“A classroom is not the place to express or deal with emotions. Pupils are here to learn and accumulate knowledge”. Nowadays, this way of thinking seems outdated, yet for a long time, instructors and school curricula have left emotions aside and focused on pure knowledge. Feelings, whether positive or negative, were ignored and even repressed.
Teachers and education experts now know that feelings and learning are closely linked, indissociable even. Children and adults alike need to find themselves in a stable emotional state if they want to pay attention, memorize, process and analyze information efficiently. Emotions also play a major role in other parts of the learning process, such as decision-making, critical thinking or problem-solving. There are emotional conditions that favor learning, others that make it difficult or even prevent it.
Teachers must ask themselves some important questions when it comes to their pupils’ emotions: How do I deal with them? How can I help children manage negative emotions? How can I ensure that all my students learn regardless of their emotional state? Do I need to channel overenthusiasm or overexcitement? Educators who have tried teaching something new to their pupils when it starts snowing outside for the first time of the year, know how hard it can be!
How Does Our Brain Work?
The short answer to this question is “we don’t know yet but we’re working on it!” The human brain is such a complex organ that our own human brain will probably never be able to understand the billions of complex connections in itself. Nevertheless, there are some important things we know and must take into account. Before we analyze the world with our brain, we feel it with our senses: we taste, smell, touch, hear and see things. These sensations then create feelings which dictate the way we act and behave. Humans tend to define themselves as rational beings, yet we are also, and foremost, sentient beings.
The Role of Emotions in Learning
We need to understand that feelings strongly impact the way we learn in a classroom, at home and in life. Through the learning process, positive emotions will accelerate and improve learning. If pupils are joyful, interested, curious, passionate and engaged, it will activate their brain’s gratification system, make them want to learn more, help them focus, face challenges, deal with failure, etc.
On the contrary, negative emotions will put them in an ineffective learning disposition and debilitate their motivation. A student who feels threatened by someone or something, will focus on the threat and not on the learning. Thus the importance of teachers to have resources and abilities when dealing with negative emotions such as fear, stress, disengagement, sadness or anxiety.
Recently schools and educational systems have started including emotional aspects of learning in their curricula, thus complementing the cognitive part. Fortunately, a lot of teachers had understood a long time ago the importance of establishing a human relationship with their pupils and addressing their feelings.
In some countries, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), a method aiming to foster social and emotional skills, has been implemented. It gives these abilities the same importance as math, reading or science, thus creating some controversies, especially in the US. The 5 main components of this method are:
- Self-awareness: know your emotions, thoughts, values, strengths and limitations, and develop a sense of confidence and purpose.
- Self-management: manage your emotions and behavior to achieve your personal goals.
- Social awareness: understand the perspective of others and empathize with them.
- Relationship skills: establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships.
- Responsible decision-making: make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.
Teachers do not only have to be aware of the importance of addressing emotions in the classroom but they also need some tools and activities to help them in their task. That is why we made a list of 5 useful activities.
5 Tools and Activities to Work on Emotions With Your Pupils
1. Feelings Thermometer
Before we start working on emotions, we need to learn to recognize them, and this is no easy thing! It can be extremely difficult for young children to express what they feel and put names on their emotions. Therefore, using a Feelings Thermometer can be a great way to help them. Kids can indicate how they feel even when they can’t verbalize it. Thermometers may include colors, illustrations, emoticons or numbers to help everyone express their feelings. There are many ways you can use it: it may be a morning routine. You can also ask everyone to describe a moment when they felt this or that particular emotion. You can also play a guessing game to see if children can recognize how their classmates feel, to work on empathy.
2. The Photo Album of Emotions
First, make a list of all the emotions your pupils know, you can add a few ones that you think are important. Then, you can ask your pupils to find pictures of people (in magazines for example), who are experiencing these emotions. They can practice recognizing facial expressions and body language. An even more fun way to build this album is for children to be actors and photographers, meaning they can mime emotions, take pictures, then print them and fill the album.
3. How Would You Feel if…?
Think about situations in children’s lives that can trigger specific emotions, such as: “your best friend couldn’t come to your birthday”, “your parents took you on a surprise trip to the beach”, “your classmate broke your pen, but not on purpose”. Write them on pieces of paper and make your pupils pick one and express how they would feel.
4. Emotional Puppets
Kids can actually learn a lot by playing with puppets. Let every child have one puppet and in pairs or small groups, either let children imagine situations or give them a script where feelings are involved. Puppets offer a distance that allows kids to talk about difficult emotions. Try to reverse the roles of the same situation to teach them empathy.
5. Reading Stories
Choose a story and analyze the feelings of the characters throughout the tale or book. Let them describe the situations and explain why characters felt such emotions. Children can therefore relate to events, circumstances and temper. Ask them if they had reacted the same way in the same situation. You can also ask them to relate the actions and emotions of the characters with their own experience.