Enhancing Emotional Intelligence in School Children

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There is a rising call for education to take responsibility for the emotional and social growth of students, from primary school up to higher education. This may be partially due to the possible link between emotional intelligence (EI) and academic achievement; the need for education to take a more holistic approach; as well as a need to counteract the alleged “emotional decay” in today’s society. Satisfying the social emotional needs of students does more than prepare them to learn. It actually increases their capacity to learn.


Emotional literacy implies an expanded mandate for schools, taking up the slack for failing families in socializing children. This daunting task requires two major changes: that teachers go beyond their traditional mission and that people in the community become more involved with schools.

Whether or not there is a class explicitly devoted to emotional literacy may matter far less than how these lessons are taught. There is perhaps no subject where the quality of the teacher matters so much, since how a teacher handles her class is in itself a model, a de facto lesson in emotional competence. Whenever a teacher responds to one student, twenty or thirty others learn a lesson.

To begin with, teachers need to be comfortable talking about feelings; not every teacher is at ease doing so or wants to be. For these reasons, emotional literacy programs typically give prospective teachers several weeks of special training in the approach.

While many teachers may be reluctant at the outset to tackle a topic that seems so foreign to their training and routines, there is evidence that once they are willing to try it, most will be pleased rather than put off. In the New Haven schools, when teachers first learned that they would be trained to teach the new emotional literacy courses, 31 percent said they were reluctant to do so. After a year of teaching the courses, more than 90 percent said they were pleased by them and wanted to teach them again the following year.



Beyond teacher training, emotional literacy expands our vision of the task of schools themselves, making them more explicitly society’s agent for seeing that children learn these essential lessons for life. This requires, apart from any specific changes in the curriculum, using opportunities in and out of class to help students turn moments of personal crisis into lessons in emotional competence. It also works best when the lessons at school are coordinated with what goes on in children’s homes.

2. SPECIAL CLASSES FOR PARENTS: Many emotional literacy programs include special classes for parents to teach them about what their children are learning, not just to complement what is imparted at school, but to help parents who feel the need to deal more effectively with their children’s emotional life.

3. EMOTIONAL LESSONS IN THE PLAYGROUNDS: These emotional lessons should not take place in the classroom only, but also on the playground.

4.  WEAVING THE SCHOOL, THE PARENTS, AND THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER:  These emotional lessons should not be just in the school, but also in the home. That means weaving the school, the parents, and the community together more tightly. It increases the likelihood that what children learned in emotional literacy classes will not stay behind at school, but will be tested, practiced, and sharpened in the actual challenges of life.

5. BUILDING A CAMPUS CULTURE: Another way in which this focus reshapes schools is in building a campus culture that makes it a “caring community,” place where students feel respected, cared about, and bonded to classmates, teachers, and the school itself. For example, schools in areas such as New Haven, where families are disintegrating at a high rate, offer a range of programs that recruit caring people in the community to get engaged with students whose home life is shaky at best. In the New Haven schools, responsible adults volunteer as mentors, regular companions for students who are foundering and who have few, if any, stable and nurturing adults in their home life.


Emotional literacy lessons can be and are easily incorporated into traditional school subjects such as language, arts and social studies, but can also be taught in other subject areas such as health and science. Language, arts and social studies are the most practical vehicles with which to teach social and emotional skills. Literature and history lessons as well as current events invariably involve characters that experience a myriad of emotional experiences that need to be expressed, understood, and regulated. These characters provide “real world” examples of how emotions play an integral role in human interaction.

7. THE EMOTIONAL LITERACY IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL PROGRAM (ELMS): ELMS provides teachers with six concrete “how to” steps for quick and easy implementation. Each step can be completed in less than 15 minutes or can be extended to the teacher’s liking. The steps should be completed in order, with one new feeling word introduced per week. Below is a brief description of the six steps.

i) Introduction of Feeling Words. Teachers introduce the feeling word by relating its meaning to students’ prior knowledge and personal experiences. For example, before introducing the word “alienation,” teachers ask students to talk about a situation in which they felt isolated or as if they did not belong. The first step personalizes the learning experience by helping students to relate to the word both intellectually and emotionally.

ii) Designs and Personified Explanations. Students then interpret and explain abstract designs in terms of their symbolic representations of feeling words. For example, teachers ask students how a design consisting of several circles separated by a line looks like the word alienation.

This step encourages divergent thinking and the visualization of the elements and actions that represent meanings of feeling words.

iii) Academic and Real World Associations. This step involves students relating feeling words to social issues or academic topics. For example, students are asked to link the word alienation to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster in the USA. This exercise teaches students to evaluate how the people around them and those of different societies and time periods may experience, express, and manage emotions.

iv)  Personal Family Association. Next, students are instructed to have a discussion about the feeling word with a family member at home. For example, students ask parents or other relatives about a time when they felt alienated. This step encourages parental/familial involvement in students’ academic work and fosters good communication between children and their families.

v) Classroom Discussions. For this step, class discussions are initiated based on student sharing of Academic/Real World Associations and Personal Family Associations. A discussion ensues when the teacher asks other students to respond to their associations or other students’ accounts of the situations. For example, in one district, a student discussed how Nelson Mandela was alienated from society in South Africa. This step helps students to expand each others’ knowledge base and perspectives through exposure to others’ viewpoints.

vi) Creative Writing Assignments. The final step involves writing assignments using the feeling word of the week. For example, students are asked to write a short story with a beginning, middle, and end about a person who went from being alienated to feeling elated. In this exercise, students incorporate their own ideas and personal experiences into writing and think creatively and critically about how emotions progress and transform in life experiences. This step also provides a means for student expression of a broad range of emotion knowledge.

 8. STUDENT ACTIVITIES: Student activities can be designed to have students work intensely on certain emotional literacy skills. These activities should be brief, teacher-friendly, and easily incorporated into any classroom setting. They should go beyond the memory-based learning and logical-abstract thinking that are emphasized in most traditional classroom endeavors. The activities can be tailored to different age groups. For example, for elementary school students, activities and discussions may focus on a single basic emotion (e.g., happiness or anger), whereas for older children, projects may emphasize more subtle or complex emotions (e.g., alienation or hostility) or a range of related emotions (e.g., different levels of sadness, ranging from discontented to forlorn).

A complete description of one sample student activity per EI skill.  First, the teacher briefly introduces the activity and the EI skill it is designed to foster. This introduction is followed by the student project itself and concludes with an in-class discussion about the project and its associated EI skill. After initiating the discussion and encouraging the participation of as many students as possible (especially non-volunteers), the teacher should assume a relatively passive role in the discussion. This will encourage more student–student interaction and cooperation.


The Emotional Learning System is a visual model to help students learn how to replace reactive behaviors by using reflective thinking to choose more constructive and productive behaviors. This systematic model is used to develop emotional intelligence skills and competencies. It is used to access reflective thinking and help students make conscious choices about their behavior.

By applying the Emotional Learning System, students can then improve their ability to think constructively and behave intentionally.

10. EXPERIENCE BASED LEARNING AND SKILL DEVELOPMENT IS EMPHASIZED: Emotional Intelligence is a learned ability requiring a systematic and experienced based approach to learning. Emotional intelligence can be developed and improved through self directed; experiential learning approaches as well as in facilitated mentoring and coaching relationships.

11. DEVELOPING AN EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY MIND:  Meditation, yoga, play games can essentially lead to the development of an emotionally healthy mind. Along with this, we have to do away with poor practices of over protecting the child, making the child always dependent on others, getting unnecessarily over anxious and worried about the child and many others for the development of the healthy mind of our children.

12. BUILDING HEALTHY SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITIES: Staff needs to think about what factors students find difficult within the institutional setting and what more can be done to help students settle into the institution.

Some areas which we may wish to think about include :

  • Attachment (belonging to the college/ university) – dealing with transition and loss
  • Reassurance – that many can find the experience difficult
  • Bonding – enabling the formation of friendships
  • Induction – informing students of what is available and what they can do
  • Training - in study skills, money management, stress reduction
  • Holistic approach -mind and body – sports, relaxation, cultural activities, groups etc.

13. INTERPERSONAL SKILLS: Includes a focus on developing and understanding of communication styles and patterns and identifying problem areas of behavior.

14. THE NEED TO FOCUS ON HOLISTIC LEARNING: The integration of intellectual, social, and emotional aspects of student learning and structuring different activities to maintain interest and allow for different approaches to learning activities. An example could be using role plays.

15. PROMOTING GROUP WORK: Group work is a useful skill to have and should be sought after by teachers. Today being the world of competitions hence it can be hard to get students to co-operate but group work has to be there.

E.g. Jonathan gave an example of students keeping key texts for long periods of time to deliberately hinder the work of their fellow students. One way of encouraging co-operation is to encourage students to compete non-assessed Projects in groups.

16. STRESS RELIEVERS:  Stress relievers are needed by teachers as well as students. Remember students need to move every fifteen to twenty minutes. After a mini-lesson, have students do an active learning activity. If this is not possible, use Brain Gym to get students up and moving. Try the “Three S” technique: stand, stretch, and smile. Laughter is also a great stress buster, as is a quick walk down the hallway or around the campus. Give students a map of your campus and take them on a Prepositional Walk. As they walk they write down the “physical” prepositions they use in their movements: “I went down the stairs, around the corner, and behind the cafeteria”. Students may use each preposition only once. Go outdoors for creative writing or build human sentences using Grammar Theater.

17. SUMMER CAMPS: Strategically designed activities at the summer camps can prove and as well as have proven best in enhancing emotional intelligence among the students.


In this sense, emotional literacy enhances school’s ability to teach. Beyond this educational advantage, the courses can help children fulfill their roles in life,  in becoming better friends, students, sons and daughters - and in the future are more likely to be better husbands and wives, workers and bosses, parents, and citizens. While not every boy and girl will acquire these skills with equal sureness. Strategies for developing Emotional Intelligence helps students succeed. Role playing conflict situations, using active learning methods, taking time for stress relievers, and helping students map out their lives will increase academic successes. In short, the optimal design of emotional literacy programs is to begin early, be age appropriate, run throughout the school years, and intertwine efforts at school, at home, and in the community.

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