SEL Tip: Create a space in the classroom for practicing skills


Deep learning often begins when students start applying the social and emotional skills you’re teaching to real-life problems.Try setting up a space in your classroom where students can cool down, resolve conflicts, and put their new skills to use.

We know what a difference it makes for students and the classroom climate when the teacher takes some time every week for lessons that build students’ social and emotional skills. But deep learning often begins when students start practicing and applying these skills to life's daily challenges. And of course the school day presents many of these!

How can we give students a chance to practice their SEL skills throughout the school day – even when we’re teaching about something else?

One way is to set up a neutral or no-fault zone in your classroom where students can cool down and solve real-life problems. This might be in a corner of the room, just outside the door, in the reading area, or at an empty desk. It might be called a "Peace Corner" or a "Talk it Out Table," or another name invented by the students themselves. (See this page for more on Peace Corners.)

Give students a menu of cool-down strategies, self-awareness strategies, and conflict resolution strategies that they can use while there. And then, using the guidelines you've set together, they can start actively contributing to a building a positive climate in your classroom.


  1. Decide where your neutral zone will be located.

  2. Decide what students are allowed to do there. For example:

  • Deep breathing
  • Stretching
  • Counting backwards to calm themselves down
  • Writing or drawing
  • Crafting an I-message
  • Listening and paraphrasing each other's point of view
  1. Decide how and when students may use this area. Can they initiate a visit? If so, how? How long can they spend there?

  2. Hold a class meeting to introduce the idea, get student input around name and place, and get students’ input on protocols. Students may want to create posters with the strategies or art to help  make this a special space.

  3. Give students a refresher lesson on the cooling down and problem-solving strategies they can use in the space.

  4. Begin using!



Kristin Stuart Valdes is a senior staff developer at Morningside Center and director of our 4Rs+MTP research program.