We All Teach SEL: Curiosity Activities and Tools for Students

Resources to inspire curiosity in every classroom, every day.

January 17, 2017
Danny Wagner Senior Editor, Education Ratings & Reviews
Common Sense Education

CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Technology Integration, Tools

Building SEL (social and emotional learning) skills such as curiosity requires face-to-face interactions, meaningful discussion, and reflection. Edtech is no complete substitute for that, but there are tools that can supplement the development of character in the classroom and at home. According to Character Lab, curiosity is:

a strong desire to learn or know something -- a search for information for its own sake.

While some tools focus specifically on curiosity, the websites and apps that you use daily (in all subjects) can be used to promote inquisitiveness, too. You don't have to stop using the tools you love or toss out your lesson or curricular plans to start developing SEL. Below we have included some tips, tools, and actionable ideas for seamlessly integrating curiosity and life skills-building into your content classroom.  

Why Curiosity?

To some, curiosity suggests actively seeking out challenges and new experiences. While that's partly true, studies suggest that curiosity has a deeper impact on learning. Scientists at the University of California, Davis found that brain activity increased when participants were more curious about certain questions, resulting in greater quick recall as well as long-term memory. For teachers, this means students' curiosity might be harnessed to promote more meaningful learning. Although what's most meaningful about curious exploration is the path, not the destination. It's up to teachers to help students to realize that while technology can make the discovery process easy, finding an answer from an internet search tends to be much less satisfying than the struggle it took to get there. The good news is that student curiosity isn't in short supply, and while some students seek understanding more than others, all have the ability to push the limits of what is known. If educators successfully nurture curiosity in the classroom, students might begin to challenge the status quo -- like one 16-year-old who worked to develop a cheaper, faster cancer-detection system -- and transform the world as we know it.

Take Action

  • Set aside time for students to play and tinker with ideas, tools, emotions, beliefs, and materials in the classroom.
  • Challenge students to not accept everything at face value and to rethink historical or standard ways and methods.  
  • Have students practice asking good questions and incorporate them into a project-based learning experience.
  • Make sure the technology you use doesn't take the place of, but instead supplements, face-to-face interaction.
  • Using our Digital Citizenship Curriculum? Both our student interactives and lessons already foster key SEL skills.
  • Visit some other excellent SEL resources, including CASEL, Character Lab, Edutopia, and Ashoka.

Think about the digital tools you're already using in the classroom. Can you find a creative way to use them to model curiosity? Check out our suggestions below!

Directly Target Curiosity

See our Edtech That Fuels Interest-Driven Learning list for more curiosity-focused tools.

Wizard School

wizard school app Original, interactive challenges, such as designing a tree house, show kids the joy of learning. Set students free to explore and share; if working in groups, kids can compare how they were inspired to find different solutions to the same problem.


ted-ed website Short videos and animations from the brightest minds support a kid's sense of wonder about the world. Create a lesson right on the site or explore a collection of organized content, such as Math in Real Life, to get students energized.








Build Curiosity in All Subjects     


Activities and Tools for ELA Classrooms

LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary

levar burton kids skybrary app With a digital library of hundreds of books, this app focuses on learning about real life and nurturing imagination. Have students explore books by a theme of their choice, and then give kids informal time to share with peers what was most fascinating. 


genius website Genius lets students work together to annotate text online, from literature to historical documents. Have students choose a song that interests them, annotate the lyrics, and then look at how others interpreted the same piece. 







Activities and Tools for Math Classrooms

PBS KIDS Measure Up!

pbs kids measure up app This app uses videos and games to compare length and height, capacity, and weight. Supplement the on-screen games by playing some similar games off the screen: Give kids the freedom to explore the weight and length of items around the classroom.

Incredible Numbers

incredible numbers app Make math shine with this app that hits on topics not often mentioned in class. When students finish a test or need a greater challenge, let them get immersed in fascinating facts and unique visualizations on topics such as cryptography. 







Activities and Tools for Science Classrooms

Mystery Science

mystery science website Remarkable video clips ask the big questions about scientific phenomena, lead students in a discussion, and then get students involved in an experiment. Pause videos often to allow students to predict, hypothesize, and share their thoughts.

The PocketLab

the pocketlab app A small sensor pairs with your device to collect data such as motion, temperature, and more. Let kids come up with a question they want to answer, strap the sensor to a rocket or ceiling fan, and then watch the student-driven learning happen.







Activities and Tools for Social Studies Classrooms

Minecraft: Education Edition

minecraft: education edition game Make history come alive with Minecraft. Students can show their mastery of a place, structure, or time period by recreating it in the game. Have students add written signs that can guide other students on a tour of their learning.

Smithsonian Learning Lab

smithsonian learning lab website Discover, remix, and share over 1 million Smithsonian museum images, videos, texts, and more. Have students search artifacts by interest and then create their own collection online that can be annotated with notes or quizzes for others to use.







Activities and Tools for All Classrooms

Dreamdo Schools

dreamdo schools website

This project-based learning platform lets students browse projects or create their own. Kids can develop their ideas and document their accomplishments, all while building and sharing with a global community that promotes activism.  


instagram app Pique students' eagerness by meeting them where they are: social media. Have students submit photos they create or discover, centered on a theme. This can include memes for novels or historical events or pictures of their artwork. 









Bridge the School-to-Home Connection


Explore More SEL Tips, Tools, and Teaching Strategies

We All Teach SEL