Teaching emotions to students is extremely important! Social-emotional learning enables students to express positive, healthy emotions and feelings. Whether you intend it to or not, a large portion of your day as a classroom teacher will be spent educating students about their emotions and feelings.
Students learn about emotions and feelings at home and through interactions with friends and family. Children are naturally going to imitate what they see around them, which can result in healthy or unhealthy social-emotional habits. For many students, they have positive models through community centers, sports, music lessons, church, and more. For other students though, they may not have these opportunities or may be inundated with negative emotional models in their home environments. What do we do for these students?
As teachers, we must choose to model, teach, and encourage our students to use healthy social-emotional habits daily. We want to help them learn to identify, understand, and express their emotions and feelings in positive ways.
You’re thinking, “yes! But that’s so daunting. How do I do all of that while also teaching and meeting so many other student needs?!”
Let me break it down for you…
Teach different emotions
Target a variety of emotions such as proud, sad, frustrated, embarrassed, calm, silly, angry, worried, and more. Make sure your students understand exactly what each of the different emotions mean. Identify behavioral, physical, and cognitive expressions of the emotions. Use visuals to help students connect the meanings and expressions of the emotions to real-life scenarios. Incorporate this as a part of your morning routine to keep things consistent! One of the best movies about emotions is Disney’s “Inside Out”, here is an awesome video that you can use to have students practice identifying emotions.
Teach healthy ways to express different emotions
Help your students identify productive ways to express emotions and deal with difficult ones. Involve the class as a large group to collaborate and discuss possible positive coping strategies to use when feeling different emotions. Deep breathing and relaxation techniques are some of my favorite coping skills. Here is a video that teaches Belly Breathing that I use with my own kids at home and they love it cause Elmo is in it.
Highlight positive mindsets
Don’t forget the power of positive thinking! In the words of sports analyst and former football player and head coach, Tony Dungy, “Be positive. Your mind is more powerful than you think. What is down in the well comes up in the bucket. Fill yourself with positive things.” A great way to show kids how to find positivity is this video by Headspace.
Use resources to teach Emotions in the Classroom
My Emotions Monster Bundle is a great resource to use with younger elementary students to target identifying ten different emotions. This resource also highlights different environments and people that can impact emotions. The silly, colorful monsters are sure to keep your younger students engaged as they learn about feelings! This is a quick print and go resource and is formatted for easy digital learning too–win, win!
For older elementary students, Identifying Feelings and Emotions workbook for Google Slides is a fantastic resource! Twenty-five emotions are covered in this resource. Vibrantly colored faces are displayed as a visual to aid students in learning emotions. You can easily review the provided characteristics of each emotion and then guide students through identifying positive coping strategies for each. This resource is also an easy print and go or digital learning tool.
Use books to teach Emotions in the Classroom
Read alouds, writing prompts, self-reflection guides, cause and effect activities are wonderful ways to ensure that your students are understanding and able to apply the topic of acceptance both in and out of the classroom. Here are a few highlights of my favorites:
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The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee
This book is about a boy whose feelings are so big that they radiate from his face and go down to his chest. He cries when he hears loud noises and bursts with joy when hearing a funny joke. He feels other people’s emotions as his own. He tries to cope with these big feelings by stuffing them down. With some help, the boy begins to learn that his big, big feelings are actually amazing and can be celebrated instead of hidden away. His special gift can also be helpful in making friends!
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek
In this story, a little girl explains how different emotions make her feel inside. The little girl explains that her heart feels heavy like an elephant when she is sad and feels shiny and bright like a star when she is happy. She also discusses other emotions such as calm, brave, broken hearted, afraid, and more. A cut-out heart is found on each page, and the reader sees how the heart changes size as the story progresses. The last page of this book asks the reader, “How does your heart feel?” which opens an opportunity for conversation about feelings.
Big Feelings by Alexandra Penfold
The Very Last Leaf is about Lance Cottonwood. Lance is the greatest and smartest of the leaves at school, but even still, he worries. He makes high grades in all of his classes but is so nervous about his final exam of floating to the ground. In Big Feelings, a diverse group of children have plans for lots of fun. The inclusive group’s large feelings get in the way. Throughout the story, the children learn to value each others’ feelings and compromise in order to have the best time together. Big Feelings is inclusive and brightly colored which is a fun touch for young readers. This book helps children learn to identify different kinds of feelings and respond with empathy. The repetition and illustrations help children understand the various vocabulary words and messages.
Teaching emotions in engaging, fun ways will truly benefit your students for years and years to come!