Understanding and Identifying Emotions

It’s a familiar scene in the kindergarten classroom – you’re working on writing by helping a student narrate his drawing when all of the sudden you hear, “GIVE IT BACK!” from across the room. You look up to see Ella, red-faced with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Moments like these – where emotions take center stage – happen often in the kindergarten classroom. Students are working hard to learn new skills while also needing to be more self-sufficient than ever before. What if there was a way that we could not only help students ‘get through’ these moments, but turn them into learning opportunities to promote social-emotional development? Below we describe two strategies that give you a framework for helping students manage their strong emotions and also help encourage children’s own understanding of emotions.

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 Feelings Chart

Before children can manage their emotions, they must be able to identify what they are feeling. Encouraging students to connect their feelings to language helps them make sense of their experience.

  • What is a Feelings Chart? A Feelings Chart is a visual representation of different emotions, typically with pictures and/or text.
  • Why Should I Use It? Using a Feelings Chart is one way to help make the abstract concept of ‘emotion’ more concrete, hands-on, and meaningful for your students (not to mention fun!). In addition, the more that you incorporate emotion language throughout the day, the more familiar and comfortable students will become using it.
  • How Can I Use It? Display the Feelings Chart in a prominent classroom location so that you can easily reference it. There are lots of ways to use a Feelings Chart throughout the day. For example…
    • Have a “Feelings Check-In” at the same time every day (e.g., snack time, morning meeting), where you ask each student to identify what emotion they are feeling (and why). This helps them get into the practice of thinking about and reflecting on emotions.
    • As you observe students experiencing specific emotions throughout the day (positive and negative), pause and encourage them to identify what emotion they are feeling in-the-moment. Take it a step further by prompting them to also identify why they are feeling a certain emotion.
    • See Introduction to the Feelings Chart for a suggested activity to kick-off using the Feelings Chart in your classroom.

Feelings Thermometer

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Once able to identify what emotion they are feeling, it is important for students to measure the intensity of their emotion. Recognizing when an emotion is starting to get “bigger” is key to 1) preventing that emotion from escalating further and 2) recognizing when it’s time to take a step back or calm-down.

  • What is a Feelings Thermometer? A Feelings Thermometer is another useful visual that uses a familiar analogy of a thermometer to represent different levels or “temperatures” (small, medium, big) of an emotional experience.
  • Why Should I Use It? Just like with the Feelings Chart, the Feelings Thermometer is one way to make the abstract concept of emotion more concrete and understandable for students. Children (and adults, too!) don’t always have the words or ability to describe the intensity of an emotional experience, and having this simple visual to reference can go a long way in promoting their emotional understanding.
  • How Can I Use It? Display the Feelings Thermometer near the Feelings Chart, and when appropriate, reference the two in conjunction with one another – after identifying an emotion, prompt students to measure the intensity of that emotion. Take it a step further by asking them how they can tell an emotion is at a certain level.

Learning the skills needed for emotional regulation is just as important as learning the skills needed for math and reading. When students are able to recognize, identify, and manage their feelings, they are better able to actively participate and engage in your classroom!

More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email vkrp@virginia.edu, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.