Teachers often offer students coping strategies such as "take a walk if you're feeling overwhelmed" or "count to ten if you're frustrated." While these are useful strategies, both students and teachers can become frustrated when they don't work. The Emotional Thermometer for Self-Regulation helps students recognize the early warning signs of intense emotions that manifest in their bodies and minds before they escalate into behavior management challenges. Early in the year, the teacher can use an Emotional Thermometer handout with students to associate actions and physical sensations to various levels of emotional intensity and then link coping skills to those feelings. This personalizes the warning signs that build up to strong emotions so students can remain low on the scale of intensity, and works as a touchstone for teachers to use as they process incidents with students.
Explore the articles in the resource section below from the Center for Responsive Schools to learn more about how to support students to regulate their emotions.
Create or modify an Emotional Thermometer graphic that you use as an anchor chart and a handout. See the resource below for an example.
Launch the Emotional Thermometer with students at the beginning of the year as an activator or morning activity. Let them know that they will be learning more about how to recognize and identify their feelings so they can better cope with them. Help students make the mind-body connection by asking what each emotion on the thermometer looks like and what it feels like in their bodies.
Conference with individual students after the class launch as a way to ensure personalization. In these conferences, you can help students narrow down and specifically identify their own individual body signals that occur as their emotional intensity increases.
For students who seem particularly unsure of their own signals, you may want to do a follow up conference in a few weeks or after a time that you noticed the student experiencing intense emotions.
Though the thermometer is not intended for use during high stress or moments of intense feeling, you can use the handout afterward to help the student identify and understand what led to their outburst or process lingering unresolved feelings.
Use the handout and conference with students who tend towards high emotional intensity; ask them to set goals for themselves early in the year and relate those goals to tangible success as well as ways in which you can support the student to avoid the misbehavior. Define clear consequences in response to varying degrees of misbehavior together so that the expectations are clear for both you and the student. Remember, the new behaviors students identify to help themselves remain calm will need to be practiced and encouraged by you as behavior patterns take practice to shift.
Young children often do not have the words to express how they are feeling, which can lead to them acting out their emotions in physical or inappropriate ways. It is important to introduce the vocabulary of feelings and to help students identify how they (or others) are feeling in order to begin managing emotions appropriately.
Introduce different emotions by directly teaching emotion vocabulary to students. Use words that young children can understand. Continue using examples from pictures, books, or videos to help introduce each emotion.
Teach emotions indirectly by using feelings vocabulary to describe how students are feeling. For example, you might say, "You seem to be having a great time with those cars! Are you feeling happy?" or "Alice bumped her head on the swing. How do you think Alice might be feeling?"
You can also use books, images, songs, and games to use feelings vocabulary and help children connect behaviors, situations, and facial expressions with different emotions.
Encourage students to use emotion vocabulary to describe their own state and others' state.
Have students discuss different ways they can deal with their feelings. Talk about positive and not so positive ways to express feelings.
Consider having students "check in" in the morning by choosing a feeling face that describes how they are feeling.
For a variety of great ideas and strategies to teach students about emotions, see this resource from The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning on Teaching Your Child to: Identify and Express Emotions. For more ways to teach children about emotions, see the link in the resources section below.
Students with disabilities that impact their ability to emotionally regulate may benefit in particular from using the Emotional Thermometer. They may also need more support initially in identifying the emotions they are feeling. Build in extra time to:
Help these students identify how they are feeling and connect these feelings to emotional vocabulary
Brainstorm strategies that work well for these students to de-escalate
Agree with the student how they will signal to you if they are beginning to feel emotionally dysregulated
Students who are English Learners will benefit from some explicit instruction of emotion vocabulary in order to support their communication of what emotions they are experiencing. You may want to begin by providing visual aids (i.e. a graphic chart of emotions) and connecting vocabulary to those images over time, eventually removing the support of the images.
Google Forms allows teachers to create a survey that collects instant results and is downloadable to Google Sheets.
GoogleForms supports this strategy because it allows teachers to create a survey in Google forms asking students to identify where they are on the Emotional Thermometer and why as an entrance ticket. After scanning the responses, teachers can then check in and/or conference with students who express strong emotions that may prevent them from engaging in the day's work.
How can you encourage students to use this scale in and outside of the classroom?
How can you incorporate the thermometer into the whole class so individual students don't feel targeted?
How can you help students set goals and recognize growth as they begin successfully identifying and managing their emotions?
How can you include students as part of the design of the thermometer?
How can you use video to help students who struggle to identify emotion or between emotions?
Implementing a strategy like this can feel overwhelming when we have so much content to cover and only so much time in the day. But taking the time to help students recognize what they are feeling, and then how to cope with it, actually redirects attention and memory to the academic content and skills we want them to gain. This was so important with my high school students as they negotiated the frustrations of wanting to be independent, but still being young adults. Teachers are people too and so I would sometimes use the thermometer to let my students know where I was that day.