Teacher sticking 'help me' sign onto whiteboard

Model emotional literacy

teaching practice

For student year

Early years

Helps students to

  • identify and respond to emotions
  • regulate emotions
  • Helps teachers to

  • support emotional development
  • respond to emotions
  • Summary

    Whether you are a teacher, a school leader or a member of the support staff,  you play a key role in helping children to develop emotional literacy, which is the ability to identify, understand and respond to one’s emotions.

    You can foster this ability by modelling how to express and regulate a variety of emotions.  

    How the practice works

    Watch this video to learn more about this practice.

    Duration: 4:00

    Preparing to teach

    The ability to identify, understand, and label emotions develops over time and it is critical that adults actively foster it. Plan to foster students’: 

    • emotional vocabulary 
    • identification of the full range of emotions experienced
    • communication of emotional experiences to others (parents, peers and teachers)
    • recognition of situations that evoke these emotions.

    By also labelling feelings in appropriate situations, you:

    • expose students to a rich vocabulary for expressing feelings
    • assist students to understand when to express their emotions.  

    Emotional literacy allows students to understand a range of:

    • needs
    • wants
    • likes
    • dislikes.

    It also allows them to tell others how these affect their feelings.

    It works better if:

    • you consider student communication skills; emotions are abstract concepts so use visual supports (graphics or video) where possible
    • you start by teaching positive emotions (easier and less distressing) and universal primary emotions (e.g., happy, sad, angry) rather than secondary/self-conscious emotions (e.g., jealous, embarrassed)
    • strategies for managing challenging feelings are taught while the student is calm.

    It doesn’t work if:

    • strategies are taught during times of distress; we all have trouble learning when we are very stressed or upset
    • your explanation of the feeling and associated events is too complicated or the student is not able to understand the emotion being taught.

    In the classroom

    Throughout the school day
    • Model responding to, and regulating emotions (e.g., taking deep breaths when frustrated).
    • Label emotions in context, use nonverbals to show the emotion and describe how students can express their feelings.
    • Sing songs, read stories, and role-play in relation to a variety of feeling words. You can find some of these online.
    An example

    A student who always plays with a certain toy cannot find it. You can intervene by frowning and saying, “You look frustrated by not being able to find your toy.” This labels the emotion and models using the word 'frustrated' for the feeling the student is experiencing. You can then model some positive coping strategies for the student such as looking for another toy or asking a friend if they have seen the toy.

    Practice toolkit

    Practice implementation planner template

    We know that in the busyness of teaching it is not always easy to keep track of what is working and what is not. So, we have created this template for you to record and reflect on what you are doing to help you create a more inclusive classroom. The implementation planner contains:

    • Guidance around goal setting
    • Reflection section (What worked, didn’t work and what to change and next steps.)
    • Prompting questions

    Implementation planner template

    Implementation planner with examples

    Set your professional learning goal for:

    Model emotional literacy
    You can set and save your goal for inclusive practices using inclusionED. Saved goals will appear in your profile. Here you can access, refine and review your goal easily.

    Benefits of goal setting

    Setting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
    How to set goals
    The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.

    SMART goals refers to goals that are:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Time-phased
    Read more about Improving teaching practices.


    Model emotional literacy - Practice brief

    Further reading

    Where can I go to find out more? 

    Kansas Inservice Training System Newsletter: Fostering Emotional Literacy in Young Children: Labeling Emotions.

    The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning: Enhancing Emotional Vocabulary in Young Children.

    Related Practices

    This practice is from the core research project