Monday, February 26, 2018

5 Activities for Teaching your Students about Emotions

The number of students coming to us in elementary school who have autism, emotional disturbances, or have been exposed to drugs in utero, continues to grow.  These populations have an unbelievably difficult time with social skills and emotion regulation as they become school-age.  One of the foundational necessities of these two skills is being able to identify emotions based on facial expression or body language and to understand what causes us to feel these different emotions.

Last year I graciously accepted the role of guest blogger on HoJo's Teaching Adventure's blog, and today I wanted to share it with you, in case you missed it!  These are my 5 favorite activities for teaching emotions.

1. Reflections! 
First, find pictures on the computer of your students' favorite cartoon characters making different faces and print out the pictures. You'll be surprised at how many options you get if you type something in such as "Peppa Pig Sad!" After printing out the pictures, I suggest laminating them for durability.  Next, give your students a mirror to hold in front of themselves and try to match the facial expressions of their favorite characters!  Make sure that after they copy the face that they also name what emotion matches the face they are making.  Each student should get to take a turn with the mirror.  To make sure that your students are getting a wide variety of emotions to try to emulate, have them select a card that is face-down, so it is truly random.  This will stop them from always choosing a picture of someone happy.  We want our students learning what facial expressions look like for many emotions, rather than just one or two.

Special Note -> I find that mirrors with handles work best for small hands.  If you are concerned about students dropping the mirror, or if you work with students who are physically challenged, you may choose to do this activity in a mirror that is already hanging on the wall, such as in the bathroom or on the back of a closet door.  

2. Real Life Photos! 
Use a camera to take pictures of your students making facial expressions depicting different emotions, or if your students are responsible enough, they can take the pictures of their classmates themselves! To begin, I like to have students make happy faces, sad faces, angry faces and surprised faces.  It helps to use an even number of students for each emotion, if possible.  You can then print, laminate, and cut out your students’ pictures in the size of playing cards.  These cards can be used in an incredible number of ways.  You can use them to play matching (match emotions) or go fish.  This is why it is helpful to have an even number of students making the same kind of face.  You can spread the childrens' faces out all over the floor and have them toss a beanbag.  Whichever card the beanbag lands on, students can name the emotion and also think of a time they may feel that way, or have them imitate the facial expression.   You can have each student select one card, imitate the expression they see on the card, and have their classmates guess how they are pretending to feel.  This activity of using real life photo is only limited by imagination and creativity!

*Special Note -> Don’t forget to get photo permission from parents and guardians in advance!

3. Role play – Reader’s Theater!
Have you heard of Reader’s Theater?  I only recently learned about it in an online course about dyslexia and dysgraphia.  The idea behind Reader’s Theater is that your students play out a script in front of their class.  It’s wonderful for struggling readers because emphasis is placed on body language and facial expressions, rather than literacy skills.  This is perfect also for our students who are trying to learn more about how facial expressions and body language reflects feelings.  Find (or create your own) scripts that have a lot of emotions in them!  For students who are struggling with these, pair them up with a partner who needs to portray the same emotion as them (the script calls for both students to have the same emotion).  Having a peer to model and remind your struggling student of what their face should look like is a strategy that allows the student to feel more independent since you aren't directly prompting them.

4. Freeze dance!
Remember playing Freeze Dance during recess or gym as a child?  Someone would play music from a boom box (I'm aging myself now) and everyone would dance.  When the music stopped, everybody would have to freeze.  Play this game the exact same way, except have your students freeze in a posture and with a facial expression that matches an emotion.  You can give them an example of having a huge smile on your face, arms raised, to show the expression of excited or proud.  For some contrast, show your students they could freeze with their hands on their hips and a scowl on their face to show anger or annoyance.  There are so many different ways to shape our bodies and faces to match an emotion! 

5. Movie: Inside Out!
Have you seen this Pixar movie yet?  It features characters based on 5 common emotions, living inside of a girl's mind as she grows into her teenage years.  The characters are: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger.  First, let your students watch the movie (it's only an hour and a half).  Next, have your students separate into five groups, and assign each group one of the characters/emotions.  Explain to them that they are going to make a collage based on their assigned emotion.  They can use their own creative ideas on a poster board, to display things that make them feel that emotion.  They can clip pictures from newspapers or magazines, print images from the computer, draw images, or write the images in bold, colorful fonts.  Once completed, the groups will stand in front of the class and present their collaborative collages to their peers, explaining what emotion they had and what makes them feel that way.

*Special Note -> Inside Out is a PG movie.  Use your judgement on if your students are mature enough to watch the move before showing it.  Getting parent permission may be a good idea, if you have any concerns.

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