Use This SEL Activity to Help Your Students Explore Their COVID-19 Emotions

Supporting students’ social and emotional wellbeing is vital as they transition back to in-person learning. Use this SEL activity to get your students present and connecting as they reflect on the shifts they’ve experienced over the last year and a half.

By iThrive Games
October 14, 2021

"A mixed bag."

When asked about the emotions they have seen expressed/felt in their classroom since returning to in-person instruction at a recent iThrive Educator Advisory Council meeting, Lauren Geschel, a HS teacher and co-creator of iThrive Curriculum: A Moment in Time, shared this response. For many educators and students, the back-to-school experience can be described in a similar way: a mixed bag of emotions—some that point to pain from what's been lost over the course of this pandemic, but also many that point to possibility in what's to come.

Tending to the emotions that come with this moment in education requires both understanding and empathy. At iThrive Games, we use play as a tool to foster better understanding of self, others, and the world in high school classrooms, crafting game-based, social and emotional learning experiences that support educators in creating connection and presence, while honoring the wholeness of the teens they teach. So, when Lauren later shared the journal writing exercise that got her HS seniors present, engaged, and reflecting on the 'mixed bag' of emotions they've experienced over the last year and a half, we knew we had to share it. 

Activity: Pandemic Shifts

Providing in-class opportunities for students to explore their emotions helps create community in the classroom. Try dedicating some time during your next class session to Pandemic Shifts, a social-emotional learning activity that supports teens in being self-aware and reflecting on the shifts they've experienced and witnessed over the last 20 months:

  • In preparation for this activity, legibly write the following five-question prompts on five large sheets of paper (one per paper), then post them throughout your classroom:
    • What was the most shocking part of the pandemic period for you?
    • What was one positive that came out of the pandemic for you personally?
    • What have you realized about yourself during this time? 
    • What do you think has changed about the world that will never go back to the way it was before the pandemic? 
    • What scares you the most about the future? 
  • Have students take out five sheets of paper. Read each of the questions above aloud, allowing two to three minutes after each for students to respond to it. Let them know that their responses can be anonymous.
  • When students are done, ask them to tape their responses under the respective question prompts posted throughout the class. Allow 10-12 minutes for students to walk the room and read their peers' responses.
  • Once students have had a chance to read through their classmates' responses, allow 10-12 minutes for reflecting together about the activity. Remind students to be respectful of their peers. Here are some sample debriefing questions:
    • How did that experience feel?
    • What are some common threads and throughlines you noticed in your classmates' responses?
    • What are some norms we can create this school year that consider these responses?

For educators who bring this activity to their classrooms, we would love to hear how it went with your students. Please share your experience with us at, and be sure to stay updated with our growing library of social-emotional learning offerings by signing up for our newsletter today.