Self-awareness activities are the driving force behind achieving success. It is an important skill that we can develop to help us progress in our often stressful daily lives. Adults and teens alike could use a little more self-awareness at times. Not a day goes by without an opportunity to react to forces that affect the motivation needed for achieving success. 

Self-awareness is the first competency of social emotional learning skills. It is something we should continuously try to improve in ourselves to effectively help teens in the development of their self-awareness journey. 

If you have been looking for ways to integrate social emotional learning skills into your academic content to increase student engagement and academic performance, I’ve got you covered! 

Continue reading for some tried-and-true (and easy to implement!) self-awareness activities to get started with this classroom transformation.

How I Knew I Needed to Find Some Self Awareness Classroom Activities

I was so excited when I got my first teaching job! I spent the summer envisioning this dreamland of a classroom where students would come in, listen to what I had to say, complete some worksheets, and prove to me how much they learned by getting A’s on the tests I would give. My classroom not turning into this dreamland shocked me. My teen students didn’t just sit and listen to what I had to say. And if they did, they didn’t remember it after even just a little time had passed. They weren’t always willing to complete the worksheets I handed out (plain, old question-and-answer worksheets…what was I thinking?). They didn’t all get A’s on the tests I gave. Most shockingly of all, most of them didn’t even seem to care!

High school classroom showing that all students didn't get all A's on their tests and most of the students didn't care.
Students need to learn how to handle tough situations, use their strengths, and set goals to increase their motivation in the classroom.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I was doing something wrong. The hard part was figuring out what that was and how to change it. Consequently, it isn’t hard to see why teachers want to hang up their pencil bags when reality seems to defeat their dreamland of learning. Instead of hanging my head, I grew more motivated because I wanted to figure out why my students weren’t learning and why they didn’t seem to care about learning. I made it my goal to figure out a way to motivate every student I taught.

My Priority Changed

Researching the best ways to motivate students became my top priority. I realized what they needed was exactly what I was doing myself. They needed to learn how to handle tough situations, how to use their strengths to their benefit, how to build their confidence and believe in themselves, and how to set and work toward goals that would make them better students and people. As a result, my big research question changed. Above all, I needed to find a way to teach students these skills while still mastering the academic standards. How could I possibly do this? I knew the only way that would be effective was to sneak it into the academic material I was teaching. Consequently, when I did this my classroom started looking a lot more like the dreamland I had imagined. 

Activities on Self Awareness for Students

Now I had to find ways to sneak self-awareness activities into the academic content. Yes, I think a teacher needs to be sneaky with these skills. Sneaking these skills into the academic content is the only way to make it effective and authentic. An explicit teaching approach is often Why High School SEL Programs Feel ‘Lame’.  I knew the teens that walked through my door every day would laugh at me or quickly tune me out if I asked them to draw a happy face if they were feeling confident and a sad face if they were struggling. Make the activities relevant to teens like Using Hip-Hop To Promote SEL Competencies. So here is what I did, and you can do it too. I made it easier to get started with this packet full of ways to integrate Self-Awareness Activities right away.

Infographic showing that self-awareness can be developed through goal setting, class discussions, validating student stress, allowing student choice, and advancing metacognition.
Activities on self-awareness can be integrated with academic content easily and with little to no prep work.

Spend time setting goals. 

Setting a goal is like creating a clear path with a purpose to get you where you want to go. Spend time talking to students about the importance of setting goals and share some of your goals with your students. Teen students are so close to a new stage in their lives. Moving to that next stage is often enough motivation for them to set meaningful goals. The hard part is not setting the goal but rather knowing how to reach the goal. So, give students time to create a plan that will help them achieve their goals. Prompt them to think about the steps they need to take and what they will do if challenges arise. Thinking about these things makes you want to achieve them. Let this be your first self-awareness activity to increase self-motivation for your students. 

Hold class discussions and allow for collaboration. 

A noisy classroom is a productive classroom. Students often learn more by listening and responding to their peers, so having students collaborate on assignments will build upon their academic knowledge and their social emotional skills. Facilitate class discussions by asking students critical thinking questions. This will help you determine what your students have learned. It also serves as a self-awareness activity that allows students to practice their social emotional competence.

Students working together in class provides a greater opportunity for learning because a noisy classroom is a productive classroom.
Collaborative opportunities in the classroom allow for a richer learning experience for all students.

Help students get through tough days.

We all have hard days, even teens. A teen’s mind can be taken over by big and small issues making them lose focus on anything school-related. When I can see a student is having a rough day, I quietly give him or her a sticky note. Students know when they get this sticky note they can take a couple of minutes to write down what is bothering them and a time when they can deal with the problem. This helps them regain their focus and feel a bit better because they are validating their feelings, and they have set a plan in motion for handling their problem at a set time.

Allow student choice.

I know we have all seen some version of a choice board for assignments. These are a great self-awareness activity to use even with teen students because it allows them to play upon their strengths by choosing the way they can best show you what they know. Teens should also be given a choice when it comes to finding a study strategy. We can’t expect that all students will achieve the same results studying in the same way. Spend some time showing your students different ways they can study academic material. Ask students to share study strategies they have used. By seeing different ways of studying students will develop flexibility and feel more confident in their learning.

Advance student thinking with metacognition.

When students think about things they have learned in the past along with their personal experiences and make connections between those things and new things they are learning, they can grasp the large framework of how ideas and knowledge build upon each other. This self-awareness activity helps students to gain a deeper understanding and raises their awareness of why they should learn the things we teach. These 3 Ways To Get Teens Thinking Metacognitively is a great place to start.

Self Awareness Teaching Resources

As a teacher, I completely understand how difficult it may seem to add new things to the long list of items you already have to teach, but I assure you that integrating these self-awareness activities in your classroom can be done with little to no preparation. Once you find a good spot in your existing lesson plan, go ahead and sneak a little self-awareness into it and watch the teens in your classroom transform into stronger, high-achieving students. This packet of Self-Awareness Activities makes getting started easy with tons of activity ideas for teachers and templates for students. Click here for more ideas on integrating self-awareness activities and other SEL competencies in your classroom.