Self-Regulation Strategies

Students use self-regulation strategies like mental breaks, body and movement breaks, fidgets, and self-talk to maximize their learning
760 teachers like this strategy
Hero Video Self-Regulation.mp4

About This Strategy

Most adults use self-regulation strategies throughout the day to stay focused, motivated, and productive, whether that means taking a walk to get an extra cup of coffee when feeling drowsy, pausing to take a few deep breaths when stressed, or tapping a pen when deep in thought. This strategy allows teachers to teach and support students to use their own self-regulation strategies, such as taking mental breaks, taking body and movement breaks, using fidgets, and engaging in positive self-talk to maximize their own learning when they start to feel distracted or discouraged. This strategy also includes tips to ensure students' self-regulation strategies are used purposefully and effectively without becoming a distraction to the learning environment.

Plan It

1. Consider what types of self regulation strategies are necessary to provide in the classroom based on the age, learning styles, and preferences of your students. What observations have you made about your class? What changes or shifts would be helpful for your students to be able to self regulate.

2. Use this template to plan for what your students need.

Practice It

1. Start by defining self-regulation with your students. Self-regulation is the ability to manage one’s own thoughts, emotions, energy, and behaviors.

2. Explain the strategy you are going to practice together and the reason for it. Use the chart in the template to help you explain it to students.. For example, if practicing mental breaks, explain that it helps to take a mental break, especially after an emotionally or cognitively challenging activity or before transitioning to another activity. Mental breaks allow us to refresh their mental energy and refocus.

3. Talk about how you will practice this and where materials will be kept.

4. Explain how you will reflect upon the strategy and how you will know it is working or not working.

5. Allow students to begin using self-regulation strategies, and adjust self-regulation resources and expectations as needed.

  • Consider prompting students to use self-regulation strategies at specific intervals of class as they get used to using the strategies.
  • Praise students for successfully using self-regulation strategies. Give students the opportunity to praise one another for using self-regulation strategies effectively when they notice it.

Reflect and Refine

  1. After a period of time. Perhaps a week or two. Answer the following questions yourself and then with students. Continue to reflect and refine as you make changes or add new strategies. In addition, give students to opportunity to reflect either individually or whole-class on how the self-regulation strategies are working.

    • Are students using the strategies?

    • Are the self-regulation strategies helping students focus? Which strategies are helping the most?

    • Are there specific self-regulation resources that they would like more or, or that are being used incorrectly?

    • Are students using self-regulation strategies in a way that is not distracting to other students?

    • Are there any additional self-regulation strategies that you should explicitly teach students? Consider having them practice a new breathing visualization technique or a new stretch they can do in their chair.

    • How can students better use self-regulation strategies that match what they are struggling with? If a student is stressed, that may require a different strategy than if they are tired or if they are antsy.

Special Education Modification

Teaching students self-regulation strategies is a foundational tool teachers can use to better support all students with disabilities to become more engaged participants in their learning.  In order to plan effectively to support students with disabilities teachers should consider the following modifications:

  • Before deciding on a specific plan or goals for teaching self regulation strategies, teachers should consult with special education department administrators or specialized teachers that can give extra guidance on the best types of self-regulation strategies to use given the disability types in a classroom. 

  • If multiple teachers are present, careful thought should be put into co-teaching models and how they integrate into a differentiated lesson plan to teach self-regulation strategies.

EL Modification

This strategy guides learners to build a toolbox of strategies that help them stay focused, motivated, and productive in the classroom. As learners of culture, language, and content simultaneously, English learners may benefit from this strategy which guides them to recognize when they may need a break and how to pursue it. 

English learners are required to listen and discuss strategies and may need to read and write as well as part of the self-regulation strategies offered. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:

  1. Ensure English learners participate in discussions about self-regulation strategies. For learners at lower levels of language proficiency, preview the topic of self-regulation in advance. Provide sentence stems, e.g., I feel (frustrated, angry, worried, anxious, overwhelmed when ____, for entering the discussion. Give learners the opportunity to write down their thoughts in advance. 
  2. Establish a signal, like tapping on a desk, so learners know they have a strong idea that you will call on them to share. Consider partnering with learners’ language specialist to preview the concept of self-regulation. See the "Preparing for Self-Regulation Strategies Class Discussion Template" in the resource section below.
  3. Ensure English learners understand all rules, norms, signals, and resources that are established, e.g., ask for learners to restate in a 1:1 or small group setting. Consider posting these in an anchor chart. See the "Teacher Tool: Leveled Question Stems" resource in the resource section below.
  4. Consider the use of images or visuals along with written text that can prompt students to use a self-regulation strategy

Tech Tools


  • GoNoodle is a web-based way to get younger kids out of their seats and moving. These short physical activities provide brain breaks that can help keep them focused throughout a long day.

  • Studies have shown that physical activity increases blood flow, which increases concentration and attentiveness. GoNoodle make it easy to integrate short and fun brain breaks throughout a long class period.

Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street

  • Sesame Street's newest human resident, Mando, narrates while kids and a blue monster together tackle everyday frustrations -- like struggling to tie shoes, dealing with separation anxiety, taking turns, and going to bed -- and learn how to deal with them. Students must work through one problem before unlocking the next. Animated video clips show the blue monster's problem, then kids tap his belly to help him breathe deeply and calm down. When the monster is calm, students tap thought bubbles, which produces three possible strategies. Students get to choose which strategy the monster will try and then see him do it in another animated video clip. The technique of breathing, thinking, and doing is reinforced throughout.

  • This app supports this strategy by providing young students with a fun and interactive way to learn self-regulating strategies

Calm App

  • A free app for educators to use with students to practice mindfulness techniques


  • A free tool for educators to practice mindfulness techniques with students.

Self-Regulation Strategies For Distance Learning

Tori Todd
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Distance learning increases the need for self-regulation strategies, as students and teachers are not in the same shared physical space. Strategically teaching students to self-regulate in a distance environment helps them to engage more fully with their work and avoid burn-out.

Implementation steps:

  1. Talk with students about self-regulation and the importance of taking breaks. Ask students to reflect on the types of breaks that re-energize them, and the types of breaks that make it more difficult to return to work. These answers may be different for each child.

    • To modify this step for asynchronous learning, create a Padlet, Flipgrid, or Google Form for students to share the types of breaks they prefer and reflect on how breaks help them learn.

  2. Model self-care and self-regulation. Throughout synchronous sessions, pause to take deep breaths with your students, to stretch, or to engage with a brain break.

    • If you are working mostly asynchronously with students, consider "assigning" breaks to students. Link GoNoodle videos, meditation exercises, or a social-emotional choice board to your distance learning platform to provide students with structure and ideas for how they can maximize their break time.

  3. Create a schedule that students can follow at home. Work with families and guardians to create a schedule that honors students' and families' needs. See the examples linked below for suggestions and ideas about scheduling students' time.

  4. Reflect with students on a frequent basis about how they feel and what helps them to focus.