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Getting Emotional: Learning About Feelings

EducationWorld is pleased to feature this K-6 language arts and communication lesson adapted from School Volunteer Handbook: A Simple Guide for K-6 Teachers and Parents, by Yael Calhoun and Elizabeth Q. Finlinson (Lila Press, 2011).

The lesson plan, shared with the permission of the authors, is a great example of a short activity with simple instructions that appeals to a diverse group of parent interests and teacher needs. The activity is an ideal one for implementation by classroom volunteers.

See other School Volunteer Handbook activities:
A Lesson in Character: Connect With Yourself
Lesson to Celebrate Diversity: The Unity Necklace
Just Add Water: Science Experiments With H2O

About the authors

Yael Calhoun, MA, MS, RYT,is an author and educator who has taught preschool through college. She also has worked as an environmental planner and has written over a dozen books. Currently, she is a cofounder and the Executive Director of GreenTREE Yoga, a nonprofit committed to bringing the benefits of yoga to diverse populations.

Elizabeth Q. Finlinson, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has worked as a school therapist, volunteer coordinator, and as a private practitioner specializing in children and families. She teaches character education and physical education and is an active school volunteer.


Language Arts (communication)
Social Studies (group dynamics)



Brief Description

Through discussion, drama and art, students identify and express different feelings and emotions.


Students will:

  • Develop an ability to read other people’s emotions
  • Develop the ability to identify and to express one’s own feelings or emotions.
  • Receive permission to have a wide range of feelings.
  • Build a vocabulary of words for naming feelings.


Feelings, emotions, emotional, expressing, communicating, managing, identifying, naming

Materials Needed

  • White paper plates for class (one for every child, plus at least 8 extra)
  • A set of Emotion Face Templates
  • Markers
  • Paper and pencil for each student
  • Chalk or white board space
  • Backpack with a book, face plates, two personal items (photo, souvenir)

Book suggestions include: Go Away Big, Green Monster and Glad Monster, Sad Monster by Ed Emberley; Yoga Makes Me Feel… by Yael Calhoun, Illustrated by Svea Lunøe; If Everyone Did by Jo Ann Stover; Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon, by P. Lovell; Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis; The Way I Act by Steve Metzger

Lesson Plan


  1. Create the face plates. Use Emotion Face Templates to create paper plate faces depicting different emotions or feelings. We suggest starting with eight common feelings: happy, sad, angry, content, disappointed, afraid, lonely and jealous.
  2. Pack your backpack. Put one book, the face plates, and your personal items in the pack (photo, souvenir, treasured gift or similar items).

The Activity (Time: 40 minutes)

NOTE: It is recommended that teachers invoke the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down signal as needed. Perhaps a student says, “I feel scared when my dad does … ”. You can simply say, “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down.” The student can look around and see that no one thinks this is an appropriate way to behave. You don’t have to go any further with it at this time. If a student completes a sentence, “When I am angry, it makes me feel better to tear up my brother’s books,” just do TU/TD. The student will see that few people feel this is appropriate. Keep it moving.

Part 1: Discussion Points (15 minutes)

Remember, the intention is to help students both to identify their emotions and their feelings about having those emotions.

Show the backpack and say: “I brought my backpack today. Can you guess what’s in it?”

Take out the book you have chosen to read and discuss.

“I have some other things in here too. Here’s something special to me.” Pull out something special, like a treasured gift. “This gift makes me feel ______ . If you like, close your eyes and imagine yourself holding something special to you. What feeling does holding it give you? But how would you feel if you lost it? Can you make a face to show how that would feel? Now open your eyes. Did you notice how quickly your feelings changed? It is normal to have many different feelings in a day.

Today we are going to have some fun identifying and expressing different feelings. I brought some different faces with me today.”

Pull one plate at a time out of your backpack. “Can you tell me what feeling this shows?” Have someone write the list of feelings for each face on the board.

Part 2: Acting Up (20 minutes)

  1. Face plates. “Who likes to ‘act up’? Well, today is a good day for you! We just identified eight different feelings, and now we are going to act them out. One person at a time will pick a plate and then silently act it out — like a charade or pantomime. The rest of us will try to guess the feeling being acted out.”

    NOTE: There is always the option to pass. If you feel a student is too anxious, even after some support and encouragement, let him observe with the option of participating when he chooses.
  2. Acting up.
    --One student will stand next to you as she chooses a plate and shows it only to you.
    --Then the student acts out the feeling. Other students raise their hands to guess.
    --When it has been guessed, or close enough, prompt the student to say, “I feel (the feeling) when…”.
  3. Personal expression. Give each student a white plate on which to draw a feeling face. On the back of the plate, invite him/her to write, “I feel ____ when … ”.

Part 3: Wrap-Up (5 minutes)

  1. Identification. “Who would like to share their feeling faces? Have you felt these feelings at some time? It’s normal to experience many different feelings. Do you find some feelings are harder to have?” If time allows, list them on the board.
  2. Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down. “Let’s see if we can give each other some ideas about things we can do to help us manage difficult feelings. Let’s play ‘Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down’. If you like the idea that someone suggests, show us ‘Thumbs Up’. If you don’t like it, without talking show us ‘Thumbs Down’.” Use these sentence starters:
  • When I get angry, it helps me feel better if I…
  • When I feel sad, it helps me feel better if I…
  • When I feel bored, it helps me feel better if I…
  • When I feel tired, it helps me feel better if I…
  • When I feel mad, it helps me feel better if I…
  • When I feel jealous, it helps me feel better if I…
  • When I feel lonely, it helps me feel better if I…

NOTE: Remember, it is your job to maintain the boundaries. With the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down signal, you quickly can relay what is appropriate and what is not.

Extend the Lesson

Language Arts

  • More Feelings. Use a different set of feelings on paper plates. Ask students for suggestions of some other feelings and ask them to draw the faces.
  • Illustrated Books. Have students create an illustrated book of feelings. Depict the faces, illustrate a scene, or find a picture in a magazine for each feeling.

    Write two sentences under the face:

    “I feel ______ when _________.”
    “When I feel this way, it helps to _________.”
  • Share. Have an older grade partner or buddy with a younger grade. After both grades have done this activity, have the older students work with younger students to add sentences to their books. The older students could read their own books to their younger partners as a wrap-up. Please review the older students’ books for appropriate content first. Do not assume all feelings should be shared in this way.
  • Once more, with feeling! Repeat the activity, encouraging students to work in groups of two or three to act out a feeling. They can either do it as a pantomime or create a script for it.

Bulletin Board

NOTE: This activity illustrates that feelings can and do change over time. This awareness is important for people who feel “stuck” in a feeling state.

  • Ask students to draw a picture of how they are feeling at the end of each day for a week. Give them a sheet with the days of the week as a format if appropriate.
  • Invite students to choose any emotion and draw and label a face. Staple the face plates to the bulletin board display.
  • Secure the eight feeling plates you created across the bulletin board. Have each student write his name on a wooden clip clothespin. Each day students can clip their clothespins to the feeling they are experiencing. Offer the opportunity to move the pins around as feelings change or at set times during a day.
  • Create a learning center with small white dessert plates and markers. Invite students to draw any feelings they experience and add them to the bulletin board.