Social Emotional Learning for Kindergarten: Expected and Unexpected Choices

A lot of social emotional learning for kindergarten is learning what are the expected choices for school and what are some unexpected choices. Students learn this throughout the whole year from your modeling and explicit teaching of routines. They also learn this through consequences from unexpected behaviors. Once students have a sense of what is expected in school and what is not, students need to learn why it is important to make expected choices, instead of unexpected choices. All of these activities come from my social emotional curriculum.

Social emotional learning for kindergarten: Language Choice

social emotional learning curriculum kindergarten

Why don’t I say good choice or bad choice? Well, I’ve thought a lot about this. Obviously, sometimes the words “good or bad choice” slips out of my mouth, but I really try not to use these words. I don’t want my students, especially the students that routinely struggle with making expected choices, to have low self-confidence because they told over and over again that they made a bad choice. At some point of hearing that again and again, they may internalize that they are bad. Expected and unexpected stresses the choice that was made.

Also, “good and bad” are so extreme – like the choice is only good or only bad. However, I want my students to know that sometimes a choice is expected in one environment, but unexpected in another. I also like how expected and unexpected puts the emphasis on the other people’s reactions. For example, people were not expecting you to shout in the classroom. That startled them, scared them, and made it hard for them to learn. It was unexpected. Or, people were expecting that you would sit quietly in the assembly, and you did. That helped them to listen and learn!

Activities for Expected and Unexpected choices

social emotional learning curriculum kindergarten

There are lots of activities that I use when teaching about expected and unexpected choices. One important activity, that I like to do whole class and then again individually, is to sort examples of choices into expected and unexpected. When doing this whole class, I like to discuss which environments or scenarios said choice might be expected and which ones it might be unexpected in. For example, running is expected outside or in gym, but not in the classroom.

social emotional learning curriculum kindergarten

I also like to have students reflect on their choices and draw an example of an expected choice they made. I try to focus on the positives and reinforce the expected choices I want them to make in school.

Finally, I always give my students an emergent reader that acts like a social story to explicitly teach the social skill in a level they can understand. I have these for each of the units in my social emotional curriculum, but they can also be bought individually!

social emotional learning curriculum kindergarten

Expected and Unexpected Choices Resources

There aren’t a lot of great read alouds or videos for this topic – and I looked everywhere! For your convenience I have linked to my Amazon Affiliate Store page on Thoughtful Choices and the following books. (Want to see more social emotional read alouds? Check out this blog post!)

social emotional learning curriculum kindergarten

However, there is one series that is absolutely perfect for teaching my students about how our choices have consequences – and expected choices usually have fun, positive consequences, whereas unexpected choices have negative consequences – What Should Danny Do. This series (What Should Danny Do, What Should Danny Do at School, and What Should Darla Do) are a choose your own adventure book where students can choose for the characters. The students can decide if the character makes an expected choice or an unexpected choice. Then they can see the consequences for those choices. Students can then read it over and over and over again and change up the choices to see different consequences and endings. When teaching about expected and unexpected choices, these books are a must read.

My favorite videos are these by Harry Kindergarten on honesty, Howard B. Wigglebottom on lying, and Sesame Street “Stop and Think”.

Connections to Social emotional activities for kindergarten

This work on expected and unexpected choices is never fully complete, simply because you explicitly taught about them. You have to also embed this into your everyday interactions with the students. It is really helpful when debriefing behaviors with your students to discuss whether they think the choice they made was an expected choice or an unexpected one. It is also important to continue to notice and praise students for making expected choices, for example, “I notice that some students are showing expected listening!” or “Wow, we are being so expected working so quietly – now everyone can focus and learn”.

Also, when we have students with attention-seeking behaviors or explosive behaviors, it is critical that we teach the other students not to watch these behaviors. We don’t want to reward the student by having all the other kids give them the attention they are seeking, nor do we want to escalate a child. When students learn the difference between expected and unexpected choices, they can be taught to ignore students when they show unexpected behaviors. I had a couple of situations like this, and as soon as the other students stopped giving attention to the unexpected behavior, that attention-seeking behavior stopped.


It is important to explicitly teach about expected and unexpected choices so that students can reflect on their behaviors and start to understand why we it is important to make expected choices. Just like in all social emotional activities for kindergarten, teachers need to explicitly teach the social emotional skill and embed the learning in everyday activities.


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