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Everything You Need to Know about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Directed Drawing

Updated: Nov 11, 2023




What is Directed or Guided Drawing?


Directed Drawing, also called Guided Drawing, is when one person talks another person through drawing a picture, step by step in a sequential way. Directed Drawing for students helps them learn to draw new things by putting lines and shapes together in a new way.


I’ve created an activity called SEL Directed Drawing which combines art with social-emotional learning prompts and questions!


With SEL Guided Drawing, there are questions or prompts on different topics like communication, social skills, problem solving, feelings, cognitive behavioral therapy, social-emotional learning, and more. Each of the SEL prompts is answered or discussed, which then unlocks each step for the students to create their own drawing.


Each SEL Directed Drawing set also includes editable versions of the presentations so you can customize the prompts for your classroom, clients, or students! This is very helpful so you can differentiate to any child you are working with. I've also included a worksheet with all the drawing steps on one-page, which is a perfect printable worksheet for early finishers in the classroom, or to keep in your calm corner.




14 Reasons Why I Love to Use Social Emotional Learning SEL Directed Drawings/Guided Drawings in the School Counseling and Classroom Setting



1. Helps Students Feel Accomplished


One of the reasons why I love to use guided drawing for elementary students is

that the students almost always feel accomplished about drawing something that they initially didn’t think they could draw!


The confidence that is developed and the joy in the classroom when students are allowed to engage in something that is both challenging yet creative is priceless!


2. Doesn’t Require Many Materials


It’s unbelievable how many times I overthink an activity to increase engagement when in the end, I should have kept things simple. Another reason why SEL Guided Drawing activities are amazing is that it is simple and it doesn’t take a ton of supplies.


Students only need paper, pencils, and coloring utensils like markers, crayons, or colored pencils to engage in these social-emotional learning directed drawing activities. The simplicity of supplies makes this activity easy to implement at a moment's notice, or if there is some unexpected downtime in the classroom.



3. Teaches Students That it’s Okay to Make Mistakes


The benefits of directed drawing are innumerable! The bottom line is that guided drawing

gives students the opportunity to learn some important lessons like being okay with making mistakes, and being okay with the fact that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Other benefits include helping students to develop better focus, bolstering their confidence, and giving students a creative outlet to express themselves. I love to use the book Regina's Big Mistake by Marissa Moss to help students with this.








4. Can Help Teach Patience


There is a lot of in-the-moment coaching that can happen with these SEL Directed Drawing interventions! If you are working in a small group, dyad, or whole classroom setting, then students can have a chance to practice patience. For example, in a larger setting, students might need patience if they’re drawing with a group of people because they might have to wait before they can move on to unlock the next step. I teach my students that if they are feeling impatient and are having a hard time waiting they can take a slow deep breath and think “I can wait.”



5. Offers a Safe Space to Practice Coping Skills


Once in a while drawing can be upsetting to some children. They might feel upset because drawing is hard for them, or they might feel like they want their work to be perfect and they think they’re making too many mistakes. SEL Guided Drawings offer great opportunities to teach students that it’s okay to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s why pencils have erasers! Plus, the drawings don’t need to be perfect, and it’s good to practice doing hard things.

My SEL Directed Drawing sets include pre-teaching that goes with the lesson by asking children to figure out if they find themselves getting frustrated or upset to figure out ahead of time what coping skills they will they practice.



6. Practice Drawing Skills


Once students complete guided drawing activities, many of them will be able to remember how to draw the image they've created. Once the students commit these drawing steps to memory, they will be able to use the method of drawings on their own. Drawing can be a great coping mechanism for many students and can even serve as a memory aid! Check out this blog post where I discuss the link between drawing, focus, and memory.



7. Using SEL Guided Drawing as a Coping Tool


Drawing as a coping skill can be an important tool to help students control behavior when they’re in a stimulating or overwhelming environment. This is why I always keep drawing materials (like a clipboard, dry erase board and marker, paper, and coloring supplies) in my Calm Corners.


My Directed Drawing SEL bundle comes with simple worksheets so students can follow the step-by-step instructions independently. I love to keep copies of these worksheets in my calm corner, and have even given them to students to use on the bus!


I've found that many students have trouble managing their behavior on the school bus, but with a clipboard, one of these worksheets, and some positive encouragement, many students will want to use their time on the bus to practice their drawing skills instead!


The students then come to school and share their drawings with one of their special adults at school, like their school social worker or counselor. If you want to learn more about how to implement successful classroom calm corners, be sure to check out this blog post!



8. Use of a Calming Activity

The process of drawing in and of itself can be calming and regulating for many students. It’s not just about the end product of a finished drawing, but the process of drawing and coloring that is often soothing.


Think about it - this is why there are so many adult relaxation coloring books on the market! Einarsdottir, Dockett & Perry write, “We have noted the importance of drawing as a process, rather than the drawing product. In particular, we note that when children draw and talk, they construct and convey meaning” (2009).



9. A Preventative SEL Strategy


Social-emotional learning and guided drawing are the perfect combination resource because they can help students have fun and be creative while learning new social-emotional learning skills. They can have important conversations in a safe, supportive, and encouraging atmosphere.


This can be a wonderful preventative SEL strategy because the students can answer questions to help them plan for difficult situations, discuss problem solving strategies, behavioral, and communication skills, and can learn how to identify their feelings and express them in a safe way. These experiences are essential for student growth!



10. A Way to Empower Students

Guided Drawing can help students calm down and have some control if they are feeling out of control. Many students find that there is a calming nature to the step-by-step process of directed SEL drawing since it is quite a methodical process. They can also be encouraged to express themselves by coloring the drawing in any creative way they choose, as there are no right or wrong ways to do these activities!


I love to encourage the use of colored pencils and crayons as the main medium to color the drawing with because they are resistive or dry media, which allows for “cognitive control and safety” (Ichiki and Hinz, 2015, as cited in Hinz, 2020, p. 28). This dry media also elicits “feelings of control” which “can decrease feelings of anxiety early in the therapeutic relationship” (Regev and Snir, 2018, as cited in Hinz, 2020 p. 29).


Children should feel empowered and develop an internal locus of control rather than an external locus of control, which means that one usually anticipates that “outcomes are the result of external forces rather than one’s own behavior or competence” (Platt, Williams, and Ginsburg, 2016, p. 24). Children struggling with emotional regulation often want to control things because they may feel out of control, which is why one of the activities in my book Skills for Big Feelings is devoted to the concept of control. To learn more about Skills for Big Feelings, click here.



11. A Nonverbal Activity


Drawing is a nonverbal activity, so these directed drawing activities can be beneficial to English language learners who may be new to the country, or to students who may be struggling to find ways to express themselves for other reasons. Each set also comes with an editable version, which will be very helpful so you can differentiate to your learners!



12. Can Be Used in Many Different Settings


SEL Guided Drawings can be used in a variety of settings. You could do SEL Guided

Drawing with a child in an individual counseling session, in a small group, in a lunch bunch, in a large classroom lesson, or in a community meeting. When students are in a one-on-one setting with guided drawing activity, it gives them an opportunity to think calmly with the help of an adult who can help them think through and discuss their answers.


On the other hand, students in a whole classroom setting can become closer when they see how their peers answer questions. It’s a great way to build classroom community and have important conversations. One of my teacher friends said to me recently “I loved doing the guided drawing in community meetings, it helps my students relax and take what other students were saying seriously.”



13. Students of All Ages Enjoy Guided Drawing


Many students carry sketchbooks and love drawing when they have finished their work. Guided drawing isn’t just for elementary students! Guided drawing can also be for middle school and high school students too.


SEL Guided Drawing can be used in middle schools in a few different ways. Guided drawing could be used as a community builder that is built-in at the beginning of the year with getting-to-know-you questions that students answer in small groups as the teacher circulates the room.


If middle school, teachers have a homeroom or advisory hour that they hold, so SEL Guided Drawing could go perfectly with character development activities as students brainstorm about their life goals and academic goals for the year.


The last way educators like school counselors and school social workers can use guided drawing at the Middle School level is as a de-escalation technique for students who may start to have an anxiety attack or are struggling with managing their emotions.


If you notice a student is having a difficult day and needs a moment to relax, you may want to consider allowing them to do a guided drawing activity by themselves to help them calm their body and mind. The students often come away differently when the activity is completed. For many students, the process can be quite calming.



14. A Tool to Develop a Growth Mindset


Guided drawing can also be used as an activity connected to growth mindset lessons. Teaching students about having a growth mindset in an explicit way helps them understand how to foster their goals and manage their dreams. It helps students overcome failure and focus on the process, instead of just on the outcome or end-goal.



Done for You Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Guided Drawing Activity Sets



SEL Guided Drawing can have a seriously positive impact on your relationships with students, and even with students' relationships with each other. It’s an easy-to-implement, creative, engaging, and fun activity that needs minimal supplies to incorporate into a variety of counseling or classroom settings!

Social emotional learning art projects for classroom teachers and counselors can be found here!


You can buy separate sets, or you can buy this growing bundle of directed drawing activities.


As of this writing, the growing bundle has 40 activities with 240 social-emotional learning themed prompts (including CBT, feelings, communication, problem-solving, and more) to unlock the steps to complete each of the seasonal-inspired drawings. The price goes up when more sets are added, so get this growing bundle today!


Each of the SEL Guided Drawing sets comes with:

✔ Editable editions to write your own prompts or questions for ANY subject!

✔ Digital resources included, along with bonus printable pages!





These fun SEL guided drawing activities focus on social-emotional skills including:


✔ Figuring out what people are feeling by examining their words, body language, and facial expression

✔ Showing care and empathy

✔ Identifying what people look like when they feel certain emotions

✔ Perspective taking


✔ Staying on-topic


✔ Using I-statements to solve conflicts


✔ Coming up with win-win solutions or a compromises


✔ Problem-solving skills and apologizing


✔ Using your social filter to know which thoughts to keep in your head and which thoughts to say out loud


✔ Asking questions


✔ Identifying helpful and unhelpful thoughts


✔ Changing unhelpful thoughts to make them more helpful


✔ Coping skills


✔ Self-awareness


✔ Identifying growth or fixed mindset


✔ Social emotional prompts ...And so much more!


Kids love directed drawing because they're fun! They are also a great tool because they help enhance kid's confidence and self-esteem, while working on their fine motor skills, as well as their ability to focus and pay attention to details. With the unique social-emotional learning pre-teaching slides in these resources, you can also address growth mindset, grit, patience, coping skills, and being okay with making mistakes!

Social-emotional learning competencies addressed include self-awareness, social-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. This versatile and engaging activity can be used with one child, with a group, or class, in-person, on a smartboard, or with remote or hybrid learning through a screen share. Check them out here in this money-saving growing bundle!


Or check out each seasonal bundle:







And be sure to check out this growing bundle!






References


Einarsdottir, J., Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2009) Making meaning:

children’s perspectives expressed through drawings, Early Child Development

and Care, 179:2, 217-232, DOI: 10.1080/03004430802666999


Hinz, L. D. (2020). Expressive therapies continuum: A framework for using art in therapy. Routledge.


Ichiki, Y. and Hinz, L. D. (2015). Exploring media properties and the expressive therapies continuum: Survey of art therapists. Paper presented at the 46th Annual American Art Therapy Association conference, Minneapolis, MN.


O'Brien Martin, C. (2020). Skills for Big Feelings: A Guide for Teaching Kids Relaxation, Regulation, and Coping Techniques. Whole Child Counseling.


Platt, R., Williams, S. R. and Ginsburg, G. S. (2016). Stressful life events and child anxiety: Examining parent and child mediators. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 47(1), 23-34. https://www.doi.org/10.1007/s10578-015-0540-4


Regev, D. and Snir, S. (2018). Parent-child art psychotherapy. Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.

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