Six Ideas For Teaching Recognition and Understanding of Emotions

Six Ideas For Teaching Recognition and Understanding of Emotions

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote about a social skills course I am helping to deliver at a primary school. In this blog entry, I thought I would share some of the activities we have worked on to develop:

  • Recognition and understanding of emotionsSix Ideas For Teaching Recognition and Understanding of Emotions
  • Awareness of triggers that might cause certain emotions, e.g. if you spill water on someone’s picture, they will be upset.

We found that children in our groups:

  • Recognised and understood a narrow range of emotions and feelings
  • Had a different response to neurotypicals, e.g. some members of the group did not like relaxing as it is unstructured time and they did not know how to fill it. This could impact on their ability to understand situations and feelings from another person’s point of view.
  • Found it easier to recognise a facial expression than copy it.

Here are some of the activities that we did in our sessions:

1. Use visual prompts to ask ‘How are you feeling?’

Six Ideas For Teaching Recognition and Understanding of EmotionsAt the beginning of each session, we took it in turns to ask the person next to us how they were feeling. We put some pictures of different facial expressions on a symbol strip, e.g. tired, worried, grumpy, upset, happy. Open questions, e.g. “How are you?” can be hard for people on the spectrum, and giving some prompts can help them answer questions. If they needed more, or different emotions, we had some blank pieces of paper for them to draw the emotion on. Then they would say how they were feeling and explain why.

2. Ask ‘How would you feel?’ in different situations

Six Ideas For Teaching Recognition and Understanding of EmotionsWe put four different emotions on different tables, e.g. excited, scared, upset, angry. We described a situation, e.g. “It’s night time. There’s a storm, the wind is howling round the house, lightening lights up your room. Suddenly, you hear footsteps coming up the stairs and your door creaks slowly open. How would you feel? Angry? Excited? Scared? Or sad?” We gave the group thinking time and then they had to go to the table with the emotion that they would feel, e.g. scared. We took it in turns to say how we would feel and why.

Another version of this we did was to give each child four emotions, e.g. angry, excited, scared, sad. We read out a situation, gave them time think how they would feel. Then, when we said, “Go!” they held up the emotion/emotions they would feel and we took turns to say how they would feel and why.

The children wanted to make up their own situations so we worked with each child to do this, and then they read it out to the class and we held up emotions to show how we would feel.

We found that:

  • We had to make up scenarios to help distinguish between angry, excited and scared
  • Some members of the group could identify more than one feeling they might feel in a situation and explain why, but others couldn’t, and anger was often a dominant emotion.

3. Play the ‘Looking Detectives’ game to identify emotions from facial expressions

One person from the group was chosen to be the looking detective. We have a policeman’s hat that the looking detective wore. The detective had to pick an emotion card, e.g. scared. Then he went out of room. While he was gone, we decided who would pull a scared face and what faces everyone else would pull. We called the detective back in and we all pulled our faces, the detective had to identify who was pulling the scared face (the face on the card he selected). This is a good opportunity to work on thinking skills, e.g. to work out who is not scared and how you know. They loved this game!

4. Identify emotions expressed through music

Six Ideas For Teaching Recognition and Understanding of EmotionsWe played a drum and identified whether it sounded, for example, angry, sad, excited and then we all moved around the room in that manner, e.g. angrily, while the drum was playing. We stopped playing the drum and said, “Freeze!” Then everyone had to stay still pulling a face to express the emotion the drum had been expressing. We took photos of different facial expressions to use in an emotions book.

Possible add on:

We asked everyone to think of a time that they had felt the emotion, e.g. anger. We gave them thinking time and then took it in turns to tell the group about this experience, e.g. what happened, who was involved, where it happened, how we felt – what this felt like in our bodies, in our heads, etc. We always went first to provide a model and we used a tool from Talkabout (Alex Kelly) so that they had a concrete prompt to help them talk about this.

5. Play ‘Pass the Face’ game to identify emotions

We sat in a circle. The first person took a picture card of a facial expression, but did not show it to anyone. Then, they turned to the person on their right and pulled that face, e.g. excited. The person on their right, turned to the person on their right and pulled the same face, and so on until the face came back to the first person. The last person to pull the face had to say what they thought it was – we checked if everyone agreed and then showed the picture card to everyone to see if they were right. This was a popular game!

6. Join the activities above to work out how someone is feeling and why

Six Ideas For Teaching Recognition and Understanding of EmotionsTo put all the pieces of these activities together, we introduced a story step by step, by giving clues, and discussed how characters were feeling, how we knew that, and why that might be. For example, my colleague pretended she was crying. I asked the group how she was feeling and how they knew, then we thought about why this could be. Then I showed them a box of chocolates with one chocolate in it. I asked them if they thought this could be connected. Then I showed them a card that said, “Dear Jane, thank you so much for all your hard work. We know you love these chocolates, so here is a box of them to say thank you. Best wishes, Head Teacher.” The last clue was me sitting down and saying, “I’m so full, I feel ill! I’ve eaten so many chocolates!” Then they were able to explain why my colleague was crying.

If you have any ideas that you‘ve used and that have worked well, I’d love to know. Hope you enjoy these!

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