In my first post in this series, Working with students classified as emotionally disturbed: What’s our role?, I explored the role of the SLP as part of the treatment team of this challenging population. I also shared my concerns for the ongoing epidemic of violence in our schools, and how we are part of the solution. Helping students to communicate with compassion is critical to a more peaceful world.
I also promised to share intervention ideas and activities based on three communication areas: language that shares emotions, listening with compassion, and assertive vs. aggressive communication. I’m going to start with intervention ideas to develop language that shares emotions. This post will focus on activities for older students; my next post will feature ideas for younger students.
Please note that I recently had the opportunity to present on this topic with my colleague, fellow SLP Danyela Williams, at the Social Thinking Provider’s Conference in San Francisco. We will also be sharing our ideas at the ASHA Boston convention in November; if you are attending, please join us on Friday at 5 pm for our session entitled Helping Students With Emotional & Behavioral Challenges to Be Compassionate Communicators.
Language that Shares Emotions
Language is used to share thoughts and emotions, but in order to correctly perceive feelings in others and ourselves- we first have to develop words for those feelings: a feelings lexicon. Developing a larger and more complex feeling vocabulary helps helps children and adolescents to better communicate with others about their internal states and personal experiences. A larger vocabulary also helps students interpret the feelings of others while developing a sense of empathy. By engaging in discussions about their personal experiences, students take ownership of their feelings and become more compassionate communicators.
Activity #1: EMOTIONS COLOR WHEEL
All of our students are familiar with the Zones of Regulation. When checking into our sessions and engaging in emotional regulation activities, many of my students describe feelings as belonging to more than one zone. Many also have insisted that there should be a few additional zones.
This thinking is great, because it shows a level of sophistication in recognizing subtle nuances of emotions and an understanding of “grey” areas. Since their thinking is becoming more complex, and their adolescent-fueled feelings are becoming equally complex, it’s important to help them develop more sophisticated vocabulary to describe their internal states.
I wanted to develop a way for students to visually understand that emotions can certainly exist in more than one zone and yes, maybe there can be other zones. This activity was initiated as a collaborative project with the art teacher. Students helped to develop and create this wall mural that shows two additional areas.
The first is a purple zone that combines feelings of the blue and red zones. Here students put feelings such as ashamed, solemn andconflicted. Between red and yellow is an orange zone. Here students put feelings like anxious, spiteful, and withdrawn.
This interactive wall mural is in the high school hallway, to give teachers and counselors the opportunity to discuss with students the emotional zone they are in and add words as needed.
The project grew into a cross-curricular activity: in language arts students discussed emotion words encountered in text as well as the emotional states of characters and how this drove motivation and intent. As they were reading they put words up randomly on the white board.
Many classrooms now have their own emotions color wheels for a variety of purposes. In language arts, students transferred the randomly collected vocabulary and categorized them into zones. As an extension activity, we made individual worksheets so students could concentrate on a smaller number of vocabulary words.
Activity #2: WORD CLOUDS
Another activity that has worked well with older students are word clouds. Word clouds are a fun and interesting way to display a concept with words. There are lots of free word cloud generators on the internet: Wordle is probably the most popular, and allows the ability to adjust fonts, layout and colors to suit your preferences. I know that anytime I can incorporate technical or computer work into our sessions the students are going to be engaged and motivated.
Here are two examples of my student’s work: using vocabulary from the green zone, students created a peace sign, and words from the red zone were used to create a stop sign.
Activity #3: Empathy Maps
Another effective activity is the use of “empathy maps”. I discovered empathy maps from my husband who works in corporate America. These maps are used to gain an understanding of customer insights and perspectives. In fact, Walt Disney was known to visit Disneyland and make empathy maps while on his knees – he wanted to understand the perspective of his customers – the children!
I decided to use empathy maps to build self-awareness and help students to connect the words they use to their thoughts and feelings. I divided the map into four sections: Think, Feel, Say, Do. In the center is a box for a situation. You can download a copy of a blank map here: Empathy Map
I start the process by leading students through an example, here the situation is public speaking. When I do public speaking I FEEL nervous. I also like to identify the zone and highlight with the corresponding color. I might THINK I’m making mistakes. When I think and feel this way, I apologize a lot and say “umm”.
The DO section can either be the actions I take when I have that feeling (like talking rapidly) as well as the strategies I can use. In this case, I can take some deep breaths.
This activity has served as a great collaborative tool when working with counselors. Here are some examples of the empathy maps we made with students.
Up in the corner one situation was “getting grounded”. Getting grounded makes this student feel angry, say things like “are you f*** kidding me?” and think things that in his words are “too cruel to write”. But we came up with two strategies: he’s going to go in his yard and throw things (safely in an area decided upon with his parents) and when he has reset his emotional regulation system will attempt to compromise with his parents.
And yes, this has become a cross curriculum activity. Our wonderful English teachers have used the empathy maps to help students understand the inner states of characters in their novels, connect motivations and intents and make predictions!
If you are interested, I have a resource targeting Emotional Vocabulary skills in older student in my Teachers Pay Teachers store that has gotten great reviews! You can check it out here: Emotions Vocabulary: Middle School
And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to be notified of my next post in this series — Activities to Build Emotional Vocabulary Skills: Part 3 #Communicating with Compassion. Please click here if you missed Part 1: What’s Our Role?
How do you target emotional vocabulary skills in older students? Please share your ideas!