Using A Feelings Check-In 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Check-ins teach self awareness and show you care.

When I asked school counselors and psychologists about what they include in their counseling sessions, a feelings check-in was by far the most popular answer. This past year, a special education teacher posted a mental health check she did with her students, and it went viral.

We all know how important it is that students have ways to communicate. Checking in with students about how they are feeling is one of the very first places you can start in a counseling session.

Why Do Feelings Check Ins?

The first SEL competency is self-awareness, and it starts with students being able to identify how they feel. A  feelings check-in helps students learn to recognize different emotions and also the intensity of emotions. We can't manage a feeling if we can't recognize it.

It normalizes feelings. We aren't always supposed to be happy or calm. Sometimes, we are sad, jealous, or angry. When we do daily feelings check-ins, we recognize that all feelings are okay. It then opens up the conversation that handling those feelings makes all the difference.

Feelings check-ins communicate that how everyone feels is important. And that as part of a community, someone will care how you feel. It's a simple daily task that shows someone wants to listen and help.

A Word of Caution About Feelings Check Ins

A feelings check-ins on the surface is great, but it can come with complications. Think through your procedures and make sure you are prepared.

  • What will you do when a student says they are not doing well?
  • Is there a qualified person available to talk to a student who discloses they are in distress?
  • Students may look for attention by expressing strong emotions that aren't 100% true. Stick to your systems and have a method to limit that while not missing someone in need. 
  • Make sure to keep things positive and goal focused. Students being aware about their feelings should not equate to a therapy session before reading groups.
  • Don't make it public. I know there is a lot of Pinterest/Instagram pretty check-ins where everyone in class shares their feelings. I don't believe it's helpful to focus attention this way. Students can easily be swayed to focus on the negative, seek attention, and lean into negative feelings. It's not the best way to start the day.

For example, one student often stated that she was unhappy and needed to talk to someone. She had a limited number of passes to see the counselor. On the pass, she had to rate the size of the problem. This let the counselor know how serious this was, how soon she needed to see her, etc. She also had strategies she could use when the rating was lower. 

Feelings Check-In Ideas

Feelings Check-ins are a great way to start counseling sessions. You can use a feeling check-in cardchart, or spinner.

Check-In Card & Chart

Students can have their check-in cards, or you can create a large poster where students can add a token showing how they feel. You can pair that with a strategy using an I Can Card, if it is a feeling they want to change.

Feelings Check-In Cards and Chart

Check-in Spinner

For groups, create a set of spinners so each student grabs one when they enter and rates their feelings. Do a quick round-robin, allowing each student to share.

Feelings Spinner Check-in

Once students can recognize and label their feelings, work on teaching them strategies to regulate those feelings. You can introduce this by telling students that we can take a negative emotion and change it to a positive feeling using a strategy. Work with them on finding strategies that work well for them.

Feelings thermometers or scales are an essential tool in your counseling office. I can't think of something else I reached for or referenced more often with students. They are reusable,

A Feelings Thermometer is the Ultimate Counseling Tool

Match Feelings & Strategies

I liked to make this "change process" more concrete. If This, Then That cards help students identify an emotion and then choose a strategy that can help them. For example, if you feel sad, talk about it.

Feelings and Strategy Activity

Feelings Tracker

Some students need more than just a check-in. For those individual students, try creating a feelings check-in box or logging their feelings check-ins using a tracker.

Feelings Tracker Sheet for Check-Ins

Reflection Questions

Reflection questions are a great way to start the day in the classroom. This focuses on purposeful goals for the day or week. On Monday morning, have students answer six questions:

6 Questions: Reflect, Check, & Get Set

  1. 1
    Today I was to _______________.
  2. 2
    I want to do more of _______________.
  3. 3
    I want to do less of _______________.
  4. 4
    I want to feel _______________.
  5. 5
    To feel this way, I will _______________.
  6. 6
    If I get stuck, I'll remember _______________.

Download these questions as free Reflect, Check and Get Set Cards in my store.

Feelings check-ins are a great way to survey how students are doing and be responsive. Find ways to make it meaningful and focused on a positive mindset.

Helpful Resources

feelings check-in materials

Feelings Check-In Activities

Feelings Check-In tools let students practice recognizing their emotions and determining how to manage those feelings.

Feeling Posters and Worksheets

Feelings Posters & Worksheets

Detailed feelings posters and worksheets guides students to recognize, name, and understand their feelings and the feelings they see in others.

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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  1. I really like your ideas on the feelings check in tools. I’m currently in a Mind & Society club at my community college since I’m studying to be a psychologist. I’m also trying to come up with ideas for our club and this feelings check is the perfect idea. Thank you.

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