Teachers, use vocabulary to help students understand their emotions

Teachers, use vocabulary to help students understand their emotions

Don't underestimate the power of vocabulary to change the way children approach their emotions.

A rich vocabulary is important for helping children to understand their own emotions, and the emotions of others. Teacher Louise Pratten blogs on how developing a love of words can make a positive impact on wellbeing.

One of the greatest challenges children face is understanding their emotions.  It’s something that many adults still haven’t mastered, and because emotions can change so quickly, understanding what they are and why we’re feeling them can be difficult.

The trouble then, is that if children don’t understand their emotions, they can quickly get out of hand. But with all the other skills and knowledge we are trying to impart to children as teachers, how can we also help them to develop their emotional wellbeing?

The answer lies in teaching a rich vocabulary. If children are given words to name what they are feeling, they stand a far better chance of being able to consider how they choose to deal with these emotions.

Here are some easy methods for encouraging children to open an emotional dialogue with themselves and with the people around them.

Create a word wall

This is a simple way to help children expand their vocabulary and develop an understanding of the range of emotional states that we can feel, without so much as a lesson plan in sight.

For example, my classroom features the phrase ‘Don’t use bad’, followed by a long list of alternatives ranging from ‘putrid’ to ‘melancholy’. Another wall provides synonyms for ‘nice’, and another for ‘said’.

Students refer to these whenever they have a writing task to complete, and lessons can suddenly turn into lengthy discussions about the difference between ‘forlorn’ and ‘woebegone’, or ‘courteous’ and ‘cordial’.

Because the words are constantly on display, the students gain familiarity with the words and they become more and more comfortable exploring and experimenting with language which, at the start of a term seemed daunting.

Why not try an emotions wall or board in your classroom to help students gain the same familiarity with different emotional states? For younger students, providing images to accompany words can help them build even deeper connections.

Encourage storytelling

Storytelling, as always, is such a valuable tool, not only in developing a child’s understanding of their own emotions, but because through stories we are giving them the ability to develop empathy for other people.

Without having to actually experience the emotions themselves, children can be exposed to a whole range of situations and feelings. By stopping and discussing what is being felt, and providing children with the language to explore what characters might feel, we are aiding them in considering their own emotions. We can go even further here and ask them to discuss how characters should respond to emotions, and even whether they have ever felt the same way.

Provide a space to explore emotions

Often when students are struggling with their emotions, they need to be given the time and space to work through them. But if within this space we also provide the words to explore which emotions are being experienced, either verbally or through the use of word cards and other prompts, we enable children to truly recognise what is happening, and to develop coping mechanisms for the future.

By giving children the words to describe what they are feeling, we are not only creating better writers, but aiding them in developing the emotional intelligence. This helps them to become happy, well-adjusted young people who are not only able to manage their own emotions, but support others to manage theirs.

As teachers, our role isn’t to tell children what to think or how to feel, but to provide the knowledge and the supportive environment they need, to develop their own opinions as thoughtful young people.

What’s been your experience tackling emotional intelligence in the classroom (or at home)? Let us know by joining the conversation on Facebook.

Having previously taught in secondary schools, Louise Pratten is now a Lecturer in English at the award winning Weston College, teaching school leavers and adults a range of courses from Functional Skills and GCSE through to Level 3.