individual and shared understanding of the importance of the work, and can provide a sense of accomplishment and support forward-thinking. The closing activity may be reflective of the learning, help identify next steps, or make connections to one’s own work.

  • Examples of Optimistic Closure:
    • Something I learned today…
    • I am curious about…
    • I am looking forward to tomorrow because…
    • Something I’ll do as a result of this meeting is…
    • Something I still question…
    • Something that still concerns me…

See below for two sample activities.

One-Word Whip Around

Time: 2 minutes

This activity is a quick and easy way of starting out or closing a session. The facilitator asks a question and participants go around and provide a one-word answer.

When and Why:

“One-Word Whip Around” brings all voices into the room and enables the facilitator to quickly
get a sense of the group in a short amount of time.


  1. Prepare a statement or question prompt that is aligned to the content of the engagement. For example, “Think of one word about how you are feeling now that you have participated in this engagement” or “Decide on one word that sums up your learning for today.”
  2. Invite participants to form a circle.
  3. State the prompt, explain that everyone should prepare a one-word response, and allow a minute of private think time.
  4. Ask for a volunteer to start off stating their prompt. The volunteer then chooses a direction to go (left or right), and participants continue to respond in turn around the circle. As always, it’s okay to pass by saying, “Pass.”
  5. Note: Rather than “correcting” anyone who responds more lengthily, allow the modeling of the remaining group members to get the design back on track.
  6. Debrief If Time Allows: Ask participants if they noticed any themes or similar responses, and ask what that might tell us about the engagement or participants. If it’s respectful and possible to record the words each person says, create a Word Cloud and share it with the group at a future date.

My Next Step

Time: 3-10 minutes

Close the engagement or class by asking participants to make a commitment to take immediate action.

When and Why:
This activity encourages participants make a commitment to action in the near future.


  1. Ask participants to think of their first next step based on what they learned during the engagement. It might be a conversation, more reading, or thinking more about a topic.
  2. After giving participants a minute to think about what that step would be, ask them to share their next step with a partner or at their table.
  3. Ask participants to write their “next step” on a sticky note and post the note somewhere they will be reminded of their task, such as on their desk, inside the cover of their related text, or in their assignment notebook, or to take a photo with their phone.

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