Students demonstrate self-awareness and the skills of introspection and reflection by identifying and understanding their emotions, values, attitudes, motivations, mindsets, and personal attributes.

Key Beliefs:
  • It is important to recognize and understand my emotions.
  • Knowing how I feel can lead to better actions and decisions.
  • I am able to accurately recognize my own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior.
  • Analyze effects of emotions on characters in stories.
  • Think about what you did yesterday at school and identify emotions (e.g., happy, surprised, sad, angry, proud, afraid) you experienced and express them in “feeling faces,” photographs, or a sentence.
  • Reflect on how you feel when you are involved in conflicts. How do these feelings make you want to react, and how do these reactions might make the conflict play out?
  • We cannot control our emotions – we need to accept them – but we can control our behaviors and how we act on our emotions. Rather than instinctively acting on our emotions, we can think about them and find constructive ways to act on them.
  • Reflect on one of the quotes and then review a biography of the person who said the quote, and determine where emotions played a role in what he or she was able to accomplish.
  • Pick an emotion, and describe a time you felt it. What caused you to feel this way? How did you show the emotion?
  • Journal on understanding your emotions and the impact on others by responding to these questions: What do people say, do, think, and look like when they feel a certain way? Why is it important to recognize emotions in ourselves and other people?

Understand Emotions

Middle School
Complete the Understanding Emotions Worksheet or use the questions for in-class discussion DOWNLOAD HERE

Create an anchor chart of emotionally intelligent sentence frames for students to use in difficult discussions. Examples:

    • “Right now I’m feeling __________ because ___________”
    • “When you ______________, I feel ______________ because”
    • “I recognize that you feel ________________ because _____________.”

How Do Emotions Work?
Dr. Debbie wrote an article to help her patients understand how they are feeling and why emotions are important.

What are emotions? Imagine it’s your birthday. You can’t focus on your schoolwork because you keep picturing the birthday cake that’s waiting for you at home. Your heart is beating fast, and you have a big smile on your face. You are feeling ​excited.

Now, imagine a friend just made a rude comment about you. Your face is red, and your hand is clenched into a fist. You notice that you are breathing in and out very quickly. Your stomach feels tight. You are feeling ​angry.

Anger and excitement are examples of ​emotions.​ Emotions are how our brains react to (and make sense of) the world around us. Everyone has emotions. They are important parts of what makes us human!

How do we feel emotions?
The part of the brain that allows us to feel emotions is called the limbic system. Emotions usually occur in response to a ​stimulus. This is an event or thing that produces a reaction — for an upcoming birthday or a rude comment from a friend. In response, many small changes happen in your body. Laughter, tears, clenched fists, and quick heartbeats are all examples of these small changes.

After we notice these changes in our body, we are able to give a name to what we are feeling. The part of the brain that controls emotional responses is called the ​limbic system.

Why do we have emotions?
Some emotions are comfortable, and others are uncomfortable. It feels much better to be happy than to be afraid, for instance. However, all emotions give us useful information about the world and about each other. Our emotions help us survive — even the uncomfortable ones!

Take fear as an example. Early humans lived in a scary world that presented many dangers. In order to survive, they needed to be able to react quickly when something presented a threat. Fear acts as a ​signal ​that tells​ ​the rest of the body to defend itself or run away. This is called the “fight or flight” response. Early humans used fear to stay alive long enough to have children. We still use fear as a signal to help us escape dangerous situations.

The emotion of love also serves a helpful purpose. Because mothers feel love, they make decisions to protect their children from harm. Love helps us survive as a human race by encouraging us to reproduce and take care of our family members.

Overall, all of our emotions exist for a reason. Whether they feel “good” or not, we would not be the same if we didn’t experience the whole range of emotions!

  • Process and Reflection:
    • Give an example of an emotion you felt this week. What was the stimulus that caused you to feel this way? How did your body respond?
    • Why are emotions important, even if they make us feel bad?
    • Pick an emotion other than fear. How might it help us survive?

Quotations are great writing and discussion prompts.

  • “All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.” – Sally Ride
  • “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” – Arianna Huffington
  • “The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else.” – E.E. Cummings
  • “Step out of the history that is holding you back. Step into the new story you are willing to create.” – Oprah Winfrey
  • “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle
  • “Numbing the pain for a while will only make it worse when you finally feel it.” – J.K. Rowling
  • “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Helpful Context:

Understand that the brain is where emotions and regulation occurs.

Our brain stem controls our basic needs for survival, including the fight/flight/freeze response. When we are in a situation of tension or conflict, we get the instinct to fight, run away or freeze. The brain stem is connected to the limbic system or emotional center of the brain, and so when we are in these situations, our emotions also flood our brains, including the cerebral cortex, or logical center.

Sometimes the flight/fight/freeze response is necessary, like when you are about to cross the street, and a car comes zooming at you, but other times, we can regulate ourselves and our emotions in order to connect with our cerebral cortex and react more productively.

Suggested Booklist on Emotions for Elementary Students
  • The Wall,​ by Eve Bunting
  • Smoky Night,​ by David Diaz
  • The Other Side,​ by Jacqueline Woodson
  • A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs,​ by Jon Scieszka
  • Grandfather’s Journey,​ by Allen Say
  • Amazing Grace​, by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch
  • The Paper Bag Princess,​ by Robert Munsch
  • An Elementary Perspective on Dealing With Our Emotions– Advice on how to tell when you’re stressed out and simple tips to relieve tension quickly. From little things you can do every day to promote relaxation to strategies to cool off when you’re in the heat of the moment, we’ve got advice on the best ways to sit back and relax!
Educational Outcomes: