10 Simple Activities to Build a Feelings Vocabulary 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min

A foundational part of social emotional learning is developing a student's feelings vocabulary. When they can name how they feel, then they can begin to handle those feelings. Check out these 10 activities to help elementary students build up their feelings vocabulary.

1. Feelings Check-In

Adding a feelings check-in to your daily routine will teach students:

  • To recognize different emotions and the intensity of emotions. We can't manage a feeling if we can't recognize it.
  • That all feelings are okay. We aren't always supposed to be happy or calm. Sometimes we are sad or jealous or angry. It then opens up the conversation that how we handle those feelings makes all the difference.
  • That how everyone feels is important. And that as part of a community, someone is going to care how you feel. It's such a simple daily task to do that shows someone wants to listen and help.
Feelings Check In

Morning meeting is a great time to do that feelings check-in and build the vocabulary. Use the greeting to have students say how they are feeling that day. You can provide students with additional options to describe how they are feeling so they can move beyond happy or sad. Students can have their own feelings charts or you have feelings posters posted in the classroom.

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

Using A Feelings Check-In

2. Feelings Spinner

A feelings spinner is a great way to have students dig a little deeper. Students can pick a feeling and then spin to discuss/show the feeling in a different way. For example, they can: 

  • Say what it sounds like
  • Name a feeling that is similar or less/more intense.
  • Tell when they have felt that way before.
  • Draw the feeling.
  • Act out the feeling.

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Feelings Spinner

3. Feelings Posters

Use your classroom decor purposefully by having feelings posters up to help students reference different feelings. It is also helpful to note body language and facial expressions so they can see how each feeling shows up physically.

Feelings Posters

4. Personal Feelings Dictionary or Chart

Personal dictionaries or charts can be useful individual tools for students. Throughout the year, they can add different emotions to the dictionary and add details like when they have felt that way.

personal feelings Chart

5. Mirrors

Mirrors are useful for students to see how they look when they feel a certain way. It can help them understand what their feelings communicate to others. 

6. Feelings Games

Playing games is a great way to help students practice feelings identification. Keep the games simple and make sure they have visuals included.

You can create a deck of feelings cards and play go fish or memory. Add some bingo boards and you have an easy group game.

Using games in counseling is 100 percent something every counselor should be doing. It's the perfect way to practice newly learned skills and engage students. Nothing makes a student light

Using Games in Counseling

7. I Feel ___ When ___

Make sure you personalize feelings activities by having students share when they feel certain emotions. A simple I Feel _______ when _______ page is an easy way to start. You can have the students draw their face when they feel that way or you can use playdough like in the next example.

I feel when activity

8. Playdoh

Visual cues and hands on activities can help students connect with different feelings. Laminate a drawing of person with a blank face and use them as a reusable mat. Give students a picture of an emotion and have the students recreate it out of playdough. 

9. Books

Books provide an opportunity for students to spot feelings that characters are showing. There are a host of great books that also explore feelings directly, such as In My Heart or The Color Monster. Grab these 4 books that explore different feelings.

10. Movies & Video Clips

Movie and video clips will let students identify how other people are feeling based on tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. You can use such movies as Inside Out for a more direct conversation or any animated short will have opportunities to talk about how different characters feel.

Feelings identification is one of the first skills students should learn to develop their social-emotional skills. Use these simple and engaging 10 activities to get started. Comment below with activities you use!

Helpful Resources

feelings check-in materials

Feelings Check-In

These feelings check-In tools and activities let students practice recognizing their emotions and determining how to manage those feelings in the classroom.

Identifying and Expressing Feelings Lesson

A small group lesson to help students increase their feelings vocabulary, become aware of their own feelings, and learn about others’ feelings. 

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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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